Creating a Business That Helps Others: Batiks For Life

Sara is the owner of Batiks for Life LLC, a fair-trade oriented company that manufactures medical scrubs and accessories using the traditional batik fabric of Ghana, West Africa. The mission of Batiks for Life is threefold. First, to support an NGO in Ghana that provides education and vocational training to young single mothers and their children through the manufacture of these garments. Second, to create additional small sewing businesses in villages in Ghana, using fair trade practices. Third, to use a portion of profits to fund the creation of medical clinics in underserved communities in Ghana. The tagline for Batiks for Life is “scrubs on a mission!” and Sara’s business is truly on a mission to make a difference in people’s lives.

Meredith: Today we have one of those rare occasions where our guest is live with us in our studio. We are interviewing Sara Corey from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is the owner of Batiks for Life. It’s a fair trade company that manufactures medical scrubs and accessories using the traditional batik fabric of Ghana, West Africa. Sara has set up this amazing system where every piece of scrubs that is produced is produced in Ghana. Batiks for Life is helping people get jobs in Ghana by helping a small family business that actually sews them together. The scrubs themselves use Ghanaian batik and the different symbols have different messages of health and wellness and things like that. It all just fits together wonderfully, and it’s a great example of how a business doing something that seems kind of mundane, like making medical scrubs, can really do a world of good and help people realize their passions at the same time.

Jasper:  Yes, and it’s the first social enterprise we’ve had on the show, so it’s really exciting for us. We’re planning to do some follow-ups on this story later in the year as well, so keep an ear open for that one.

Sara:  I visited Ghana back in 2011 and one of the things that you really notice when you go to Ghana is that the fabrics there are just incredibly colorful and beautiful. I really fell in love with the batik fabric, and I knew I wanted to do something with that fabric, but I wasn’t really sure what. Then, sort of out of the blue, I just got an inspiration to make medical scrubs using the traditional batik fabric of Ghana. So that’s kind of where the business started and then it just kind of took off from there.

Meredith:  How did you get started with that? Was it like, “Okay, I’m in Ghana. Pretty fabric. Ghana is very far away. Things are very different there. How do I start a business making something like that and bringing it back here?”

Sara:  That is a really interesting question. I literally just got this inspiration and started researching it on the internet, and I started thinking that there has to be some way to get the fabric from some source, but I didn’t know how to do that. I mean, I’ve never really done a business before. I just Googled “batik from Ghana” and this non-profit organization, “ABAN for Life,” came up. I looked at their website and, as it turned out, they use batik fabric in their products. It’s an NGO, a non-profit, so they are part in the States and part in Ghana. They do all of the manufacturing of their products in Ghana. I thought, “Oh, my gosh. They are using batik and they are manufacturing something and they have a sewing aspect to their business — maybe I could work with them on what I want to do.”

Jasper:  For those in our audience who haven’t actually heard of batik before, please explain a little bit about the technique, as it’s actually a really interesting way of creating art, isn’t it?

Sara:  Yes, exactly. Basically, you start with cotton fabric, just plain cotton fabric. Then there are designs stamped onto the fabric with wax, and then the fabric is dyed, and that wax is removed, and then other symbols are stamped on and waxed, and then it’s dyed again. So it’s kind of like an over-dying process using wax.

Jasper:  Right, and the wax creates areas that are not dyed. So it’s kind of a removal process.

Sara:  Yes, sort of like a counter-design or something.

Jasper:  And then you build it up over several different layers to create a multi-colored design. It’s very interesting.

Sara:  One of the interesting things about the batiks from Ghana is that they use these traditional symbols. They are called Adinkra symbols, and they all have a special meaning. For instance, the one that I’m wearing now the symbol is a moon and a star, a symbol for eternity, so it’s just kind of interesting to me.

Meredith:  Do you include information on the meaning of the symbols when you sell people the scrubs?

Sara:  Yes, we are definitely going to do that.

Meredith:  That’s cool. So do you have customers now, or are you just in the process of setting that up?

Sara:  We are just in the process of doing some marketing now. We don’t have a website yet, but it is under development and we have a lot of people that are interested.

Meredith:  Is your intention to sell these primarily online or to sell them to companies that provide scrubs for healthcare workers?

Sara:  Primarily to sell online. We’ll probably also market to small businesses that sell medical uniforms and that type of thing, but not to the major huge manufacturers, because that’s just not the direction that we want to go. We want to stay more along the lines of fair trade and that type of thing.

Meredith:  How does that work? Let’s say someone is buying batik scrubs from you. Who made that and who is getting the money and how is that all working?

Sara:  We start with fabric we purchased here in the States and ship it over there, because, unfortunately, it’s not possible to get a consistent quality of cotton over there. Then the material is batiked by a small family-owned business in the capital city of Ghana, Accra, who are batik artisans. Then that fabric is sewed by the NGO that we are working with. They have what is called their community employment program, and they employ tailors and seamstresses from the local community who are all paid a fair wage for their work, so they’re actually producing the product. We will be marketing partly in Ghana and partly in the States and other places in the world.

Jasper:  You said earlier that you’d never done a business before. I can understand the sort of passion behind doing it, because it is a very cool thing to do. But tell us a little bit about what you did before and how you made the transition.

Sara:  Actually, for close to 15 years I’ve been in the counseling field, and most recently working as the manager of a counseling agency.  So I guess I have that managerial experience that I can draw upon.

Jasper:  Right. The thing about business is that you have to sort of manage every little piece of the business, don’t you, whereas in a job you’re given a particular role to do. But in business you have to become the accountant, the supply manager, and everything else. So how is that working?

Sara:  Well, I’m really good at delegating responsibility.

Meredith:  Who are you delegating it to?

Sara:  My son is actually working on the business with me, and he’s very well versed in shipping, receiving, and operations.

Meredith:  How did you come to that decision, because I know that deciding to do something as a family business is also a fraught decision, versus being a solopreneur or actually hiring employees? What made you decide that this would be a good thing for you and your son to do together?

Sara:  He and I have a great relationship and he is very experienced in that type of work. He has been doing it for a long time. He was interested in the business and in developing the business, so I just asked him if he’d be interested in coming on and working on it with me and he said he was, so…

Meredith:  So for start-up funding, did you go out and get start-up funds or are you funding this yourself?

Sara:  I’m pretty much funding it myself, but we are also exploring some other options as well.

Favorite Book: Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah

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sara-corry2Guest – Sara Corry – Batiks For Life

batiksforlife.com

At Batiks for Life, we don’t want to be “just another scrubs company.” We believe that business can be a win-win situation for everyone. We can both make a profit, and support the communities in which the products are made. The sale of our scrubs and accessories can help young women and single mothers living on the streets to move out of poverty and into productive, empowered lives.

We started by identifying an existing community employment program where tailors and seamstresses were working under excellent conditions and being paid a living wage. An added benefit was that the work we provided for them would support vocational training for the marginalized young mothers in their program. Some of them were training to become seamstresses, while others were apprenticing in the community as hairdressers and hospitality workers.
Through our work with this community employment program, it became clear that the issues facing young mothers living on the streets are both extreme and widespread. It’s estimated that as of this writing in 2015, there are 100,000 street kids in Accra, and young women can face particular dangers from physical abuse and sexual exploitation. Thus, planning began to develop our own fair trade-oriented community employment program so that more young women could be trained to become seamstresses and thus be empowered to support themselves.

But we won’t stop here. Our ultimate goal is to use profits from BATIKS FOR LIFE to fund small, volunteer-run medical clinics in underserved villages, empowering the local residents by providing basic health care.

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How Penny Quit Her Full Time Job to Sell Jewelry on Etsy

Today we’re interviewing Penny Cordova of Penny’s Treasures. Penny is a little bit different from our normal collection of coaches and artists and teachers. She is a metalsmith and jewelry designer who sells her jewelry on Etsy, and she just recently left her day job to focus on her jewelry-making passion full-time. In this interview, we talk about what it’s like to make that transition and how you would go about starting a business where you’re making things by hand and selling them to people individually.

Penny:  I worked at Walgreens as an assistant manager for a long time and made pretty good money there, but I always felt like something was missing in my life. I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. I had started making jewelry off and on about 20 years ago and I had taken a lot of metalsmithing classes. I really felt like that was what I was passionate about, so I decided to start making jewelry to sell and I sell it on Etsy.

I started this long before I left Walgreens, I would say in about 2008. I left Walgreens just this year so it was about six years ago, but I was working full-time so I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to it. It’s very time-consuming just making the pieces. Then I have to photograph them and edit the photos and create the listing, so it’s a long process. Earlier this year, Walgreens went through a restructuring and I basically was given a choice to stay on or leave. I decided to leave and pursue my passion.

Meredith:  So while you were still working at Walgreens, how successful were you in terms of selling your jewelry through Etsy?

Penny:  It was pretty slow. Like I said, I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to it. Now that I’ve left Walgreens, I’m devoting a lot more time to updating my site, changing my titles and tags to improve the SEO, and doing things like getting on social media so that I can market it and grow it that way.

Meredith:  Many people say that if you’re planning to leave a corporate job, something like Walgreens, then it’s a good idea to start off part-time in your spare time and build that up until you realize a big enough income that effectively takes over your actual “normal job” salary. Were you in that position, or did you just take a leap of faith and say, “Well, this is going to work. I just need to get on and do it”?

Penny:  I took the leap of faith. My jewelry business is not making anywhere near as much as I was making at Walgreens, but I knew that I needed to devote all of my time to it. Working at Walgreens left me with virtually no time to spend on making jewelry or getting things listed, so I have a lot of money saved up that I had from the years of working there. I just left, quit my job, took the leap of faith, and now I’m trying to make it work.

Jasper:  So what plans do you have, because I’m thinking that jewelry-making is one of these businesses where it’s really difficult to outsource the actual art, right?

Penny:  You could always find someone. I could design one piece and then outsource it to someone who could make duplicates of it. A lot of jewelers do that, but I really love the creative process. I love making the pieces myself and I would really like to keep on doing that. If I were to outsource anything, I think it would be the photography or the listing, things like that, or social media content.

Jasper:  It’s interesting for our listeners, because the art world is very different than other things. Artists want to keep doing their art and then build a business at the same time, so there’s some tension there between all the stuff that needs to be done to sell the thing that you’re making.

Penny:  Yes.

Meredith:  So are your pieces all individual, or do you have a range that you make over and over again?

Penny:  Up until now, all of my pieces have been completely different from one another. I’ve never made the same design twice. They’ve all been unique and one of a kind. Recently, I thought I need to create a line that’s cohesive with different pieces that could go together like a necklace and earrings or a bracelet and a ring, so that’s something I’m working on right now — developing a new line. Then I’ll offer it with different variations in color or shape maybe.

Meredith:  Very cool. So do you exclusively sell this though Etsy, or do you actually do a stall somewhere or anything else?

Penny:  Exclusively online on Etsy, but I have started doing craft shows. This past October and November, I did several shows in the Houston area. I intend to continue doing that, but I’m also looking into getting my pieces into a boutique somewhere, maybe on consignment or sell them wholesale.

Meredith:  Interesting. There must be a lot of competition involved in getting into a boutique, so how do you go about that?

Penny:  Well, I’ve been going around and just checking out some shops that I think would be a possibility and talking to the owner or whoever is in there, finding out who I would need to get into contact with about that. My next step will be sending out emails to those contacts to let them know what I have available and that I think my pieces would be a good fit with their shop, and just see what happens from there.

Favorite Resource: Etsy

Penny CordovaGuest – Penny Cordova – Penny’s Treasures

etsy.com/shop/pennystreasures

I am a designer of unique genuine gemstone and metal jewelry. I make everything by hand with much love and care. Please check out both of my websites at www.pennystreasures.etsy.com and www.pennystreasures.artfire.com.

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Creating A Product By Solving A Problem

After raising 6 kids and college educating them all, Terri Kelly found herself starting over financially at the age of 50. At the same time, a running injury forced her to find a new sport. She decided to give yoga a try. She went to her local Lululemon to buy her first pair of yoga pants and immediately fell in love with the soft, lightweight feel and minimalist design. She found a cute top to go with them and then looked around the store for something to put on her feet and discovered that they don’t sell footwear. She then did a market analysis and found that the large yoga apparel companies do not sell footwear to go with the ever-popular yoga pant, so she got to work. She found sourcing in China, went through the design process, and created terrikellys, the “yoga pants for your feet”.

Meredith:  It’s amazing to hear your story about how you found a personal need and developed a product to meet that need.

Terri:  Thank you for having me!

Jasper:  The interesting thing is that the over-50s are the ones creating most of the businesses now. So, if you’re over 50 and you’re wondering whether you should start a new business or not, Terri is really a shining example of how you can do it, too.

Meredith:  Tell us your story, Terri, of how you got from there to here.

Terri:  I went out into the marketplace basically having no thoughts or ideas about starting a company. Honestly, I was just looking for something to put on my feet. I wanted a flip flop, something very soft, thin, and minimalist, but I couldn’t find it. I also looked into what the marketplace was saying as to “this is the footwear you wear with your yoga pants when the weather is nice,” and found out that all of the big yoga companies are apparel companies. They might sell yoga mats, but mostly it’s apparel. No one’s making footwear to go with the yoga pants. And that’s how it started.

I went to a trade show in Las Vegas, talked my way into the sourcing room, and ended up finding sourcing in China. I had no idea how any of the process worked. I went in so blind. At one of the booths, a guy from China had a stack of EVA sample chips (a thermoplastic polymer). He didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Chinese. He had a cousin there from L.A. who imported auto parts, and he was our translator. We started to communicate. After several months, I realized that I needed a little more support in China and found a different source through another contact. But I’ve never been to China. I had my samples and design process going back and forth in the mail and email and, about a year later, I placed my first order and imported.

We launched our company about a year ago and developed a really great online store. Then we went out and started selling at festivals and fairs and trunk shows so that we could interact with the customer and really understand what the product was and wasn’t. This was really important to me. At the time, I knew nothing about crowdfunding. The only thing that made sense to me was to self-fund and get out there and interact with the customer.

I literally watched hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of women try these flip flops on over the past year, and they all have the exact same response. They come up to the booth. We have flip flops out. People touch them. And then they say, “So, what’s different about these flip flops?” You start to tell them. You can see their minds working. They’re ready for a pitch, so they’re half-listening. They plop them on the ground and put their foot in them and say, “Oh, my God!” and whack their friend, saying “Oh, my God! You have to try these on. These are so comfortable!” One woman said, “I feel like I’m walking on Tempur-Pedic.” It was lightning for me the way she described it, because that’s what they feel like.

Another wonderful phenomenon happened when a customer took the flip flops on a trip to New Zealand where she staged a beautiful shot on the beach with green terrikellys on the sand, the ocean and mountains behind. And she tagged me. At that time, I didn’t even use social media, so she emailed it to me and we put it on the website. Another woman went to order them on the website and saw that, and she took her terrikellys to Fiji and took a picture. I kid you not! At this point, I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’m missing something.” We eventually did a little social media, but I had avoided it for about six months. The thing is, if you want to have a product and sell it, people need to know it’s available — in today’s world, social media is a big piece of that puzzle. My Instagram is becoming very popular: @tkflipflops

I had a big talk with myself last summer and started small with a personal Facebook page, so this woman tagged me, and then the next person saw it, and the next person saw it. In just a short time last summer, terrikellys were in Malaysia, Croatia, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Uruguay, Iceland, Norway, Spain, Italy, France, Canada, Hawaii, and the United States. It’s been the funnest thing for me to see what people have done with my product. Fast-forward to today — now is the time to take this to the next level. I’m one person. I’m one woman. I’m a one-man band and a solopreneur in every sense of the word!

Favorite Book: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos)

Favorite Resource: Google

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Terri KellyGuest – Terri Kelly – Yoga Pants For Your Feet

terrikelly.com

Terri Kelly’s life was anything but simple. With six kids and a busy real-estate business, she never stopped. She lived in snow country, drove big cars, wore big heavy boots, and shoveled lots of snow. When the last kid went off to college, Terri and her husband were able to relocate to warmer weather and sunny blue skies. They sold their big SUV’s and got rid of a lot of their stuff. They “simplified”.

Terri took up yoga and quickly became fond of the lightweight yoga wear with its ease of movement and minimalist style. But she could not find anything to wear on her feet that had the same light weight feel and look that she found with her new yoga attire. So she set out to develop a “simple” flip flop, a soft flip flop, a “Yoga pant for your feet.” And the terrikelly flip flop was born.

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Krika Bradsher’s Success Is Based On Her Strong ‘Why’

Krika Bradsher - My Honey Child Haircare ProductsKrika Bradsher provides hair products and hair salon services to African American women who want to wear their hair naturally – ie. curly. What is particularly interesting about Krika’s story is that not only is she a one-woman factory, but she also has not needed to market her products – people just come and find her, and she has her products in salon all over the country. Not only does she manage all that, plus her own salon, but she also has a 4-year old to bring up, not to mention looking after a bunch of chickens – and if you want to know what that is all about you’ll just have to listen to the interview! The key to her success is having a strong ‘why’.

It all started about ten years ago when I transitioned my salon over to just a natural hair care salon. Around that time women of color were starting to realize that they had nice hair. We had been taught that we didn’t have nice hair and most women would go out and put relaxers in it to make it straight. That involves putting a chemical on it called sodium hydroxide lye, or calcium hydroxide, and then its flat-ironed straight. It will stay that way until, of course, it starts growing out from the root area. So women will typically come in every 6 to 8 weeks to get the growth area touched up. But, as you can imagine, that process is not good for the hair at all. Many women have been getting relaxers in their hair continuously since they were children. A lot of women suffer from alopecia because of it, and often the damage can’t be rectified.

The natural way is obviously more healthy for the hair and often they can do pretty much the same things with their hair when it is natural, including wearing it straight. It may not last as long, but you have to learn to embrace yourself and enjoy what you naturally have. And I think a lot of women are just getting tired of all the problems they are having with their hair because of the constant use of relaxers.

I’ve always worn my hair naturally myself and I saw a growing need amongst African American women, many of whom were coming to me because they wanted their hair styled naturally. Because there are so many different ways to wear their hair now, so many more African American women are embracing their natural look and it is becoming much more acceptable now – especially in the workplace.

When I transitioned my salon I basically told my clientele that I wasn’t going to relaxers anymore. Some complained, and at first I thought “Oh my God, what have I done”, but a lot of celebrities were starting to wear their hair naturally and so after a couple of months they were ready to take the challenge themselves. And for me there was no going back because this was where my passion truly is, where my drive is, and where I can really help women become more appreciative of what they actually have.

After that I invented my own formulas for natural hair, called My Honey Child, especially mad for African American women, because most of us suffer from dry hair and we have to apply products that have heavy types of oils, heavy types of cream-bases to out hair to keep it hydrated so its not going to break off. and that’s what my line really focuses on.

To develop the products I basically played around in my own kitchen. I lost so much money because I was mixing all these things – I was letting family and friends try it and, of course, trying on myself because I have always been natural. So I thought, if I’m getting the ‘okay’ from friends and family then I must be doing good.

I still do everything myself in my converted basement – I have someone who helps me fill the bottles, but they are all hand-labelled – I do pretty much everything from answering the phone onwards, so I stay pretty busy with it. I am actually scaling back on some of my products because I actually want to focus on what’s doing well. so I’ve scaled it back to about 25 products from my original 50, so I can concentrate on the one’s that are getting great reviews and flying off the shelves.

My products sell all over the United Staes, some international stores, as well as a lot of online stores – plus a lot of salons – Naturally Curly being one of the bigger ones. On my website there is a full list of retailers who stock my products. And all those stores came to me – I didn’t have to reach out to anyone – I don’t solicit – that’s just not my style. I let my products speak for themselves. But I think that happened that way because I got in on the game very very early. But it took two to three years before it really began to take off. But at least I had my salon to keep me going through that time.

It was actually the salon that was the driving force behind developing my own products, because the products that I was getting in my salon were not doing what I needed them to do. And it was a great way to try out different things with people and get some feedback before turning it out on the wider world. And it has been a great way to grow my business because I just let it grow at its natural pace. so although I am very busy, there is no added stress or pressure to build it to a set plan. Though, in saying that, if there was one thing I could go back and do over, it would be to have started with a business plan, because i think I wasted a lot of time and money in those early stages on things that didn’t need doing.

But right now I’m just taking things as they come. There are a lot of products out there for people to chose from and I feel lucky because I am glad to be in the game.

Favorite Book: Everybody’s Got Something by Robin Roberts

Favorite Resource: A chicken coop – you need an interest outside of your business.

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Krika Bradsher - My Honey Child Haircare ProductsGuest – Krika Bradsher, CEO, Owner and Operator of Sophia Sunflower Salon Inc and MyHoneyChild Products.

MyHoneyChild.com
Natural Hair Wizard and Enchantress, Krika Bradsher started working in chain salons immediately after graduating from Cosmetology school and soon realized working with a chain salon that clients deserved a more personal touch.

“I have always been a natural hair girl, because I never had a relaxer. Sophia Sunflower Salon, Inc. has proudly pioneered natural hair salons within the natural hair industry. Our salon doors swung wide open in 1999 in Clayton, NC. Also, with the transition came the My Honey Child Product line, which is sold all over the USA and through online retailers as well.

My Honey Child product line was developed through extensive research and hard work. Krika persevered and researched night and day to make this line into what it is today – truly a one woman enterprise.

Krika still does the product manufacturing, packing and shipping and continues to work in the salon full time. One of the first products was the TYPE 4 hair crème and the Herbal Hair Cocktail, which today are top sellers in the natural hair community.

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