The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team.
Cathy Gomes is up.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Cathy Gomes and I am the founder of 700 Rivers, a global, ethical, and sustainable lifestyle brand. My family is originally from Bangladesh, a land of incredible poverty, and immigrated to America before I was born. Growing up here, we got to achieve the American dream, where my sisters and I all got an education (I studied chemical engineering at NC State) and great careers. This was a pretty big deal because in Bangladesh women are not considered equal and their educations and careers are not taken very seriously. I have always known how fortunate I was for being able to grow up in a land of opportunity but I started thinking about the women in Bangladesh (and all over the world for that matter) that didn’t have the means to uproot their lives to a country of opportunity and what that meant for their lives, their futures, and their children’s future. So I set out to create an opportunity for them, starting with the women in Bangladesh. 700 Rivers started as an ethical and sustainable fashion company that employs women that are guaranteed fair, living wages for their work, a safe work environment, and are treated with dignity and respect. This year we have expanded into personal care products, starting with all-natural soaps that are handcrafted by Bangladeshi artisans that have escaped human trafficking.
What did it take / how did you get started?
700 Rivers started as an ethical and sustainable fashion brand focused on employing Bangladeshi artisans and creating clothing using natural fibers such as organic cotton and pineapple fiber, and upcycled embroidered silk saris. Bangladesh is quickly growing to be the largest exporter of Western brand apparel in the world. The people there are exploited as cheap labor and made to work in garment factory sweatshops making quick and cheap clothing that will ultimately end up in landfills after a few wears. We started as a high-end fashion company employing women with living wages to produce our high-quality fashion that was luxurious, eco-friendly, durable, and beautiful.
This year we were able to expand our product offerings to a larger audience that wanted to support our mission by working with women that have escaped human trafficking to create all-natural soaps. Human trafficking is a huge issue in Bangladesh since it is one of the poorest countries in the work and women’s lower social status, lack of education and alternate career opportunities leaves them with few options. What is terrible is that 90% of the women sold into human trafficking are being held against their will and were sold without their consent. Many of the remaining 10% typically return to the brothel once they escape because they feel they have no other options or career opportunities due to their lack of education and job skills. We are partnering with a fair-trade organization that helps these women that have escaped trafficking to gain mental health counseling and teach them new job skills. 700 Rivers is specifically working with them to make soaps using all-natural ingredients and training them to make our future products.
What does the future look like for you and your hustle?
700 Rivers is going to expand our personal care line into additional soap scents, shampoo and conditioner bars, and more. We are also going to expand our textile line and eventually get into home décor. I also want to expand our global impact by expanding from Bangladesh to working with fair-trade artisans all over the world.
What drives / motivates you?
We want to grow and expand so we can hire more women and change their lives. I’ve spoken directly to the artisans we employ and heard how working a fair-trade job has positively impacted their life so they can afford a home, food, and school supplies for their children. Not only does it provide them with the physical means that they need to live but it allows them to have control back over their lives, they gain confidence and self-respect when they can provide for their families in a world that told them they could offer no value, and it gives them the dignity they deserve. It really does completely change their lives and I’m proud 700 Rivers can play a role in that impact.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
You won’t know everything when you start, but you can figure everything out. Find experts to get advice, google everything, and know that your passion must be greater than your desire to give up and go back to a simpler time. Keep going.
What has been the hardest part of the hustle?
Being a sole founder has been really hard. Sometimes I wish I had a co-founder or someone with which I could share the workload, the worry, and the financial start-up costs. But as I see 700 Rivers growing, I am happy that I can look back and be proud of everything I have done so far and will do.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
Podcasts: How I Built This by Guy Raz, Skimm’d from the Couch Books: Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs by Nathalie Molina Niño, The Purple Cow by Seth Godin, Tribes by Seth Godin
Side or full-time hustle? Side but hoping to reach full-time within the next few years.
List the founders Cathy Gomes
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle? 20-35. I’m also awake at odd hours to consistently talk with my global partners and make sure things are going well in Bangladesh.
# of Employees? We employ 28 artisans in Bangladesh part-time and am hoping to employ them full-time within the next few years as well!
When did you start? Started in 2017, launched summer of 2018
How much did it cost to launch? About $15k
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised? Everything so far has been self-funded
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