Lighting the Way

by Celia Shatzman

Cruelty-free fashion house Samara gives back to students in East Africa

When Salima Visram was growing up in Kenya, many kids her age didn’t have access to electricity. They couldn’t do their homework and didn’t get into secondary school because of something that most of us take for granted: turning on a light switch. “My mom was really active in the community,” Visram recalls. “She fought against trafficking and for the education of girls. I had an education, food and water on the table, so I felt I had a responsibility to contribute to making the lives of other people better.”

During her senior year of college at McGill University in Canada, Visram decided to make a difference back home. She was sparked by the fact that 1.2 billion people still rely on kerosene as their light source, even though it’s carcinogenic and families that live on less than a dollar a day spend 25 percent of their income on it. She settled on an idea for a backpack with a solar panel that charges while kids walk to and from school. When they get home, they can plug it in and do their homework. She launched The Soular Backpack, produced by a factory in Kenya that provides employment to local women.

However, it was tough to sustain The Soular Backpack because it was completely donation-based. Visram was always on the hunt for a minimalist bag that was ethically made, but could never find one she liked. She put the two together and launched Samara in 2017, shortly after her mom passed away. Samara started with just $500 and 10 bags and they sold out overnight. The Company recently surpassed selling 100,000 bags. “Because we’re entirely self-funded, we’re not able to give as much as we’d like,” Visram says. “Ten percent of all proceeds go to The Soular Backpack; hopefully we will increase that as we grow.”

Samara offers a range of sustainably crafted accessories, including totes, laptop sleeves, jewelry boxes and sunglasses. It has a bag made from recycled ocean plastic and uses “leather” made out of apples that are remnants of the juicing industry.

“As we grow, it’s important to take materials that are otherwise wasted or end up in a landfill and turn them into fashion,” Visram says. Starting with the village next to where Visram grew up, they’ve now distributed over 10,000 backpacks in Kenya,Botswana, Tanzania and Uganda.

“I started Samara to channel everything I was feeling after my mom passed away. She had so much elegance and was kind to everyone she met. Now that I talk to customers, I see bits of my mom in them. It’s a community of like-minded people,” Visram says.

samarabags.com

thesoularbackpack.com

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