Southeast Asia’s artisanal brands are often a well-kept secret only available to an exclusive elite or at least, those in the know.

For those who don’t know, an artisanal brand is one that focuses on craft and quality rather than mass production and scale. Often partly or entirely done by hand, and incorporating heritage craft skills, these products are sought after and unique to different cultures.

To make this more accessible to a wider audience, three Malaysian entrepreneurs started Dia. This online platform helps connect artisanal brands with a discerning, global consumer audience by providing a digital storefront, an integrated marketing approach, and global logistics.

We speak to SportsnTrain founder Fabrice Nachbaum about this entrepreneurial journey.

We had a chance to speak to one of the co-founders Kylie Francis about Dia and the reasons behind starting this business. She was kind enough to share more about Dia and their journey so far.

Based in New York, Kylie is focused on growing the business on the other side of the world. If not working on Dia, you can find Kylie engrossed in a good book or two.

The Dia co-founders

Sell us your company/service in 300 words? 

Dia is an e-commerce platform where you can discover and shop from artisanal Southeast Asian brands. An artisanal brand is one that focuses on craft and quality rather than mass production and scale; their production process is partly or entirely done by hand, and often involves heritage craft skills. Dia helps connect artisanal brands with a discerning, global consumer audience by providing a digital storefront, an integrated marketing approach, and a global logistics solution.

Aisha, Alia and I started Dia because time and again, while living abroad, we would get compliments on things we wore and would proudly name the Southeast Asian artisanal brand we believed should be better-known. Dia is the result of pursuing that belief. We curate a unique collection of clothing, handbags and accessories alongside interesting digital content in order to celebrate Southeast Asia’s diversity and its rich heritage of craftsmanship. 

So whether you’re looking for a handmade gift, unique conversation-starter, or inspiration for your next adventure, Dia is where you will find it.

What is stopping you from having the largest company in the world? 

Although our team has lofty goals for Dia, becoming the largest company in the world is not one of them. We believe that the pursuit of scale in fashion has come at the expense of our environment – according to research by McKinsey, nearly 60% of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced. That is why we advocate for slow-, not fast-, fashion. The products you’ll find on Dia are made with care, and made to last.

When we first started discussing the idea for Dia, we conducted some market research and were surprised to find that most people associate Southeast Asian products as being cheap and lacking in quality. This is because a significant portion of fast-fashion products are manufactured here in Southeast Asia. Although this has contributed to our region’s GDP in the short-term, it has also been detrimental to artisanal brands because they are undervalued and overlooked. This, in turn, has jeopardized artisans’ livelihoods and put craft legacies at risk. The Covid-19 pandemic made it even harder for these brands to survive.

So even though Dia definitely hopes to grow our community of partner brands and attract more customers, we are more concerned with creating a sustainable business model that champions creativity in the region.

If you could change one thing about the tech industry in Southeast Asia, what would it be? 

While the tech industry has made tremendous strides in Southeast Asia, I would like to see more humanity in technology – whether that means tech companies developing more authentic connections with their community, or doing more to address the detrimental effects that technology can have on society. 

One of the reasons we created Dia is because we felt that the rise of e-commerce marketplaces here that focus on scale had stripped out humanity from the shopping experience and made it purely transactional.

Dia wants to reverse that. We aren’t trying to replace human connections with digital ones, but rather we want to harness technology to foster those connections and create a sense of community between ourselves, our artisanal brands, and our customers. 

Name one person in the region, who is making a difference in Technology? 

There are so many people in this region making a difference in Technology, but I was surprised to recently learn that the CEO of Broadcom, Tan Hock Eng, is a Malaysian from Penang where my paternal grandmother is from. Broadcom manufactures chips and computer components that are used in gadgets by HTC, Google and Apple, and in 2012 they collaborated with Nintendo to bring second-screen gaming to the Wii U’s GamePad controller. Not that I’m a huge gamer or anything but I always find it pretty inspiring to hear about Malaysians doing great things in the world!

What would you want people to remember you for, 100 years from now? 

I’d like my co-founders and I to be remembered for being key players in the region’s cultural development and part of a broader movement to appreciate and recognize Southeast Asia’s cultural heritage.