748
8 min 9 sec

An Everyday Bag That Gives Back to Women in India

A woman turns her need for a solid, everyday bag into a project that employs women at risk of human trafficking in West Bengal, India.
Crowdfunding Manufacturing Product Social Entrepreneurship

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What It's About

The search for the perfect bag leads to a mission helping at-risk women.

Business Model
Manufacturing
Skills Required
Research & Design
Complexity
Medium
Profit Potential
Medium

Words of Wisdom

If you too want to start a side hustle focused on social impact, start by thinking about what issue bothers you the most. When you know what problem you want to help solve, start brainstorming solutions. The trick is to try and make one of these solutions into a profitable side hustle. For that, you need to do plenty of market research and validate your idea.

Fun Fact

The night before the campaign launched, she put up several posters around the office. The next morning, she received an email from her HR manager stating that the posters were considered solicitation and were removed. To her surprise, one of her coworkers had seen the poster and purchased 6 bags—her biggest one-time sale to date! So the lesson here is, ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Notes from Chris

Episode 748
According to the International Labor Organization, roughly 4.5 million people are trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally. And staggering statistics like this are why today’s side hustler, Vaishali Umrikar decided to start a side hustle to help make a difference.

From a young age, Vaishali recognized the suffering of others. She was born in India, a country where human trafficking was still a major problem. Her interest grew with her and followed her to college in the U.S. where she founded and led an anti-human trafficking task force. But still, she wanted to do more.

When she graduated college and found a job in distribution fulfilling customer orders, this desire to help others left her feeling that something was missing. Yes, she was helping people but not in a way that she felt was truly impactful. What she really wanted to do was find a way to incorporate her previous work and experience with trafficking.

But the trouble was that she didn’t know exactly how to accomplish this.

Around this time, Vaishali also realized that she was in dire need of a new bag. Many of the bags she found were … nice enough. She found options that were really affordable and some that would have no trouble keeping up with her and her busy lifestyle. But what troubled her was that it was challenging for her to find something that was affordable, sustainable, and ethically made.

And one night while researching, she had a lightbulb moment. What if this was how she could make a difference? What if she could manufacture a bag that met her criteria AND supported women at risk at the same time? After all, everyone from CEOs to students carries a bag, so what if she could develop a brand that supported a variety of people? This is how The Empowerment Bag was born.

Vaishali came across a site called Common Objective which matches members with ethical and sustainable fashion suppliers all over the world. Similar to Alibaba, but specifically for social impact suppliers. Through Common Objective, she was able to locate a supplier in West Bengal, India that employs women at risk of exploitation.

These women are given employment with fair wages and learn an alternative to the sex trade through sewing and literacy skills. This was important to Vaishali because she didn’t just want to donate money, she wanted to help support a company that was giving these women the tools to help themselves and make a life for themselves and their families.

Vaishali worked directly with the manufacturer to develop 3 styles of bags that are both practical and eco-friendly: a duffel bag, a messenger bag, and a satchel. And although she was aiming for a 50% profit margin, it was important to her that the materials used to make the bags use sustainable farming practices that do not rely on damaging chemicals, hormones, or preservatives. Ultimately, she was able to secure those profit margins by pricing her bags between $40 and $75, respectively.

Since August 2018, Vaishali has earned over $4,000 and sold almost 100 of her 150 bags. And since that initial campaign goal covered the cost of her startup, everything else that comes in now is pure profit.

Vaishali is planning a trip to see family in India and tour the facility where her bags are produced. She looks forward to meeting the women she’s helping face to face.

She wishes that more people would consider adding social entrepreneurship elements to their businesses. And doing it as a side hustle means that you can make a difference without much risk. As she put it, “A lot of people have a social cause they feel strongly about, but the problem is that so many of us get caught up in corporate jobs. A side hustle can be a great way to start making a difference and produce a new income stream!"

 
  MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

  • The Empowerment Bag: Learn more about Vaishali's mission over on her website!
  • Common Objective: The Alibaba-esque platform that Vaishali used to locate a manufacturer for her bags
  • Fiverr: The platform that Vaishali used to find a designer to help her build her brand
  • Shopify: Vaishali used Shopify to set up her site for The Empowerment Bag, and they're offering a 21-day trial and exclusive discount for all Side Hustle School listeners!

SEE ALSO:

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,

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Quote of the Day
"A lot of people have a social cause they feel strongly about, but the problem is that so many of us get caught up in corporate jobs. A side hustle can be a great way to start making a difference and produce a new income stream!"
—Vaishali Umrikar #SideHustleSchool

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau