During my Nepal travels, I was also thinking in the back of my mind of a product I can bring back to the USA that can help uplift the community as well as sustain our work. As I mentioned in our last blog, Lanna and I had started a company called Impact Mart where every product we sell contributes to a cause such as world hunger, human trafficking, access to clean water, access to education, animal welfare, and more. There is a big wave of social enterprise in the United States where companies have incorporated “social responsibility” into their company bylaws and mission. A few example of these companies are Toms shoes where each shoe purchase provides a pair of shoes to a child in need, Sudara a clothing company where they employ victims of sex trafficking, SoapBox a soap company where each soap sold provides a bar of soap and with each hair products sold, they provide a month of clean water in US and around the world. There are many companies that have started to emerge and with our company we want to make these product become available to consumers at one location Impact Mart just like Walmart. Imagine if we can have a store full of everyday products where not only consumers can use them, but also generate impact. HELL YEAAA!!
While in Nepal, I was hoping to really have our own product line where we could get in the pace with “Social Enterprise”. As I was searching for that product to launch in USA with only one day left, I was off to see artisans around Kathmandu with a good reputation and appetite for making a difference. Along the way, Binod dai introduced me and John to a young group of local activists who promote Nepali products crafted by artisans. One of the artisans in the group was carrying a grey hemp backpack with him. As soon as I saw it, I asked him where did he get that backpack from. He referred me to an artisan in Kathmandu and off I was with John and Binod dai on a mission to see more bags. It was about to get dark so we went to Binod Dai’s house to stay over for the night.
Binod Dai’s house was in Thamel area. John and I met with his mom, dad, and his girlfriend who at that time was getting ready for a play. She was from Korea and fell in love with Binod dai on a trip to Nepal which was so rare, yet super cool. Now, she is taking classes in Kathmandu to sustain her visa to stay in Nepal, and that my friend is called true love. We chatted for a while and went to bed early since we had an appointment with the artisan in the morning.
In the morning, John and I received a farewell from Binod dai’s parents. Without even eating a proper breakfast, we left for the appointment. Once we got to the shop, there was a lady who we started to chat with. As we started conversing, it was clear we were not looking for one or two bag packs so she told us to come with her on a walk. After a few twist and turns and a small alley way, we got to a warehouse where there was a lot of bags, hats, and much more. As we got there, we met with the artisan who had been working on these products for 26 years. We introduced ourselves and I started explaining to him the concept of “social enterprise.” We agreed to implement each bag to provide 8 hours of education through SnowYak Foundation, and off I was with 23 kg (1 luggage weight allowed to carry on international flight) of hemp products in my hands with optimism high as ever. I was thrilled while John was in shock. He told me as we left with the products on the roof of a local taxi, “Saroj, you are a crazy guy.” haha
Once I got back to the USA, Lanna and I proceeded to sew the bags with our message and logo. We didn’t have a sewing machine and luckily my coworker Snow let us borrow one.
Around the same time we were sewing the bags in my apartment, we also officially announced the launch of our company Impact Mart at “Flight Night” in Hartford, where we pitched in front of judges and a small crowd.
I also want to take this moment to thank reSET, a non-profit who helps entrepreneurs like us to take our businesses to the next level. We were part of an accelerator program where they taught us the ins and outs of running a business from product development, customer acquisition, marketing strategies, to how to form a business plan.
We had our first pop-up shop to feature the hemp products at Trinity College in Hartford at an event called the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival. It was one of the purest forms of hip hop where they had all the elements (bboying, MC, DJ and Graffiti) of hiphop. In the past I had attended the event with UCONN Breakdacning Club however I had not seen all the other elements besides Bboying. It was truly an awesome place to start our Impact Mart journey. Below are some of the pictures of our pop-up shop and customers (more like friends).
As we were at our table, we bumped into a couple of really extraordinary people all the way from Uganda, Bavaluku and Girlbert. As Bavaluku checked out our bags, he also saw the school we built in Ramche, Nepal. Bavaluku at first was not sure what our bags were about, but once he saw the message, and the story, he was in shocked. We proceeded to explain our company and our mission of building schools around the world. He offered us to come to Uganda to build a school in a community that really needs it. He also informed us about a piece of land his family owns next to the Nile River which would be a perfect location to construct the school. I looked at Lanna and thought, is this FOR REAL HAPPENING??
We were super interested and just like that we exchanged each other’s contacts. He went on to perform on the stage later that evening and I offered them both to come over my apartment to have a sleep over and talk more about the idea of building a school in Uganda.