SAMARA: Impact Every Which Way

November 12, 2019

Salima Visram got her first taste of entrepreneurship when she started the nonprofit The Soular Backpack. She begins, “I grew up in Kenya and noticed how a lot of kids my age didn’t have access to electricity. They would sit under street lamps through the night, getting bitten by mosquitoes if they had an exam. Most children couldn’t do their homework, and if they did, they would use a kerosene lamp. Kerosene is carcinogenic, and its fumes make your eyes tear up instantly and make you cough. This has a significant effect on learning and performance in school. Families living under $1 per day spend 25% of their income on kerosene every month. I decided I wanted to find a solution to this problem.”

“When I was in college in Canada in 2015, I designed a backpack with a solar panel and light in it that enables children to do their homework every night without the use of kerosene. It uses a solar lamp that’s shatter proof and gets charged on a child’s walk to school. When they get home, they’re empowered with a tool to take control of their own education. We’ve distributed over 10,000 bags across East Africa, and we’re now working to spread the backpack to areas like Tajikistan, India, and Guatemala. We’ve moved production to a factory in Kenya, where we provide employment to local women, and through this partnership with CAUSEBOX we will be distributing around 250 bags to a school in Mombasa, Kenya. We’re really excited to be lighting up the world, and we’re working hard to ensure that every child’s inner light shines even brighter.”

After two years of running and growing The Soular Backpack, Salima noticed another problem closer to home that she wanted to solve. “I was looking for a handbag that was simple, elegant, minimal, and cruelty-free. I couldn’t find one that I liked anywhere! I decided to make one for myself, and people started asking me about it. I then started SAMARA in December 2017 with just $500 and a tiny production run.” The first order sold out in two days, so Salima and a friend converted a house in Los Angeles into an impromptu warehouse, and the rest is history!

She says, “My goal with SAMARA is to create impact through Soular, which we do by contributing a generous portion of proceeds for every product sold. And we hope to move all of our production to Kenya so we can provide even more employment opportunities there.” Not only is SAMARA structured to do good by giving back, but the brand is also at the forefront of the sustainable, cruelty-free vegan leather movement. In fact, the brand has developed fruit-based leathers that take vegan fashion to a whole new level.

Salima explains, “When we were first exploring vegan leather, we realized that the options were limited. We use water based PU, and microfiber where we can. Both are much better than PVC, which is what most vegan leathers are made of. PVC is petroleum-based and is environmentally detrimental. We’ve been working hard to create our own materials that are truly plant-based. We’ve experimented in our kitchen with pineapple leather and even coconut leather. Finally, we found luck with apples! We use apple waste that is a by-product of the juicing industry and we created our first bag out of apples! We mix in a small amount of PU to make sure it meets our durability standards. In 2020, we’re bringing in a full collection of Apple leather bags, and we’re experimenting with so many other cool materials, so stay tuned and follow us as we share these with our community!”

SAMARA was born from the ingenuity and inspiration of The Soular Backpack, which makes its giveback model an integral part of the brand. As SAMARA grows, it further benefits the charity that inspired it — which is our favorite kind of success story.

John is the managing editor at CAUSEBOX and a traveling writer who lives on the road with his dog, Hank.