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How Elephant Branded works with the The Big Issue Shop

Buying one of the social enterprise’s bags and wallets made from recycled materials helps a child get one of their own in Cambodia

“The idea of Elephant Branded is like The Big Issue in that it is run like a business, not a charity, and shows that business can be a force for good.”

That’s the view of James Munro Boon, co-founder of Elephant Branded – a social enterprise that make bags, laptop cases and wallets out of recyclable materials to make a difference.

For every one sold, a child in Cambodia gets a school bag to help them with their studies.

Elephant Branded’s ethically made, inventive, handmade products are available in The Big Issue Shop with each one – made out of former cement bags and even discarded inner tubes from motorbikes – offering Cambodian villagers a sustainable, effective way to get out of poverty.

The project began when James was studying architecture at university and spent four months designing and building a school just outside Johannesburg in South Africa.

“When we finished, I looked at the building and thought, ‘We’ve spent all this time building this thing and have nothing to put in it’,” he says. “It was great but the stuff inside the school is the most important thing.”

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After graduating, James secured a job with a British firm that saw him make the move to Shenzen in China. He travelled around Asia while living in the Far East and while trekking through Cambodia he met Pry and his wife Mey.

Their family had been making bags and other products using silk but the idea to change up the formula to use recycled materials formed between them.

Fast forward seven years and Elephant Branded has donated thousands of school kits to children around the world.

And Hong Kong-based James still loves visiting Cambodia to see the kids benefit from the business.

“To be honest, that’s the only reason I do it,” he says. “I go out there every three or four months and that has been since uni when I was spending all my student loan on flights out there every five or six months.

“I’ve seen kids growing up and have their own children thanks to the work we do. I love spending time there and I think that the really valuable thing is where we support people to run their own business and build their own lives.”

While Elephant Branded faces a constant battle to find new recyclable materials – with a struggle to find a waste material available in high volume that doesn’t vary in quality and consistency – it is constantly attempting to innovate with new products on the way.

But the original three ranges of products are available in The Big Issue Shop.

“As well as the exposure, I think working with The Big Issue adds a degree of credibility,” says James.

“Just like how it is wrong for me to Cambodia and tell people what to do and how to run their business, The Big Issue gives vendors a chance to work their way out of poverty.

“And I think that people who buy The Big Issue have the same ethos and concerns as we do. I’ve met a family in Cambodia that I would never have had a chance to meet and that’s where I see the synergy with The Big Issue.”

Image: Elephant Branded

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