Empowering SEA Women Artisans: The Story of Dia Guild Told By Founders Aisha, Alia, and Kylie

Celebrating, empowering, and championing SouthEast Asian Artisans!
By: Farah Khan
March 22, 2023

Looking for a way to experience the richness of Southeast Asian artisanship without leaving your home? Look no further than Dia Guild, the curated platform where you can discover and shop Southeast Asian brands while learning more about the region. Founded in 2020 by three Malaysian friends,Aisha Hassan, Alia Farouk, Kylie Francis, Dia aims to champion the artistry of SouthEast Asia and elevate it to the global recognition it deserves.

But this isn’t just another online shopping destination – Dia Guild is on a mission to shift the narrative around Southeast Asia from one of cheap labor and mass-produced products to one of heritage craftsmanship and modern design fused in ethical ways. With a focus on giving context and credit to authentic artisanship, Dia invites you to explore their exquisite collection of products, each with a unique story to tell. So if you’re ready to go on a journey through the heart of SouthEast Asian artisanship, join Dia on their mission to Directly Impact Artisans and discover a world of creativity, beauty, and cultural richness.

Intrigued? Discover the minds behind Dia Guild in this Glitz Spotlight with Aisha Hassan, Alia Farouk, Kylie Francis!

Interview with Dia Guild Founders

Dia Guild’s Commitment to SEA Women

Can you tell us more about Dia Guild’s commitment to women empowerment and how it influences your business practices and partnerships?

[AISHA] Dia Guild aims to be a values-driven business, whether that’s continual dedication to our mission of championing Southeast Asia, or always conducting ourselves with integrity and thoughtfulness. While Dia never explicitly set out to champion women’s empowerment, we are a female-founded company whose vast majority of partners are women, with products lovingly made by female artisans, and a largely female customer base — so in our very foundations as a brand, in the people we partner with and the way we work, we are contributing towards dignified livelihoods for women, supporting female entrepreneurship, and curating beautiful collections that let women feel good and take ownership of ethical style choices.

Dia Guild x SouthEast Asian Female Artisans

Dia Guild works with a vast majority of Southeast Asian female artisans. Can you describe what it’s like to work with them and how their presence has impacted your organization?

[ALIA] Almost 80% of our partner brands are female-founded or run by female artisans. It has and continues to be incredibly enriching to work with such ambitious women. We have been very fortunate to be able to work with women that are really all about empowering other women. They have been especially generous with their time, knowledge and experience, and for that, we will always be very grateful for their support.

Can you share any inspiring stories about the designers that you work with and their experiences as Southeast Asian women artisans?

[ALIA] Listening to the stories behind our partner brands, first hand, and being a part of sharing that with the rest of the world makes what we do hugely fulfilling. To name a few, there is Lorraine Lee, who first began tying nautical knots with her father because it was cognitive therapy for his hypoxic brain injury and memory loss; these knots rooted in memory then evolved into earrings and her brand, TALEE Studio, was born. 

Intan Suria, from Suria Artisan Batik, works with skilled artisans across Malaysia to produce Batik shawls, kimonos and pareos. She discovered her passion for batik after finding a box of batik fabrics and tools that belonged to her late mother. Much of her creations are inspired by the Rainforest and when she is able, Suria donates profits to The Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre. In whatever way she can, Suria strives to contribute to conserving what we have left of our rainforests.

Another Malaysian brand, SOPHIA By Shirley, was founded by Shirley Ong and named for her daughter, Sophia. Shirley always wanted to be a mother and had trouble conceiving, so when she did, she was determined to work in a way that also let her spend time with her daughter (while handcrafting exquisite, obi silk bags).  These examples are just two of many amongst Dia’s amazing partner brands.

Dia Guild’s Evolving Mission

What was the motivation behind Dia Guild’s mission to promote Southeast Asian artisans, and how has that mission evolved since the company’s inception?

[ALIA] My co-founders and I have always been supporters of local brands and whenever we’d travel throughout Southeast Asia, we were highly impressed by the level of craftsmanship and design that exists in the region. Yet many people still associate Southeast Asia with having cheap, poor quality products. The rise of fast fashion, whose clothes are primarily manufactured in Southeast Asia, has unfortunately contributed to this negative perception of products from the region. The building blocks of Dia started with us wanting to change that narrative by curating a collection of incredible Southeast Asian brands and products for customers. Initially, we were focused almost entirely on the global West, but we have now shifted to better serve our local and regional customers in Southeast Asia too.

While our mission to change the narrative remains the same, we realized that there was actually a greater consumer bias around regionally-made products in Southeast Asia itself. Here, consumers often associate more value with products made from well-known European brand names, rather than with just as exquisitely made pieces created by designers in the region. This is why we’re investing in nurturing our regional customer base through more events here, such as our pop-up currently happening at Momaku in Bangsar Shopping Centre, our June pop-up at The Datai in Langkawi, and our planned pop-ups around Southeast Asia. Dia’s mission is still the same, but we are more intent on pursuing this purpose on home ground. 

Dia Guild’s Challenges and Hardships

Starting a business can be challenging, especially as female entrepreneurs. What were some of the hardships that Dia Guild encountered, and how did you overcome them? Were there any support systems that assisted you?

[KYLIE] We started Dia during the pandemic, so the remote work-environment made it challenging to build relationships with our artisans and customers. Successful partnerships are based on trust, and so we knew it was vital to always deliver, and to keep delivering in order to build strong bonds with our partners. In particular, we made a point of always being well prepared for meetings – so that we inspired confidence with our partners – as well as being open, communicative and reliable to our customers.

Our biggest support system is each other – we started off as friends, and have now added to that friendship by being supportive and inspiring colleagues.  

Dia Guild Challenging Steroetypes

What misconceptions and myths do you think exist about female entrepreneurs in today’s society, and how does Dia Guild challenge and debunk those stereotypes?

[KYLIE] We’ve all come across a range of unhelpful stereotypes, but at Dia we just try to focus on role-modelling attributes that we think women often excel at.  We care deeply about the company culture and foster an “assume best intentions” mindset to ensure that everyone’s efforts are fully appreciated and that everyone feels supported.  Building a business is hard, so it’s important to recognize people’s contributions and celebrate them.

Dia Guild hopes to inspire the next generation of female leaders. What advice do you have for aspiring female entrepreneurs, and how do you hope to be a role model for them?

[KYLIE] The best piece of advice I have is to just start (that’s the hardest bit!) – you’ll be amazed at what you achieve in a matter of months. One of my favorite Malay proverbs is “sikit-sikit lama-lama menjadi bukit.” This resonates because it reminds you that building a successful business doesn’t happen overnight, it’s the accumulation of many little steps.  

Dia Guild’s 2023 Plans

What are Dia Guild’s future plans for 2023, particularly in light of Malaysia’s expanding recognition of artisans and crafts?

[AISHA] It’s wonderful that there is a growing appreciation of artisans and crafts, and Dia hopes to work with more partners so we can keep on bringing beautiful, artisanal products to bigger audiences. 

We currently have a pop-up store at Momaku Bangsar Shopping Centre that will be open to the public from Thursday 9th March until Wednesday 22nd March (8am – 10pm). Alongside showcasing our products and the brands behind them, we have organized mini events throughout the two weeks — an open mic night, a mixer for female entrepreneurs in the city, showcasing local artwork available for purchase — with the intention of bringing together different communities. Momaku will also be offering a special menu for this event, including Gula Melaka Cream Puffs and Gula Melaka Lattes. Feel free to come by with your friends to shop, eat, drink and enjoy!

In June, we have an exciting event planned with The Datai in Langkawi in conjunction with their 30 year anniversary celebrations. In addition to this, we are also working on organizing other events across Southeast Asia to bring Dia’s curation to people across the region, in person. Alongside all of this, we hope to continue connecting with amazing brands to share their products with the world. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @diaguild or subscribe to our newsletter at www.diaguild.com to stay updated about all of this! 

Dia Guild’s Future Collaboration

Is Dia Guild planning to collaborate with more Malaysian artisans, and if so, how will this partnership benefit both the artisans and the company?

[AISHA] Yes, Dia is always on the lookout for new brands to join the platform, and we’d love to expand our roster of Malaysian partners even further. This partnership benefits artisans and brands because we provide a curated, digital storefront that puts their stories, values, and products front and centre for the world to see — we also ship globally, allowing artisans to reach wider audiences. Dia also hosts a variety of dynamic events, and it’s always exciting for artisans to showcase their work in different spaces. 

For Dia, more Malaysian partners means that we can continually provide fresh and vibrant collections for our customer base, and it also speaks to our ultimate brand mission of championing Southeast Asia’s creators to the world. Furthermore, we truly value the personal relationships we build with every partner artisan, and generally think it’s wonderful for everyone involved when you get to work with, and grow alongside, a like-minded partner. If you’d like to join Dia, please reach out to kylie@diaguild.com or message us on Instagram @diaguild

Dia Guild’s Impact on Women Empowerment

How does Dia Guild measure its impact on women’s empowerment, and what steps are you taking to ensure that your company remains committed to this mission?

[AISHA] While Dia Guild never explicitly sought to impact women’s empowerment, it seems that it’s subconsciously built into our brand DNA. It’s difficult to quantify such an intangible thing, but when we see that 80% of our partner brands are female-founded, with many of them being working mothers, it’s clear that Dia is part of many women’s entrepreneurial journeys (not to mention Alia’s, Kylie’s, and my own!). 

Furthermore, we’ve had incredible women as Dia interns; they’ve made meaningful and long-lasting impacts on our company, and we’re glad to have provided the mentorship experience. Dia is proudly female-founded, and Kylie, Alia, and myself are committed to building this brand with integrity and compassion — remaining a value-driven business will naturally lead us to have a positive impact on the communities we work with, women included.