700 Rivers: Committed to ethically made, sustainable products, and empowering women
Recognizing that women in Bangladesh are still facing barriers to economic and social equality, 700 Rivers' founder Cathy Gomes, was determined to create a solution to empowering women through the creation of meaningful jobs and fair employment.
Cathy, would please you take us through your personal journey from chemical engineer to founder of a fashion company to a thriving natural beauty company?
My background is in chemical engineering, but my passion has always been in social impact and women’s empowerment. I am also a proud daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants. While I love my culture, I also recognize that women in Bangladesh are still facing barriers to economic and social equality which can lead to women being trapped in vulnerable situations. I learned about trafficking in college and was determined to create a solution to empowering women. As I researched potential solutions, I learned one of the best ways to combat trafficking is through meaningful jobs and fair employment. Thus, 700 Rivers was born.
We started as a fashion company because a lot of Bangladeshi women are taught to sew, so I thought it would be easier to start a business if the artisans already had the skills. We also focused on sustainability and used 100% natural materials and recycled fabrics to create our clothing line. However, after one year of running a fashion business, I did not like seeing how much waste went into creating a fashion brand. I re-evaluated my business and re-assessed if we were meeting our goals of being an ethical, women-empowering, and sustainable brand that was creating products to benefit our customers.
I ultimately decided to pivot our product line because I felt that we could do a better job of meeting our sustainability values and meeting our customers needs. I also considered my own skill sets and decided to use my chemistry background to create a high-quality, natural personal care product line. We created soaps and bath bombs with skin-friendly and eco-friendly ingredients that met the daily needs of our customers. This product change also allowed us to redesign our packaging to have little to no waste including our 100% biodegradable soap packaging made from vegetable fibers. With this pivot, we were able to truly commit to our values of creating amazing products for our customers that are ethically made, women-empowering, and sustainable.
Please share more with My Trove Box readers about the importance and significance of the partnerships with your artisans (your day to day role with them, how you provide mentorship, and sustainable vocation opportunities)?
700 Rivers partners with a fair-trade organization in Mymensingh, Bangladesh and we support the employment of 20+ artisans who have overcome human trafficking. The key aspects provided through the organization are mental health counseling, community building, and job training.
When a new woman enters the program – for the first three months – the only focus is on mental health counseling and community. This is really important because you can’t just hand someone overcoming a traumatic past a job and then expect all of their problems to disappear - there is so much more healing to be done. A lot of times when a new artisan comes in, she is in a vulnerable state of mind and we work to help overcome a traumatic past through counseling.
The second and equally important part is community - there is a lot of shame held within having a past of trafficking, so most new women come in with a lowered sense of self-worth and self-value and no longer believe they have a chance for a future. However, when they see that every woman hired within the organization has a similar background to their own and that these women have all been able to create a fresh start in their lives, it creates hope because the new women thinks “if she could do it, then I can too."
And thirdly, we provide job training. 700 Rivers focuses on teaching our artisan partners to handcraft natural soaps. This skillset leads to a dignified career, leadership opportunities, a safe work environment, and fair wages for financial stability.
My Trove Box's current Winter Welcome box features 700 Rivers Bath Bombs and Natural Soap, where each purchase helps fund a school in Bangladesh.