Ethical Shopping

Elephant Branded: A lesson in how to help Cambodian school kids

Buy a recycled Elephant Branded bag and support villagers and school children in Cambodia

Children with Elephant Branded bags

Elephant Branded founder James Munro Boon tells us why he set up the company…

When I was younger I remember asking my Dad what the magazine was that the man sold on the corner of the high street in my local town. The man always had a smile and the magazine had vibrant cover designs. While I did not know it at the time, I suppose this was perhaps my first interaction with social business. Trying to find a simple solution to a complex social issue, while giving others the leg up to help themselves.

To be honest, I never intended to become a social entrepreneur, but kind of fell into it.

During my architecture degree, we were given the chance to design and build a school in South Africa. Blood sweat and tears went into making the school, however after all the effort that went into the build, I was shocked to see children coming into the school without basic school equipment.

I was shocked to see children coming into the school without basic school equipment

After University I was offered a job in Asia. I travelled a lot and again saw schools where the kids just didn’t have anything. It was on one such trip that I met Pry and Mey, my business partners in Cambodia.

Pry, the creative genius behind Elephant Branded, had just started to make a simple bag out of recycled cement bags. I thought if we tweaked the design a little then we could sell some bags to my friends and help raise some money to buy school equipment.

Each bag is handmade from local recycled materials giving local ladies a way to run their own business and every sale helps to supply school equipment to children in need. It really is as simple as that.

Over the subsequent years a number of people have tried to copy the original cement bag designs, however our aim has been to keep to our core values and innovate with new products. We have launched new bags made from recycled rice sacks, as well as knitted products from Colombia. We also have an exciting new range launching later this year from South Africa in time for Christmas.

Looking back it has been a busy few years for Elephant Branded. From finishing university, meeting Alex my business partner in the UK, completing a media series with the BBC, Virgin and CCN as well as Elephant Branded being named as one of the winners of Google’s young minds competition for business. We have hardly had time to stop.

James Munro Boon with pre-Elephant Branded cement sacks
James Munro Boon with pre-Elephant Branded cement sacks

When we started, I never imagined where our products would end up, from department stores such as John Lewis through to Airlines like Cathay Pacific and now to be stocked in the Big Issue Shop!

Through Elephant Branded, I realised that business is about family. It’s about relationships and loyalty. Business in my mind is one of the few things in the world that transcends race, religion and politics, it connects people from completely different walks of life and links the world. I do feel it is the strongest force for good in the world.

That is one of the reasons The Big Issue has done so well over the years – it has stuck to its core principles. It is something we hope to emulate.

So whether you are reading this online or in the magazine, it’s worth considering which problems and issues you see in everyday life. Can you see a solution? Could you fix it? You don’t necessarily need to quit your job or give up your life, but just simply give it a go and and I assure you, you will be amazed by what you learn.

Check out the Elephant Branded range at The Big Issue Shop

Man with Elephant Branded bag

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