Malaysian-Made Alternatives To Imported Goods (So You Can Save Money And #SapotLokal)
Why buy local?
First off, you’ll be supporting Malaysian businesses, many of which have been badly affected during the pandemic. Over 90% of micro, small, medium, and informal entrepreneurs said that they were at risk of closing if the Movement Control Order were to be extended. Buying from these businesses can help keep them afloat.
Secondly, locally produced goods can sometimes be more affordable – even those of comparable quality to their imported counterparts.
And finally, buying local can be more environmentally friendly, as you minimise the fuel consumption and pollution involved in transporting the goods.
So, here’s how you can #SapotLokal.
Google “healthy eating” and you’ll be inundated with pictures of salmon, kale, almonds, avocados, blueberries and the like. Of course, these imported foods aren’t necessary to eat healthy – you can do that with Malaysian dishes and produce too. But if you’re trying to make something Western-inspired, you could save a lot of money by swapping out certain imported ingredients with local ones. For example, here are a few swaps you can make:
- Limes instead of lemons
- Brown rice instead of quinoa
- Ulam vegetables instead of imported kale, spinach or arugula
- Ikan kembung instead of salmon
- Bananas instead of avocados
If you’re looking for a sweet treat instead, lots of home-based bakeries have taken off during the pandemic. Many of them operate on Instagram, so just search for the names of your favourite Malaysian treats, or use the hashtag #SapotLokal to find them.
Looking for something more decadent? Here are a few local brands to try the next time you’re hosting a dinner party (or just spending a nice Friday evening on your own).
- Caviar. Malaysia’s first (and only?) caviar brand, T’lur, offers caviar that’s produced right here in Tanjung Malim, Perak. Prices start at RM160 for 30g of sturgeon caviar (a quick check at an online supplier suggests that imported sturgeon caviar starts at RM248 per 30g). You can also get smoked sturgeon (RM32 per 100g) in a variety of seasonings.
- Cheese. D’ Artisan Cheese is a local cheesemaker that produces a large variety of cheeses, from gouda to queso Oaxaca. They even offer a cheese-of-the-month membership starting from RM200 a month, where you can get four to six cheeses delivered to you every month.
- Alcohol. Ditch the rosé for some tuak, a traditional Sarawakian rice wine. You can get tuak online from eateries like Farmer’s Bar (RM68), or from home-based businesses like The Rasa Family (from RM28). If you’re looking for something stronger, there’s Timah (RM190), an award-winning Malaysian whiskey.
Beauty and grooming
Local beauty brands can have a reputation for being dodgy, as there are sellers who use questionable ingredients or import low-quality products to repackage for customers.
But don’t let that stop you from venturing beyond Sephora – there are reputable homegrown brands who place emphasis on quality and safety. For example, Tatler Asia has compiled a list of Malaysian beauty brands that are both reputable and sustainable. The list includes brands like The Mineraw, which makes oils, cleansers and scrubs from natural ingredients, as well as Velvet Vanity, a make-up brand that produces vegan lip products.
There are also a lot of interesting local brands that offer quality fragrances. You could smell like your favourite pastry with Pastry Perfumes (and who wouldn’t want to smell like a nice lemon meringue?). If you’re looking for more masculine scents, Analogue Apotik makes handcrafted solid colognes, oil-based fragrances and hair products.
There are a lot of reasons to buy from local clothing brands. They can be more affordable than imported alternatives. Some brands eschew fast fashion practices and focus on sustainable, ethical clothing. Local brands also tend to produce clothing that’s suited to our climate, so it’s easier to stay cool throughout the day. And the odds of running into multiple people with the same H&M floral shirt you’re wearing, on the same day? Much lower.
Here are a few ways you can support our local fashion industry.
- Everyday wear. There are lots of local brands to suit different styles. For example, APOM offers Malaysian-themed casualwear like T-shirts, caps and bags. Consider Anaabu for minimalist, unisex clothing or go with Pestle & Mortar for trendy streetwear.
- Sportswear. Anybody who has been to an Adidas or Nike store (and then dejectedly walked out) will know how expensive sportswear can be. On the upside, there are a few local brands that offer more affordable alternatives. One such brand is Liberty Active, which offers quality women’s activewear at lower prices. For example, their leggings range from RM49 to RM129, while a pair could set you back RM100 to RM300+ if you shop at Nike.
- Jewellery. Instead of heading to Pandora and Swarovski, consider buying from your local jewellers. The local jewellery scene in Malaysia caters to all sorts of budgets. For example, there’s MOODD, which offers demi-fine jewellery at affordable prices (from RM70). At the higher end of the price range, there’s The Straits Finery, which creates jewellery in 14-karat solid gold (from RM300).
Home and living
It’s hard to hate on Ikea, as they make generally nice furniture at accessible prices. But there are interesting – and budget-friendly- alternatives if you set your sights locally.
- Furniture. There are a lot of online furniture shops that cater to different budgets and styles. For example, Ruma Home offers modern, minimalist furniture at Ikea-esque prices. On the other hand, Kedai Bikin focuses on ethically produced furniture, and caters to more upmarket buyers.
- Dining ware. There are many Malaysian ceramic studios that offer beautiful, handcrafted pieces to elevate your food. For example, Bangkita Ceramic Studio creates nature inspired cups and plates that start at RM35.
- Home appliances. In recent years, Xiaomi has gotten a reputation for offering sleek, modern home appliances at affordable prices. But before you hit ‘buy’ on your shopping cart, you might want to check out Corvan. This Malaysian-based brand offers high-quality home appliances (almost 5,000 ratings on Shopee, with an average rating of 4.9), and can be cheaper than imported alternatives. For example, its 3.8 litre capacity air fryer costs RM198, while a Xiaomi air fryer with a 3.5 litre capacity costs RM278.
Entertainment and hobbies
Instead of an evening of Netflix, here are a few ways to have fun while supporting Malaysian businesses.
- Books. We’ve got quite a few independent publishers and bookstores in Malaysia. This includes the popular Buku Fixi, which publishes contemporary urban fiction across genres like crime, horror, sci-fi and romance. There are also other publishers like Silverfish Books and Gerakbudaya, which cater to readers looking for more literary or academic reading.
- Craft. Online learning site Craftla is a bit like Skillshare, except that you pay per course instead of paying a monthly fee to access all the courses. It also allows you to purchase the materials needed for the course, so that you can follow along with the exact same items. There are courses on painting, dancing, baking and more.
- Board games. Is there a more satisfying way to outsmart and crush your enemies – ahem, friends – under the guise of ‘fun’? But put aside that Settlers of Catan set, because there are tons of Malaysian board and card games you can try out. There’s the popular The Malaysian Dream, that lets you “pay, steal and sabotage your way to be the perfect Malaysian”. There’s also The Cikgu Life, that lets you experience the joys and woes of being a schoolteacher.
Technology and gadgets
We don’t really have local alternatives to high-end devices like iPads or Galaxy Notes, but there are still a few Malaysian-made gems in the tech space.
For example, TTRacing makes gaming chairs that start at RM399. While the materials it uses aren’t as premium as say, Singaporean-based SecretLab (from RM1,500+), it makes it affordable for Malaysians looking for budget-friendly options.
There’s also a small but thriving mechanical keyboard scene in Malaysia. Kaler Keyboard builds customised keyboards starting from RM319. They also offer artisan keycaps (e.g. keycaps resembling hamburgers or Pokeballs) that start from RM50.
Beyond physical tech, going with Malaysian startups can sometimes be cheaper than international counterparts. For example, EasyStore allows you to quickly set up an ecommerce site. Its paid plan starts from RM59 a month, which is a lot cheaper than Shopify, a popular Canadian-based platform that costs US$29 (RM120) a month.
So there you have it, these are a couple of ways to support small local businesses. Did we miss anything out? Let us know about your favourite Malaysian businesses in the comments below!