Liza (foreground) and Illani (background)

WHAT can you do if you were a victim of bullying throughout your school years? You could go on to study psychology to better understand human behaviour or you could start a social enterprise aimed at fostering children’s emotional intelligence. Illani Manshoor has done both.

In collaboration with her sister, she has built up CreaTee, which is in the business of building emotional intelligence through a T-shirt design kit aimed at schoolchildren. As a social enterprise, some of the company’s proceeds go into T-shirt design workshops for at-risk and under-served children as part of its anti-bullying efforts by enhancing children’s self-esteem and confidence.

WHAT DID YOU AND YOUR SISTER DO BEFORE STARTING THIS COMPANY?

We both studied and worked in the US before coming back home. I studied psychology at Boston University and worked in the US schooling system in Boston. My sister, Liza Manshoor, took up Graphic Design at the Massachusetts College of Art and she worked at a design studio in Boston for a while.

HOW DID THE IDEA OF A T-SHIRT KIT COME ABOUT?

While hanging out at places like mamak restaurants, we often noticed that while waiting for the food to arrive, kids and parents alike would be fiddling with their phones and not talking to each other. There’s such a lack of communication these days. This made us think: Wouldn’t it be a good idea if kids had something they could produce that was not digital or electronic?

We wanted it to be something that required creativity. So it wouldn’t be enough if the activity involved simply colouring or tracing some designs. We wanted the kids to come up with their own designs. So we created special stencils that the kids could move around to create the designs they liked. We felt that if they did this on a T-shirt, it would be something they would be very proud of.

HOW DID YOU TWO COME UP WITH THE KIT?

That took a lot of time and research. It required us to combine our respective skills in psychology and design.

WHAT’S INSIDE EACH KIT?

A specially designed stencil, a T-shirt, a piece of Malaysian batik, a piece of felt, fabric paint, fabric glue, two fabric markers and a pair of googly eyes.

The Crea Tee Kit.

WHERE DID YOU SOURCE THE MATERIALS FROM?

Some materials are foreign and some, local. We identified some good, child-safe products from the US and Japan. For example, the cotton T-shirt and paint are from the US while the markers are from Japan.

The batik is of course Malaysian, which we get from our collaborator — and fellow social enterprise — The Batik Boutique.

HOW DO YOU BUILD EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE THROUGH T-SHIRT DESIGN?

We believe in using the arts as a means of sowing the seeds of confidence and self-esteem in kids. Children with high emotional intelligence are well-equipped to handle tough situations.

WERE YOU BULLIED AS A CHILD?

I was. Not so much physical bullying but emotional and verbal bullying. Sometimes such bullying is worse than physical bullying because the “wounds” can’t be seen. I was a classic loner and a nerd. I never fit in with the crowd — a reject who was called all sorts of names. Imagine what that did to my self-esteem. I felt inferior. This happened on and off from primary school through to secondary school. The arts helped me get by. It was an outlet for me to express myself.

IS YOUR BUSINESS CONDUCTED COMPLETELY ONLINE?

Our business is mostly online via our website www.createekit.com. However, we also have a presence at two outlets: Xplorasi Petrosains, KLCC and also NAIISE Malaysia on Jalan Kampung Attap. Other venues where you can find our products are events and bazaars. We also do workshops.

IN WHAT WAY IS CreaTee A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE?

A social enterprise is a business with a cause. Our platform is “anti-bullying” and we do that by focusing on building emotional intelligence through art. Part of our proceeds goes towards holding T-shirt design workshops for under-served or at-risk children.

Illani (with glasses) conducting a workshop with Rohingya children. Liza is the one taking pictures.

WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF WORKSHOPS YOU’VE DONE?

We’ve done workshops in low cost flats. We’ve also done some for Rohingya and Chin refugee children. Last month we had the pleasure of going to Sekolah Kebangsaan (A) Sungai Melut which serves Orang Asal children from the Temuan Tribe. We conducted a workshop for the 76 students of that school.

WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING WITH YOUR SISTER?

We have different personalities but that’s good in a way because I believe we balance each other out. My sister is the yin to my yang. We keep each other in check, for which I’m really grateful. We both want the best for the other and we love and support each other. It’s a good partnership.

DID YOUR PARENTS ENCOURAGE ART?

We were lucky to have a good childhood. Our parents were loving and supportive. They encouraged us to pursue our interests — whatever they may be. Imagine one child wanting to do art and the other psychology. Not exactly what typical Malaysian parents expect of their children. But my parents were very encouraging even from young.

Liza showed an interest in art when she was just four. She loved drawing and colouring and was really good at it. My father noticed this. He was working for Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, and one day he took Liza with him to work and introduced her to the in-house illustrator. When they got home, he asked Liza whether that was something she’d like to pursue. She said “yes” and she hasn’t looked back since.

IN THE FUTURE, WILL YOU GO BEYOND A T-SHIRT KIT?

For sure. We’re constantly learning from customers and researching for new ideas. I don’t quite know yet in what shape or form it will take but one thing is for certain: It will reflect our philosophy of hands-on learning to foster creativity and self-expression.