KUALA LUMPUR: Mazura Illani Manshoor was only six years old when she had her first encounter with a bully: she was harassed for her lunch money and threatened with a beating if she refused.
The bullying continued for years. She has had her school bag hidden and was even forced to do the perpetrator’s homework.
Sadly, informing her teachers didn’t help as they turned a deaf ear to her plight.
But singing helped her cope during those difficult days. “When I sang, I felt confident and slightly empowered,” the 52-year-old told FMT.
“I wasn’t angry about being bullied as much as frustrated. But what got me through the frustration is the fact that I had an outlet, even if it was just for an hour during music class,” she added.
It made her realise that arts, in any form, can help a child develop self-confidence and manage their emotions.
Decades later in 2015, she started a business with her sister, Masliza Manshoor, that was founded upon this belief.
By this time, Illani and Masliza, or Liza, were back in Malaysia after over a decade in the US where Illani was a teacher and Liza, a graphic designer. They decided to combine their talents and put it to good use.
“We wanted a product that could help kids express themselves and we wanted it to be something that parents and children could do together,” Liza, 49, told FMT.
That was how their business, CreaTee was born. Made up of design kits for t-shirts and canvas bags, CreaTee is suitable for children aged five and above.
Each design kit comes with either a t-shirt or canvas tote bag, stencil, fabric markers, fabric glue, 3D paint, googly eyes, batik and felt cloth pieces as well as simple instructions on how everything is to be used.
There are eight designs to choose from including cat, rabbit, elephant, and giraffe, with the cat design being the most popular.
More than just art
Recalling her experience about how singing helped her express herself and build confidence, Illani shared: “I realised that with bullying, both the perpetrator and victim could be feeling insecure.”
Liza added: “It’s a fact that people sometimes don’t realise, and that’s why we try to instil confidence.”
The sisters also believe that the kits help children develop their emotional intelligence and communication skills, as they spend time discussing their ideas with an adult.
Besides the kits, the sisters also conduct workshops for larger groups where they guide participants as they work on their kits.
For the duo, witnessing the positive impact of their handiwork on children has been extremely rewarding.
One such example is Adam (not his real name), a five-year old who became uncharacteristically rough with his classmates and started throwing physical and verbal fits.
But Illani, who saw Adam drawing monsters, instinctively realised that he was feeling angry and anxious.
She later discovered that he was suffering from eczema flare-ups and was missing his mother who had recently returned to work after being a stay-at-home mom.
Illani subsequently spoke to his mother and Adam got the necessary help, including seeing a paediatric psychologist.
Undoubtedly, moments like these keep them going, yet there is another cause close to their hearts: giving back to the community.
“We use part of our annual proceeds to conduct free workshops for underserved children,” Liza shared, adding that these included those who live in People’s Housing Projects (PPR) flats as well as refugees and Orang Asli kids.
Nevertheless, their journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “Some parents don’t understand how the arts can be beneficial for their children. Sometimes, that becomes our struggle,” Liza admitted.
Just like other small business owners, the pandemic took a toll on their business.
As such, they are grateful for the support of Persatuan Pembangunan Artisans (PPA), a local NGO that helps artisans expand their reach through its online platform, pop-up events and physical stores in the Klang Valley.
“Without [PPA], we might not be able to have our products at Pavilion KL or Malaysia Grand Bazaar. They also regularly invite us to their pop-up events,” said Liza.
These days, the jovial sisters are optimistic about the future as they find joy in helping as many children as possible explore their creativity – one design kit at a time.
To shop or learn more about CreaTee, click here.
Read more PPA stories and get to know its artisans here.
Learn more about PPA’s Empowering Women and Communities programme in collaboration with CIMB.