Recycled Paper turned Million Dollar Business

Social entrepreneurship is an amazing way to show creativity while using business acumen to lead from the front. One such group of innovators has brought a fashionable product to Uganda, using recycled paper beads.

Five college friends, Alli Swanson, Kallie Dovel, Jessie Simonson, Brooke Hodges and Anna Toy spent most of their initial years on the streets of Uganda selling recycled paper. The recycled paper they sold was easily traded in the markets of Uganda, where it was converted into stylish beads, sold mainly to the tourists. However, not many tourists came to where they lived. This led them to the idea of making designer jewelry from these beads, giving rise to 31 Bits. Apart from having a good and light environmental footprint, 31 Bits employs women who have been previously abused or underserved. The business helps provide education, healthcare, financial support and business mentoring to these women for up to 5 years.

Back in 2007, none of the friends knew anything about business management. They used to fill suitcase with these jewelry items and travel all the way to United States to sell them. As the demand grew, they started to realize the virtues of a proper supply chain. Tally recalls how they realized that although their jewelry was good, it needed some push in design, making it a real fashion statement. They used the money they saved as profits to reinvest in the business, rather than borrow money from outside. They sold jewelry at fairs, neighborhood houses, and quickly developed a well-functioning company with a proper supply chain system. The supply chain system helped them print designs on color papers as per their needs. Now after years, 31 Bits has 350 global stores. The company relies on making their employees self-reliant and completely independent within five years of their employment. A different form of social impact where the employees learn how to manage their own stores and businesses, taking a piece of jewelry with them as they progress. It is more of a partnership than a business.

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