Ellen Clauss always wanted to be an entrepreneur, even before she knew that was the word for it.
“I knew I wanted to be the boss,” Clauss laughed.
Clauss, 22, of Lake Ariel, also wanted to have a company that would make a difference in the world.
As CEO of Aya Fair Trade, the recent Marywood grad is doing both.
Aya Fair Trade, a textile company, employs women in Ghana and manufactures hand bags, aprons, wallets and gym bags, in addition to other products. Being a fair trade company means it pays its employees in developing countries a living wage for their work. Aya also contributes to the local economy, as the materials needed for the products are bought in the local marketplace.
The company has a twofold effect in Africa.
In addition to employing seamstresses across Kumasi, Ghana, to make the bags, for every bag bought, Aya funds one week of education for children in local schools. Currently, the company sponsors 30 students.
“We wanted to find some sort of sustainable solution to poverty,” Clauss said.
The impact has been felt in Kumasi. Aya’s on-site manager, Stephen Danso, said having the company hiring seamstresses in the city is helping employment in the area.
“A lot of people have no work,” he said. “So this is really giving them an opportunity to have something to do.”
Currently, the company employs about 16 seamstresses in the city, and Danso said the seamstresses are happy to have the employment.
“It’s wonderful,” he said.
Clauss got involved with the company through a professor at Marywood, Chris Speicher. Speicher’s daughter, Abby, traveled to a village in Kumasi with her father in 2007, and noticed children weren’t in school, but selling things on the street. Abby developed the original company, Daakye — which means “our future” in the dialect used in Kumasi — over the next six years, selling bags and helping send children to school. Abby then moved on to other projects, and the company sat dormant for three years, until Clauss picked it up last spring, right before graduating from Marywood.
“I talked to Abby about the idea of restarting the concept,” Clauss said.
So Clauss picked up the company and got ready to start new. She chose Aya for the name, which is the Adinkra word for fern, a symbol of “endurance, defiance and resourcefulness.”
Last spring, Clauss and her business partner, Aya’s CFO, Randy England, entered into the tecBridge Business Plan Competition and won first place in the collegiate division, receiving $10,000 to start the company back up.
Shortly after, Clauss and England headed to Ghana for the first time to work with Aya’s on-site manager, Stephen Danso, on getting the company back up and running. Danso’s wife, Julie, works as the head seamstress for the company, and works with seamstresses in her home to create products.
With Aya about to celebrate one year annivesary, Clauss is looking to future to expand and grow the business.
While in Ghana earlier this month, Clauss met with a fabric distributor, which would allow her to reorder prints and fabrics based on popularity and demand. Clauss also met with Julie to develop some new products to put on the market this spring and summer.
Aya will be launching a Kickstarter campaign later in the spring when they will launch some of their new products. Additionally, the company has entered a small business contest through Etsy and if it wins will use the money to provide seamstresses with solar panels for their workshop to ensure a constant stream of electricity, better sewing machines and irons, and a safer and more comfortable structure to work within.
Reach Brigid Edmunds at 570-829-7242 or on Twitter @brigidedmundscomments powered by Disqus