Hello there! I’m excited to introduce a new series on my blog – Meet the Maker, where I chat with (gal) bosses/founders of eco, sustainable businesses to find out their mojo behind their products. It’s certainly not easy running a business to say the least, and what more, going against the grain to instill sustainability in the core of the company/product. I deeply admire these bosses for their efforts in running a business that is conscious, kind and sustainable for their circles of influence and the environment, and it’s been a joy learning from them!
Kicking off the series with Janice and Priscilla, the two ladies behind SOJAO – an organic luxury bedding brand at accessible prices, focusing on fair practices at the heart of their business.
So I understand that SOJAO means “go to sleep” – could you share how this relates to what your brand stands for?
SOJAO means ‘go to sleep’ in Hindi and we want the best possible night’s rest, not only for our customers, but also for our entire supply chain – right down to the cotton farmers and their families. At the heart of it all, through fair-trade practices we want to humbly do our part to close the global inequality gap that exists, through this simple daily ritual of sleep. SOJAO also sounds like 睡觉 (shuìjiào), which means sleep in Mandarin too!
When & how did SOJAO begin? What were your motivations in creating a business that is centered around fairness & sustainability?
Priscilla: SOJAO began as a simple need that I couldn’t meet. Around 2015, as a young working adult, I was looking to buy my first set of bedsheets, but I couldn’t find quality ones at a price I could afford. As I researched deeper, I found that terms such as ‘1000 thread count’ – upon which I was taught to look out for in quality bedsheets – were actually just marketing gimmicks.
That was how the idea for my own bedding brand was born, yet I wasn’t an old-hand of the textile industry! Extensive research and building SOJAO from the ground-up took almost three years. It was during this period that I discovered the perfect material to work with: Certified Organic Cotton. After reading reports of traditional cotton farmers committing suicide because of bad farming debts and the heavy use of pesticides in traditional cotton farming, I became convinced that my bedding brand should champion Organic Cotton and centering the business around fairness and sustainability just came naturally.
Janice: Growing up in a low-income family always made me painfully aware of the haves and the have-nots, and that’s one of the reasons why I empathize strongly with the plight of farmers and factory workers who are some of the most marginalized people in a supply chain. I think the social and income inequality gap in the world is one of the most ridiculous things in our modern society which is why I strongly believed in centering SOJAO’s ethos on fairness.
Do you find any challenges in maintaining the a sustainable business, in a market where competitors might be able do things cheaper, faster because they don’t have the same considerations? How do you overcome this/what keeps you going?
The cost associated with farming organic cotton is definitely higher and being certified is a quality assurance which also comes at a price. But we believe in our product and we believe in the greater good of SOJAO. We are growing the business as sustainably and responsibly as we can, within our resources, so we have been boot-strapping and rolling up our sleeves to do everything ourselves from the design of our packaging, right down to our social media content. This spirit of hustling hard is the heart of SOJAO!
Discerning consumers are also able to tell that our product is genuinely of a higher quality and there is a growing awareness of conscious consumerism in Asia. We’ve had a lot of great reviews and have the best customers who encourage and support us! That’s what keeps us going through tough times!
How do you see your business values of sustainability & fairness playing out in your personal lives?
Janice: We’ve definitely grown more eco-conscious since starting SOJAO, and there are fellow local businesses that are growing to meet and encourage those needs. I hope it’s a matter of time that businesses not only produce eco-alternatives like metal straws or organic clothing, but that it becomes a norm in society. I also strongly believe in businesses that support fair-trade practices like SOJAO, because that means that your money as a consumer is directly improving the life of the person behind the product and I try to shop for products that fulfill this criteria as often as I can.
You two ladies are entrepreneurs, one balancing a full-time job with the business, and another who took a plunge to chase her dreams. Either way, it sounds tough, and certainly requires a lot of courage!
Priscilla, how did you come to the decision to leave your job and manage SOJAO full-time?
Priscilla: It’s definitely not easy, but I had always had it in my mind to start my own business. Extensive research and building SOJAO from the ground-up took almost three years, and finally when I found the perfect material for SOJAO sheets and the right partners to work with, I took the plunge and quit my job. I fully concentrated on SOJAO for four months to put the final touches on everything and we launched in early January of 2018.
Janice, do you have any advice for ladies who have the passion to pursue a side hustle, while juggling their day job?
Janice: You have to understand the limitations of time and if you have a side hustle in addition to a day job, chances are that you will be sacrificing time in other areas of your life, and that is what you have to be prepared to accept as your side hustle grows. Discipline and time management will be extremely important! And it’s just as important to remember to be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over small failures or mistakes, and learn to take it all in your stride
What are your plans for SOJAO in the coming year?
Our immediate plans are to expand our range of colors, and we will be moving out of our home office into a small studio space that we can call our headquarters! So we are pretty excited about that.
SOJAO Organic Cotton Bedding
Last question, if there is one reason why everyone should own a set of sheets from SOJAO, what would it be?
Oh, we can’t stop at one, haha! It’s incredibly soft, comfortable and durable as well as certified organic and fair-trade! And the best part? It’s value for money!
Check out the range of gorgeous sheets at SOJAO, and learn more about their fair practices and why organic cotton is good for you. Use the code “SOJAOxKelly” upon checkout to get 5% off your purchase!