Backpacks From The Sun And Bags From The Ocean
Forbes Africa|December - January 2021
Salima Visram makes solar-powered backpacks for children in the rural depths of East Africa, funded by her $2 million-a-year online business selling eco-friendly handbags.
Inaara Gangji

The quest started as the result of a random online search. About three years ago, Salima Visram, founder of Soular, was looking for a simple handbag on the internet. She looked hard and wide, but could not find anything as minimalistic and elegant as she would’ve liked it. That’s when she asked one of the factories manufacturing for Soular to make a bag based on designs she quickly drew up.

Over the next few months, she received hundreds of compliments on her custom-made bag and then decided to make a test batch to sell. That batch sold under the Samara brand, and the many that followed sold out every time. This is when she knew she had really tapped into something extraordinary, which could help move her social enterprise away from donor reliance.

“I wanted to create this ecosystem where you have a profitable business that is successful, that is generating enough revenue and profit to hopefully fund social causes,” she says.

Soular, her social enterprise that makes solar-powered bags for children in East Africa, already had a one-for-one model in place in North America. For every solar-powered bag sold, one solar-powered bag would be donated to a child in Kenya, but it wasn’t doing as well as planned. Visram hypothesizes this was likely because her consumers didn’t always know the story behind the company, which was crucial to the brand.

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