During the holidays, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy students Mia Costonis ’21 and Alysa Akins ’20 ran a thriving pop-up shop selling beautiful hand-woven scarves imported from Cambodia at Serendipity on Germantown Avenue. (See article here.)
The scarves, woven by hand from organic cotton in a small village in Cambodia, were purchased through Sonas, a social enterprise business that supports women in Cambodia and teaches them skills that will ultimately help children in the village get an education.
Akins was introduced to Sonas while on an SCH-sponsored global travel trip to Cambodia. Students lived in the weaving village and learned about the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship and sustainable, virtuous business practices. Akins was so inspired by what she saw that she came home determined to help bring the women’s work to the States. Shortly thereafter, under the auspices of SCH’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Venture Accelerator program, “Sonas to America” was born and junior Mia Costanis was brought on board to help Akins build the business.
In March, when at-home sanctions were put in place and Akins and Costonis took to their basement “offices,” they hit pause on importing scarves. Well trained in the CEL mindset to ideate and problem-solve, the team pivoted their business model and reached out to their partners in Cambodia to commission face masks. The result? Colorful, all-cotton masks in both children and adult sizes selling for $6 on Shopify.
As Akins explained, “The women in the weaving village that we work with usually make around $100 per month but there are no tourists coming through now and we weren’t selling many scarves here in the United States. We figured that ordering masks would be a good way for villagers to be able to get their money for the month.”
To test the waters, the team started with a simple order for 100 masks, which was sold out before they even arrived in the country. Just this week they received a shipment of 800 masks! In addition to turning over 100% of the proceeds to Sonas, their goal is to locally donate a mask for every mask purchased. Well on their way, they have already been able to donate 100 masks to the Mattie N. Dixon Community Cupboard in Ambler and have a check for $2,250 ready to send to Sonas.
Earlier this year, the pair received an email from Paul Gil, director of Sonas, attesting to what they have been able to achieve. He wrote: “I want to take this opportunity to thank you for taking the action to bring Sonas to America and making it happen. It has been only two and a half months since we shipped you the first samples and you have been able to achieve something that we have never experienced, even with the well-established customers we have in the USA … This is such a great example of how you have become role models for other aspiring young leaders who want to ‘be the change’.”
It is clear that passion and purpose are at the heart of these students’ Venture Accelerator project. Both girls confessed that the amount of work involved took them by surprise, but the reward is there. Costonis has learned how to use social media for business and marketing and acknowledged CEL director Ed Glassman for his ongoing guidance. She shared, “Mr. Glassman is awesome. He would rather spend 20 minutes teaching us how to do something than do it for us in 2 seconds, which he easily could.”
Akins added, “This project has been hugely rewarding. We are changing people’s lives for the better… we are their lifeline right now.”