Bags of Light, Made with Soul

Images © Courtesy of Samara

By Raye Mocioiu

Growing up on the outskirts of Mombasa, Kenya, sisters and entrepreneurs Salima and Samara witnessed how so many children their age could not do their homework.

“Our mom was an advocate for educating girls,” Salima shares. “Not having access to clean, safe light meant that these girls would not have the grades to make it into secondary school, causing them to drop out and not have an income or job to look forward to.”

Each night, the families in villages without electricity would have to use kerosene, a costly and carcinogenic jet fuel that 1.2 billion people use as their only source of light when the sun goes down.

While attending McGill University in Quebec, Canada, Salima discovered that with solar-powered electricity, households would have a safe and less expensive alternative to kerosene. Moreover, girls like those she knew in Kikambala would be able to do their homework each night. Her realization led her to create The Soular Backpack.

“The intention is that as a child walks to school, a lamp in their bag gets charged through a solar panel on their backpack,” says Salima. “When they get home, they have access to clean, safe light and can do their homework and read, so they are empowered to take control of their futures.”

© Courtesy of Samara

At home, the children can connect the battery pack to an LED lamp, providing light in homes without electricity for about five hours. To date, around 10,000 children now have access to light every night.

To fund the project, Salima launched SAMARA Bags in 2017, a fashion brand selling simple, elegant, and cruelty-free vegan leather bags. Named after her sister Samara, Salima started with just $500 and a production run of 10 bags—and it proved to be all she needed.

“Our goal was to find a way to keep our first not-for-profit, The Soular Backpack, alive in a sustainable way, which piqued our interest in the power of brands and communities in creating impact in the world. From the night we launched in 2017, and our first 25 bags that sold out overnight, to now having our products in the hands of over 175,000 people, our North Star has always been to create impact in the world and to build a brand that makes the world better in as many ways as we can, all while donating 10 percent of our profits to The Soular Backpack.”

The two sisters, who run the company in memory of their mother, create timeless and chic styles made from innovative and planet-friendly materials. Their goal is to one day pivot SAMARA to be entirely plant-based, using only sustainable materials with the least amount of processing—a mission that requires creativity and unconventional thinking.

Looking for a premium feel with a positive environmental impact, the sisters started experimenting with coconut husks and pineapple leather before discovering apple leather—made from apple skins that are a waste byproduct of the juicing industry mixed with PU (that acts as a binding agent). Working with a small factory in Europe, the sisters created the Apple Leather Mini out of this material!

“We are excited to be playing a part in the future of fashion and what that entails in terms of innovation, materials, and science,” Salima says. “We’ve created products with apple skins, castor seeds, recycled ocean plastics, and recycled plastic bottles, and we’re only getting started. Our dream is to one day have a factory in Kenya, so that we can provide employment to the parents of the children who receive Soular Backpacks in the village where we grew up.”

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