In our latest digital cover, eco-warrior Abe Lim and outdoorsman Malek Mccrone affirm that they stand on the side of earth — as protector and appreciator respectively. We dive into their mutual love of nature; the struggles of being young ‘champions’ of the nation; and their journey in rebuilding our rocky relationship with Mother Earth.
It is high noon, and the sun is beating down on the grass — imploring the rest of the world to cool off — but Malek Mccrone is in his element. We’re standing in an open patch at Permaisuri Lake Gardens, the first stop on our nature walk-slash-cover shoot, and the outdoor garb Malek has on is making him so hot he’s practically drenched. But if he’s feeling any discomfort at all, it certainly doesn’t show.
“When I was a kid, I developed a love for being outdoors, and being dirty all the time — and sweaty,” Malek laughs as we hand him a towel; the third time since we began our shoot. Growing up, Malek’s parents regularly took him camping and hiking, and he quickly fell in love; so much so that exploring nature turned into an annual family affair. “If I don’t go outdoors every now and then, I start to get a bit fidgety. I just don’t like it. Being outdoors calms me. Keeps me grounded.”
Malek may have just made his acting debut in 2020, but looking every inch the athlete, he has all the makings of a classic drama hero. These days he graces our TV screens as the antagonist Zaid in Astro Prima series Jesnita — though a decade ago, you might have spotted him in the news, making waves as a young national cyclist. At fourteen, Malek bagged a double win in a regional bike racing event only months after taking up the sport seriously, kick-starting what would become a monumental period in his career.
He is clearly someone who doesn’t like to sit still; a constant mover. Even now as we’re taking five at a park bench nearby, Malek is jogging in place underneath a shady tree. He has on a pair of the latest ASICS GEL-NIMBUS™ 25 — the most comfortable running shoe the brand has put out yet — perfect for a sprint, which I get him to do midway through our nature walk. Malek barely breaks a sweat when he meets us halfway after, still lively as ever.
Walking the talk in the ASICS GEL-NIMBUS™ 25
“I’ve actually been eyeing these for weeks now,” he confesses, gesturing to the GEL-NIMBUS™ 25. “Compared to my old shoes, these are really on another level with the comfort. And super lightweight, too. You get a soft, stretchy feature but with extra cushioning around your ankle. And I find that’s really nice, especially for long-distance running, when you would exert more energy there.”
As an avid trail runner, Malek is always on the lookout for maximum comfort. And with ASICS’ philosophy of ‘Sound Mind, Sound Body’, our nature-loving cover stars can connect well with the brand’s ethos of cultivating an environment that contributes to improving people’s mental and physical health. And combining athlete sensory wear testing, ample biomechanical research, and sustainable innovation, the latest in the the brand’s GEL-NIMBUS™ lineup is essentially a creation that feels best for both the body and the mind.
“These are, like, super comfortable,” Abe gushes, flexing her footwear: the ASICS GEL-NIMBUS™ 25 in Papaya, with the pink hues eye-catching as ever against the green grass. Equipped with the newly-created PureGEL™ technology integrated into the shoe’s midsole and cushioning made for ultra comfort, the GEL-NIMBUS™ 25 offers remarkably soft landings for the energetic runner — or simply a very enthusiastic eco-warrior. “I don’t feel a thing, it’s like I’m walking on clouds!”
Like the ASICS GEL-NIMBUS™ 25, Abe has a fresh and ever-changing outlook on sustainability. Repurposing plastics are at the core of her business Purpose Plastics, and in a similar fashion, ASICS is constantly upping their game in the pursuit of environmental sustainability. The new iteration of the GEL-NIMBUS™ 25 is not only made up of more foam for comfort — 20% more, to be exact— but the foam is also partly made from bio-based materials, using waste from the processing of sugar cane.
“I’d really like to try the Annapurna circuit one day,” he says nonchalantly, as if he’s describing a high school cross-country run and not one of the most dangerous treks in Asia. “It’s a minimum of 14 days and they say it can take up to one, maybe two months. So, you can just go on walking, and walking, and not thinking. I think that sounds like a pretty cool trip. Yeah, my idea of ‘fun’ is a bit different.”
We are in the midst of wrapping up some final shots of Malek ‘in the wild’ when our joint February cover star, Abe Lim, arrives at the park — looking far from ready for an outdoor shoot — all professional-like in a dark blazer, though her hair is slightly dishevelled. She had rushed over from a round-table with Ministry officials, discussing the upcoming Bajet 2023 and its impetus to environmental protection. As much as she is an activist, Abe is primarily a lawyer — and armed with the power of the law, she aims to change the world.
While Malek’s relationship with nature shines best when he’s roughing it, Abe loves Mother Earth in a fiercer and more impassioned way. She advocates for the environment (what the hippies might have once called ‘tree hugging’) and though she blushes and shrinks a little when I praise her admirable feats of activism, clearly she is proud of all that she’s accomplished.
Abe didn’t so much become a green-leaning activist as she stumbled into it. If she hadn’t taken a second to stop and look around her some three years ago, Purpose Plastics — the plastic waste management company she runs, which thrust her to the forefront of the environmental movement — might not have even happened. “It’s a funny story, how it started,” Abe begins, launching right in. “So, it’s COVID-19, I’m walking across the street near my house and I see this Sainsbury’s plastic bag flying around. Sainsbury’s, which is the supermarket in the UK and we don’t have it here, so I don’t even know how it got here, but — anyway. Then I started watching documentaries, reading about plastics import, and I found out that Malaysia used to be a huge dump for all this imported plastic waste.”
We’ve circled a second lap around the lake by now, and while I am already short of breath — a testament to my own sedentary lifestyle — Abe is still fizzing with energy. Her enthusiasm is contagious. I don’t spend nearly as much time pondering over plastics, but simply watching Abe speak so passionately that she keeps going off at a tangent is enough to make me want to do my own research on plastics import.
“I feel like ever since Purpose Plastics, a lot of things have trickled down,” Abe confides. “I started seeing things from different angles. I started by doing work on plastics. From there, I started looking up plastics law, and later it became plastics policy. It’s like a vertical goal. It just keeps growing. Because once you see how it is on the ground or when you start at the grassroots level, it changes how you think. That’s when you can clearly see there’s a problem.”
She comes in (bright, Green) colours everywhere
The problem, as Abe couldn’t have made it any clearer, is plastics. After she uncovered the horrifying truth about one-use plastics — that the more it grows, the harder it is to ‘kill’ — she has made it her life’s mission to do something about it. “There’s a lot of unethical waste in manufacturing plastics,” she says. “Have you ever noticed how flimsy plastics are nowadays? That’s because plastic has been diluted. At first it started with China, and now thanks to the plastic price war, everyone is doing it. It’s bad, but this is a good example of how one nation can easily create a ripple effect. Plastic wasn’t cheap before. And it used to be solid — something you could reuse. But the thought process today is like, ‘Well, people are going to use this plastic for a minute and then throw it away, so why should we put so much quality in it?’ That makes it a problem.”
Abe isn’t knocking plastics completely. After all, we’ve seen throughout the pandemic how single-use plastics literally saved the human population — because it was disposable masks, disposable needles and personal protective equipment (PPE) that helped to prevent the disease from spreading. “What, am I gonna go into these hospitals and say, ‘Don’t use single-use plastics’? No, of course not,” Abe adds, tongue-in-cheek. “It’s just about being conscious of our usage. And knowing that it all has to go somewhere. Look at this.” She picks up a Tupperware container that’s sitting on the table between us. “We just chuck it in the bin and we forget about it. But if we really think about it — it goes into the bin, someone collects it, then where does it go from there? People think that once it disappears, it goes into a magic dimension.”
The Sainsbury’s bag may have been the kick-off to Abe’s plastic passion, but it was really set in motion when she was stationed in Nairobi, Kenya last year. “Did you know that Nairobi has actually banned single-use plastics since 2017?” Abe exclaims, looking completely bewildered. The thought of completely banning one-use plastics here still seems so far-fetched. “And the thing is, they don’t use a lot of it anyway. It’s just that the plastics have accumulated too much. I went to see the Kibera slums and the place was literally covered with plastics, even though it’s already banned. It was such a huge reminder that it doesn’t go away. You could even see kids playing with the plastics like they’re a pile of dirty toys. It was quite a sad sight. You know, we’re lucky we have a lot of land here in Malaysia, and a lot of landfills. But sooner or later, it’s all going to go down. How long are we going to just keep creating landfills to solve the issue?”
This is where Purpose Plastics comes into the picture. Once she’s come to terms with the fact that plastics are indeed here to stay, Abe’s organisation instead fights the pollution by — as the name suggests — repurposing these plastics and transforming them into practical everyday products, from home décor to fashion accessories. Think earrings, hair clips, desk organisers, ashtrays, vases and even mahjong and Chinese chequer pieces — all so gorgeously crafted you wouldn’t believe they came from plastic waste.
As Abe proudly shows me photos of the products on the company’s Instagram, I jokingly tell her, “BRB, ‘bout to pre-order some Purpose Plastics!” even though I’m already browsing the account on my own phone. Truthfully, I’m still in awe. It’s one thing to go ahead and do a business start-up; it’s another thing altogether to link it back to her goal, which is to combat plastic pollution. This kind of thing takes time and effort — but first and foremost, the guts to try.
“I think… no, I know the number one thing for me is just responsibility,” Abe affirms when I ask what it is that first incited this love of the environment for her beyond Purpose Plastics. “I feel like if I could do something, I should. Really, it’s just as simple as that. I’ve never been a super outdoorsy person; that only happened after Covid. But I’ve always been someone who’s curious. So, when I learned that these things are happening — like plastics import and plastic waste — and I know I’m capable of doing something about it, I’ll just start. Otherwise, who am I waiting for?” She laughs. “Plus, I’m the oldest child. Maybe that plays a part, too.”
Last November, Abe was featured in The New York Times for her work with Purpose Plastics. But it came as a surprise even to her, because in the busy year of 2022 — between speaking at COP27 and winning a case against the UK government with ClientEarth, an NGO she’s in league with in London — Abe has had her focus elsewhere. “When I was in Nairobi, some of them from the Youth Centre approached me and asked me to teach them what we do at Purpose Plastics,” she explains. “Of course, I was happy to teach them, and they asked if they could use the Purpose Plastics branding and templates. We gave them the packaging, everything — whatever they needed to carry it out. They offered to pay royalties, and I was like, ‘No, you don’t need to do that. Just keep doing what you’re doing.’ When an African correspondent of The New York Times saw what they were up to and talked to them, the people at the Youth Centre were so, so nice. They credited it back to me, even though they didn’t need to do that.”
Where many others have claimed to fight for a noble cause conditionally, Abe’s purpose feels real because she believes in it wholeheartedly, no matter the outcome. Suddenly I can’t help but wonder: had Purpose Plastics been borne by someone a little more selfish, it might’ve never had the chance to grow into a full-fledged organisation.
She’s also incredibly grateful for having a platform on which she can connect with people. As we discuss her impact on social media, Abe’s infectious energy jumps in again: “Oh my God, wait, I need to talk to you about #EARTH999.” If Purpose Plastics is Abe’s firstborn, then #EARTH999 is her precious, youngest child. “I’m just a small-town girl from Ipoh,” she says with an easy shrug, “and since my work has been overseas, people have asked me, ‘How come you’re not doing anything about the caves in Perak? It’s your hometown, isn’t it?’ I guess I happen to be the only environmentalist they know of who comes from Ipoh. And I was like, ‘You know what? Caves are not my thing. It’s all just a bunch of rocks.’”
But like with the plastics in the Kibera slums, Abe had to see it to understand — and what she found, she couldn’t even believe with her own eyes. “The caves have their own watch groups, and they showed me all these cave paintings that they call ‘rock art’,” she shares. “And they date way back, like, to prehistoric times. I was so shocked — how is it that these are just out here and no one is saying anything about it? There’s so much heritage that we don’t know about.” And thus the environmental organisation #EARTH999 was born, via a cave party in Gua Masoorat in Ipoh, where guests were able to explore the cave and see this ‘rock art’ for themselves. #EARTH999 aims to uncover the earth’s deepest secrets, with a focus on the conservation of caves and karsts.
Fun fact: to commemorate the work she did with #EARTH999, the community watch groups have named a cave after Abe! If you’re thinking of checking out the cave scene in Ipoh, be sure to pay a visit to Gua Abe. “I thought they were joking at first,” Abe says, looking flustered yet still beaming, “but they were like, ‘We’ll make sure to have your name here. As a way of saying thank you, for bringing awareness to this and to what we do.’”
He’s a runner, he’s a track star
Although it’s their first time meeting, the tranquil setting of the park makes for pretty natural chemistry for our February cover stars — being surrounded by greenery and the earth must help. It’s definitely the case for Malek at least. “I live near the Shah Alam Community Forest,” he says. “It’s basically my backyard, I go there almost every day. I just enjoy spending time in the forest for hours and hours ‘cause it’s such a freeing feeling.”
As the rest of us engage in battle with the grass-dwelling bugs, Malek nestles himself snugly against the tree, looking right at home with leaves jutting out of its boughs, illuminated by sunrays. “Just hold for a few more minutes,” Annice Lyn, our photographer, tells him, but looking at the ease of his expression, Malek probably wouldn’t have minded staying there until sundown.
Malek has always had a very hands-on approach to life. He took part in various sports in his childhood from swimming and long-distance running, to cycling — the full triathlon treatment. Once he discovered his natural affinity with cycling, Malek’s family spared no effort to support him in his career in sports.
“I joined the Selangor cycling squad and by 14, I was enrolled in the youth development programme,” he expands. The double win he secured at regional level wowed the sports scene, and his skill became highly recognised. “I felt really lucky to be able to train with the team. I stayed in Ipoh for eight months, just continuing to improve myself.” This would be the start of his lesson in self-reliance as well, his first taste of living alone.
Just as Malek was riding high in the cycling world — securing a gold at the 14th SUKMA Games; earning a good placement in the World Junior Track Championships in Invercargill, New Zealand; training with legends Azizulhasni Awang and Josiah Ng — he suffered a bad accident at a criterium race in Melbourne, Australia in 2012 that landed him in intensive care.
“My mom got really freaked out, you know?” Malek recounts. “So, it was no more cycling for me, at least for a while. That was tough on me mentally. Cycling was basically my life. I started to lose my momentum and I became so unmotivated — ‘cause you know when you’ve already reached a good level at what you do, and then you just get pushed back down. You start to fall into the ‘wrong’ crowd, and all that. I felt there was no structure, no consistency in my life.”
But Malek’s strongest support system, his family, would not see his spirit be broken. “I was sent to Canada to work,” Malek says, prefacing the next chapter of his life, wherein he was involved in technical jobs at land rigs and demolition work. “With my parents, it’s all tough love. They just said, ‘Okay, here’s your PR card, your one-way ticket and $2,000 to start your life, and off you go.”
A year later, he would return to Malaysia, where his stint in the entertainment industry began. “I had friends in the scene, you know, musicians, photographers,” he says. “After I came back, they were like, ‘Malek, why not do a test shoot?’ I had already done a test shoot for fun once, when I was 18, with fashion photographer Bibo Aswan.” Malek was apprehensive about it at first — which, coming from a sportsman’s lifestyle, is understandable. The makeup and the pose-striking does need some getting used to. But eventually, Malek saw the added benefits behind it all, and the discipline he regained in sticking to a firm schedule. He calls it his “greatest strength”, adapting to a consistent and time-based routine.
“I thought it was good part-time money to pay for my backpacking trips,” he says a little shyly. Looking back, he realises he still hadn’t quite broken out of his ‘life without structure’. “I wasn’t really thinking about anything, I just knew I wanted to spend time roughing it, being around nature all the time. I went to Thailand for a month, then Cambodia, and later Indonesia for a month. Stayed in hostels, doing whatever, just really, full-on bumming it out. It was like, ‘Let’s see how long I can last.’”
After the pandemic shook the world, Malek cinched his decision to grow in the entertainment industry. But nothing could dampen his love for nature and adventure. Over the past year, Malek found his calling in trail running, participating in various treks and endurance running, including the iconic Ultra Trail. “It’s so different from cycling, in that running is more of a mental game — you versus you,” he tells me. “Because you’re not really racing against anyone. You’re racing with everyone, but you are racing against yourself. You’re out there from 24 up to 60 hours, it’s all about taking the next step. A personal mental challenge.”
Malek has his sights set on a few upcoming treks and races — on top of the Annapurna circuit, he’s also eyeing the Mantra Summits Challenge in Surabaya, a 116 km trek with an 8,000 m elevation. The challenge is part of the Asia Trail Master, where competitors can collect points to be able to represent the country. “But that’s, like, my goal in the next two or three years,” he says. “I want to put my Malaysian jersey back on again. I’m not done with it just yet.”