From Idea to Impact: An Entrepreneur's Journey to Sustainable Gift Wrapping

Naqiyah Talib of Hong Kong is the proud owner of ReGiftWrap, a venture that makes easy-to-use gift wraps from fabric made of recycled plastic bottles.

Naqiyah Talib is an entrepreneur based out of Hong Kong who recently started a business venture in which she compliments a tradition unique to both the Japanese and the Dawoodi Bohras. In this blog, she shares about her start-up's journey from conceptualisation to what encourages her to continue today.

We always face the challenge of upholding our traditional values, reconciling them with the challenges of the modern world, and learning to find new ways of doing things. What I hadn’t expected was that, when I started my journey as an entrepreneur, the tradition would be Japanese, the challenges would involve children's birthday parties, and a major part of the learning would involve how to package things with the right barcode. That’s how I launched ReGiftWrap, where we make easy-to-use gift wraps from fabric made of recycled plastic bottles. 

My original inspiration was furoshiki, a traditional Japanese fabric wrap that has been around for over 1200 years. It was used to pack clothes and other precious objects as well as for wrapping and transporting goods. This square cloth, valued for its designs, colours and aesthetics, adds simplicity and beauty to the art of gift wrapping.

I found furoshiki fascinating because it felt very similar to what we in our community call a bandhan (tying cloth) used for securing certain precious possessions, particularly special occasion attire. Growing up, I recall my grandparents being very particular about unpacking and repacking the right clothes in the right bandhan after a ceremony. This is something I inherited from them; I always make sure to keep my precious, intricately embroidered clothes wrapped properly. This confluence made me appreciate my culture and traditions even more.

It was therefore a priority for me, when we travelled to Japan, to learn the right way of decoratively wrapping furoshiki. It turned out to be tricky, and I had to observe a few demonstrations to appreciate the skill and dexterity required to use traditional furoshiki wraps and make them appear elegant. I couldn’t quite master it by watching others do it, and instead learned by watching YouTube videos. I studied different materials, patterns and learned various wrapping techniques, including how to make knots, wrap gifts that weren’t evenly sized and how to wrap several items together.

I’m also a mother of two young boys. One of the things that comes with that is countless birthday parties and other events and celebrations, which means plenty of gifts. Although it creates a sense of excitement and delight for the kids while unwrapping, ultimately the paper is torn and disposed of, creating unnecessary wastage. I thought this is just one of those challenges of the modern world that you have to accept. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all a bit unnecessary; every time you see some gift wrap you know that all this paper is going to be used just once and then end up in a landfill. If we’re very lucky, it will be recycled. 

I have never liked the idea of unnecessary waste. As a child I used to cringe to see garbage wash up on the seashore near my home. This made me more aware of waste and ways to reduce or recycle it. I made papier-mâché with old newspapers, created scrap books and collages from dried flowers and leaves. I would then compress them between heavy books and make greeting cards, bookmarks and gift tags.  

After I moved to Hong Kong, I learned that it was possible to have a very different approach to waste. In Hong Kong, the government has recycling stations and shops all over the city. Our building has a recycling station on one of the floors and every week, my kids enjoy throwing each item into the right kind of recycling bin. This practice has integrated recycling and sustainability into their everyday habits. 

The creative spark

I knew that when I started a business, it had to be something that was sustainable and eco-friendly. I wasn’t going to create something that was disposable, which was going to be thrown away as waste. I wanted something that would work in the opposite direction: take something that was waste and make it usable again.

As all of these thoughts were (re)cycling through my head, as well as the words of Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin during his sermons in Ashara Mubaraka in Dubai, where he encouraged our community to have a business mindset and to be ‘trendsetters’. The thought of starting a business was always there, somewhere—but was this the right time for me? 

That’s when I realised I had all the ingredients for designing a new kind of product. I had already been practising furoshiki to pack my gifts, and this concept could be turned into a sustainable, reusable and recyclable product worldwide. 

When ReGiftWrap was born

The journey from concept to product hasn’t been simple. When your product is eco-friendly, you want sustainability to guide every step of the experience. Packaging the wrap itself in an eco-friendly way for shipping without using plastic or tape was a challenge. I created a recycled paper ‘envelope’ that could contain all of our wraps and be used to ship to the customer. 

I have been fortunate to receive positive feedback on the product and the concept from the outset. At my very first exhibition—although it took a little while to explain the concept to them—potential customers thought it was a great idea. I also got valuable feedback and guidance from more established entrepreneurs in our community, who encouraged me to develop a business plan and aim for getting my wraps into shops.

This gave me the encouragement to be even bolder. I was very excited when a retailer in Hong Kong was interested in stocking our wraps. However, I was told the ‘envelope’ did not work for retail as the product could not be seen clearly on a shelf. I would also need to register a barcode for all products to be sold in shops. I had never done any of that before and the timeline was very tight. A few sleepless nights later, we completely redesigned our packaging concept. 

Over my first month as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of taking one day at a time, being grateful in the face of unexpected challenges and working hard to make the best of opportunities. Our traditional values have a lot for us to draw on as we work on making the best possible future for ourselves and our planet.  

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Last Updated
February 13, 2024
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