Young British architect, James Munro Boon, had a “moment” after designing and building a school in South Africa. Inspired to help, the now Hong-Kong based entrepreneur, set up ‘Elephant Branded’ – a business that makes school bags out of trash. For each one sold, they give another to a child in Africa or Asia.
When I grew up, I thought the best thing would be to be working as an architect in London … but going to South Africa really opened my eyes to the world.
I think you learn a lot about yourself and about the world around you.
Hi, I’m James Munro Boon. I’m based in Hong Kong and I’m the founder of Elephant Branded.
We make products out of recycled materials in Cambodia, South Africa and Colombia. Each one of them is hand-made and we sell them in all sorts of places such as Europe and also the U.S. and use some of the money of the sales to donate school kits back to the children… in the places that we make the bags.
I used to study architecture at University which is not really the route to take to become an entrepreneur. We had the choice of either doing a fancy project in the UK or to go out a build a school in South Africa. We spent 6 months designing this school and we went out for about 4 and half months to a little township called Jouberton, about an hour and a half from Johannesburg in South Africa. It looked good from a university perspective with all the photographs and for PR but the bit that made a school a school was sort of missing – the school kits
It made me think a little bit more about what I thought about the world and my aspirations and stuff. I graduated from university. Got offered a job by a British company, in Shenzhen in China. I lived there … got offered a job in a bar in Tokyo… and that’s what brought me to Hong Kong.
And in the gap, between the two jobs, I had the chance to go with a couple of friends… and we travelled down through South East Asia. I was very fortunate to meet an amazing family in Cambodia. We got working together and thought “why can’t we find some stuff that’s lying around and try and make it into a bag. We did I pod cases and laptop cases and it just started growing.
In 2012, we won Google’s world competition for business… which gave us the opportunity to meet the likes of Bill Clinton and those sort of people.
I thought it would be 50 bags and I would sell 50 bags to my friends and donate 50 school kits to this little school that I helped build in South Africa. And that is all I ever expected it to be. So it kind of just snow balled from there and the rest is history.
Now we have done thousands of bags… not just in Cambodia but in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania… I want to show that you can do some good and also make a profit.
You know if hadn’t of gone to South Africa I would never have agreed to go to China and if I hadn’t gone to China I probably would never have gone to that bar in Tokyo and if I had never gone to that bar in Tokyo I would never have gone to Cambodia.
So, while you’re young, why not go and see the world a bit. Live in different places… maybe I’ll move to Cape Town next. Who knows…
This story is shared exclusively as part of a partnership between CNN and B-Change. Credits to: CNN The Trip That Changed My Life