Generally, when one thinks about a typical startup in Singapore, chances are, it will be tech-related or have a premise to offer services that will ‘change your lives’, or simply a solution for #firstworldproblems.
Well, there’s one startup in Singapore that is quietly doing none of that. In fact, the direct beneficiaries of the products that they sell are not even in Singapore.
One Man’s Journey Across India
The Project Nomad is a startup from Singapore that has its roots in a faraway land. Founded by avid traveler Haziq Rashid, it was born out of a journey which brought him across India, where he came across isolated, underprivileged communities hidden away from the world.
Haziq is no stranger to rural communities, and it is in these communities that he was exposed to many genuine and talented artisans who have dedicated time and passion in mastering their craft to keep ancient traditions alive.
This is especially true in the “Golden City” known as Jaiselmer, located in the state of Rajasthan, close to the Indian-Pakistan border, where the city is known for its leather goods, silver jewelry and intricate patchwork.
A Journey Of Discovery For Two Cousins
One of Haziq’s journeys in 2015 brought him to an Indian farming village of Roopsi, a 35 minute motorcycle trip from Jaisalmer.
In Roopsi, Haziq had previously experienced the life and hardships that the villagers faced after living with them. He found that they could barely afford basic necessities such as food and clean water with their current income.
Also, there is a school made of straw roof located within the village accommodates 140 students between the ages of 3- 12 years old, which not only suffers from poor infrastructure but is also struggling to sustain itself financially to provide education to the disadvantaged children.
Not only that, the presence of caste system further denies the Roopsi villagers social mobility.
In a following trip back to Roopsi, Haziq brought along along his cousin, and now co-founder, Nasrul Rohmat, where they both experienced the poor living conditions firsthand, and the eagerness of the children to learn. From there, it inspired them to think of a solution to provide more opportunities for them to come out of poverty.
The strong friendship that has formed between them and the villagers became a constant source of motivation, and on a 39 hour long train ride back to the city, it hit them that these traditional artisanal crafts could be tweaked to meet modern needs of a thoughtful consumer, while at the same time, improving the lives of those artisans.
The Project Nomad Comes To Life
Their startup journey began in December 2015, when they first produced 9 prototype leather bags with artisans from Roopsi.
Receiving great response from the sales of their bags, they managed to provide 5 artisans with a 300% increase in their monthly income over a span of just 2 weeks of employment.
What’s more, they have also managed to support children in the rural village of Roopsi with warm clothing, food and school supplies during winter. Since then, they have been been going back to Roopsi to better understand the needs of the village and school, and to also work with the local artisans.
It’s interesting, yet sad that despite artisanal activities being the second largest employer in developing countries, a majority of these artisans still live in poverty as they do not get access to the greater market.
These Bags Are Helping To Build A Village
You may be wondering then, how the bags look like.
Nasrul heads the product designs in the startup, and the range of bags that The Project Nomad currently has comes in three types, each coming with a Sanskrit name that carries different meanings
The utility bag Moksha (Liberation), the simple messenger Artha (Purpose), and lastly the pouch Kama (Love) have each undergone refining of the design to meet the needs of the modern society.
They would like to point out that unlike a majority of the commercial leather bags that are made, every single one of their artisanal leather bags are crafted and vegetable-tanned through an old world artisanal process that is devoid of any harmful chemicals, and is biodegradable. They are also significantly more durable as compared to a majority of bags in the market which use synthetic materials .
They are of the belief that they should exercise responsible consumerism, and through their production methods, will be doing their part in diminishing the carbon footprint on the environment.
Where To After This?
They are not quite done yet with helping the villagers of Roopsi, and recently have launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.
While most people are discovering them now through social media and their website, there is hope that through crowdfunding, they will be able to reach out to a wider, more international demographic, and in turn, bring in more income to help the villagers.
This is a feat that they would not be able to achieve today if they do not have the trust of the local community, despite the language barriers. With 25 artisans currently working with them, they have managed to gain invaluable support from the villagers, even though it took them a while to warm up to their idea and what they are trying to achieve.
The fact that they have so far been able to create a 300% increase of income for artisans, helped to build schools, and educate children along the way is testament to the impact that they have, and moving forward, they see it as something very scalable, and can be replicated in other communities.
If you are interested in getting yourself one of the bags, or simply want to contribute to their crowdfunding efforts, check out the link here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/nomad-empowering-artisans-improving-education-school#/
Remember, you are not just getting yourself a spanking new bag, you are also helping to give the artisans who made those bags a better life, and helping to build schools for their children.
To achieve both of that, the funds earned will also allow The Project Nomad to scale up production and build a sustainable business committed to alleviate poverty, and give greater access to education for the rural villagers.