Tell us about your business.We started our Billboard Bag project in 2009. We saw that there was a refugee community in need of jobs and we had a product that we were confident would sell. We hired 12 women, and bought 12 sewing machines and got to work. We have a niche market with conferences and events who hire us to create their gift bags for their events. To date, we have created and sold nearly 50,000 products and have trained 20 refugee women. Our goal is to double the workforce and bag production in the next year. We would love to have 12 women in the program, and to be selling 40,000 products a year. Through our job training program we are able to empower and mentor other start-up businesses in the Southeast. People who have great ideas often need to see how others have made their ideas happen, and we act as a resource for other social entrepreneurs who have a passion to see their community made better, and to bring new ideas to life.
What makes your business stand out?Our Billboard Bag project is unique for 4 reasons: 1. We're environmentally conscious. By using upcycled materials such as billboards and coffee sacks, we are keeping materials out of the landfills and creating a treasure for someone else. 2. We're able to employ [we pay fair wages] and educate women [the women are paid to participate in English and financial training] in the refugee community who need a new start in a new place. 3. We have a unique product with a niche market who love purchasing goods made in the US with a good story behind it. 4. We spend $0 on marketing. Because of our market, the marketing happens when people carry our bags. The majority of our bag sales have happened as a result of people receiving our products at an event, and then placing an order for their company, church, school, or event.
What's the best business advice you've received?Launch first, tweak later. It's easy to spend so much time tweaking that you never take your product to market, but then you never know if anyone is even interested in your product. Launching then tweaking allowed us to receive the feedback we needed about our product and to make it better, but still be on our way to making the project sustainable.
Mark Your Calendar
NominationsJune 3–Aug. 29, 2014
Nominate yourself or other aspiring makers.
JudgingJune 23–Sept. 8, 2014
Judges will select finalists throughout this period.Meet the judges
Online VotingSept. 15–Oct. 13, 2014
Vote for your favorite American makers.See the finalists
Winners AnnouncedOct. 17, 2014
2014 Award Winners and Audience Choice Winner announced.See past Award Winners
American Made EventNov. 7–8, 2014
Join us for our annual event in New York City.Buy tickets now