The ELLEvate Women Entrepreneurs Pre-Accelerator program is an annual program run by YES Employment + Entrepreneurship. It is funded by the Government of Canada, with the support of the Ville de Montreal and our corporate partners, Desjardins and SAP.
In what city are you situated:
About your experience with ELLEvate:
Congratulations on winning the grand prize, as well as the cohort award, in this year’s ELLEvate Women Entrepreneurs Pre-Accelerator Pitch Competition. What does this program, and this award mean to you?
Thank you so much. This program has been such a great experience. Being among a group of such smart, talented, amazing, and like-minded women is such an honor.
The program has been helpful for me in many ways; Getting clarity in the business, re-evaluating previous notions, and which next steps are right for the business have been vital. Plus having a great group of women who are inspiring to bounce ideas with, get feedback, and get insight from has been invaluable.
What do you think sets the ELLEvate pre-accelerator apart from other programs available to entrepreneurs in Quebec?
I cannot compare it to other programs in Quebec, as this is the first one I have been a part of. However, I look forward to exploring others, while continuing to work with YES.
What was the highlight, for you, of the Pre-Accelerator Program?
There have been so many highlights, its hard just to choose one! Meeting and being part of such a great group of entrepreneurs and working with the YES team!
Also, because of COVID, everything was online, so pitch day was really special as we were able to be together in person for the first time.
What was it like to be in a program that was focused on and consisted solely of women entrepreneurs?
It was fantastic! Being part of a like-minded group of relatable women to share common struggles and challenges and most importantly have the same values. We bonded on even a personal level and genuinely care about each other and look forward to each one’s successes.
What makes your business concept unique?
What sets us apart is that we are disrupting the business model of fashion, a massive industry. Providing a real, long-term solution to the climate crisis, while positively impacting the environment and society on many levels. Here is how:
Aiya aiyA is the first handbag & accessory collection made entirely from plant leather using agricultural biomass (waste), without any synthetic or animal products. Our processes and products are consciously built using the circular business model to ensure from the beginning to the end of life we do no harm to the planet, our natural resources, animals, or humans. We only use natural ingredients from renewable sources that are waste bi-products from the food and agriculture industries. Our materials are dyed using flowers, tree bark, and spices, without any harmful coatings, toxic chemicals, petroleum, or plastics, including our packaging and shipping materials. Our products are water resistant and hypo-allergenic and will not cause any allergies, intolerances, or reactions.
Closing the loop, our zero-waste initiative includes using leftover cuts in new designs and packaging, an upcycling program for products at the end of life, and using compostable materials that safely break down as nutrients to grow new life.
Our collection is designed and handcrafted by local skilled leather artisans in Montreal, QC.
We are a purpose-driven company giving back to the planet and people; therefore, we only use carbon-neutral shipping, plant trees with every product sold, and donate 1% of their net profits to organizations rescuing girls and women from abuse & poverty and providing them with support, education, and tools to empower them to mold their own future.
Aiya ayiA aligns with 16 out of 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
How big is your company?
Aiya ayiA is a small start-up currently employing just myself, the founder. Outsourcing specific areas of the business and building relationships with our key partners, each partner is carefully vetted to ensure they align with our standards. We specifically look for partners that are circular, clean, pay fair wages, and are purpose-driven to give back. We partner with local manufacturers to keep jobs close to home and help revive the leather manufacturing sector with new, innovative biomaterials and sustainable techniques.
Our local partners have a range of specialties: leather artisans who handcraft our products, leather trims specialists who hand cut and join our lacing that creates our signature details, a laser cutting partner who cuts all of our pattern pieces, an eco-partner planting our trees, a plantable eco-paper partner that uses recycled paper pulp to make compostable paper with seeds that grow flowers after planting (part of our zero-waste initiative), local photographers, and our digital marketing agency.
Have there been any business support tools and resources you’ve leaned on to navigate through the covid-19 pandemic?
For me, COVID-19 affected mainly my logistics and shipping as for most people. I have encountered delays in manufacturing in my previous positions which prepared me well for this hurdle.
However, my main takeaway is to be patient and adaptable. I can pre-plan every last detail, however, with other variables out of my control, I have learned that it is best to slow down, take a deep breath, and adjust.
What inspires and motivates you to work on your concept every day?
Over the last few years, I felt a disconnect in my life. I realized I was unfulfilled working for a company that did not align with my ethics, morals, and values and wouldn’t allow me to contribute towards accomplishing my purpose in life of creating a lasting impact that generates positive change to improve another person’s life. If I want things to change, it must start with me. Therefore, I set out to build a purpose-driven company that is safe, inclusive, respectful & a positive workspace that gives back on multiple levels.
This is what fuels me to propel my business forward every day.
What tools are essential for your professional life (apps, software)?
I could not live without email which I am sure is the case for most of us! That is where a huge portion of the work is done. Google Workspace is great because it covers the majority of my needs in one place over a cloud system (email, drive, docs, etc.) making it easy to access from any device which is extremely helpful.
Other tools I use are a social media content planner such as Planoly, shipping software called ShipStation, and Miro which is a digital whiteboard – great for planning, brainstorming, and collaborating.
What does your workspace look like?
Currently, I work from home, so my workspace rotates from my desk to the dining table to the kitchen counter. Next year I will be looking for a workshop/atelier space to accommodate our growth.
How do you organize your days to optimize your workflow?
Planning and being organized as much as possible. Every day I create a list of ‘tasks & results’ that need to be achieved. ‘Tasks’ are one-step items that I can get through quickly. ‘Results’ are larger projects that require multiple steps or actions to be completed. Therefore, I allocate only 2-3 ‘results’ per day so it is achievable and keeps me motivated by seeing the continued progress.
What’s your best tip for saving/managing your time?
I plan my day by allocating time for each “result” by booking it in my calendar like an appointment or meeting. The night before, I review what is on the schedule for the following day. This way I am prepared to accomplish what is on my list without worrying about finding the time. The meeting blocks also help to keep me on track throughout the day.
What does your brand represent/reflect? Who is your customer?
Aiya ayiA (pronounced eye-ah eye-ah) means caregiver or caretaker; a person who takes care of another.
Our mantra is creating sustainable luxury products fuelled by a sense of purpose. We are driven by our responsibility to give back to the planet & society; creating a lasting impact that generates positive change to improve life for others and generations to come.
Our vision is inspired by Mother Nature, our muse, blooming with purpose and intention. She is the source of life, creating interdependent ecosystems working in cohesive unison to nourish, grow and produce new life, resources, and sustenance. Intelligently repurposing every component through a natural lifecycle that generates zero waste.
Inspired by the circle of life, Aiya ayiA is consciously built using a circular economy to create renewable, sustainable, luxury products without compromising our planet, our values, and our health. We are committed to positively impacting the environment and society by replicating circular ecosystems that generate local economy, reviving artisanal leather manufacturing sustainably, and collaborating with industries to turn waste materials into new products to collectively achieve zero waste.
We are investing in humanity to help empower others to ensure everyone has equal access to choice and opportunity without prejudice or bias. To thrive in a safe environment with avenues to education, gain knowledge and skills to earn a fair living wage, and be treated with dignity and respect. Generating positive impact that inspires others to effect change that makes a difference for generations to come.
Aiya ayiA stands for life of all forms.
Aiya ayiA’s target market is environmentally conscious people who value high-quality goods and want to direct their dollars to companies and products that align with their social values.
They strongly believe that profit, planet, and people are not mutually exclusive, give back to the community & expect brands to do so as well. They shop with brands that share their social and ethical views and are loyal to whom they purchase from.
What is the best advice given to you?
You cannot do everything yourself – delegate, delegate, delegate!
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
As a solo entrepreneur, you wear every single hat there is, which means everything from the most menial task to the most important decision falls on you. Without a co-founder, at times it can feel overwhelming and challenging. Especially when there are multiple deadlines to be met in different aspects of the business that need your undivided attention simultaneously. There never seems to be enough time to get things done. If I could clone myself, that would be so helpful!
Another is that the leather industry in Montreal is almost obsolete, making it very difficult to find local talent to continue the tradition of leather craftsmanship and build back the manufacturing sector.
What kind of support would you need to take the next steps to bring your vision to life?
I am very proud to be the first to win both the Cohort Award & 1st Place at YES’s ELLEvate Women Entrepreneurs Pre-Accelerator Pitch Competition. The funding will help to prepare for this holiday season.
Support comes in many forms; follow us on Instagram, subscribe to our newsletter, spread the word to family, friends, and colleagues, and join us in making a difference by purchasing our products that leave a positive impact on multiple levels; A beautiful leather product that plants trees to reforest the planet and donates to marginalized communities to improve education and livelihood of others all in one purchase!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business?
Surround yourself with like-minded entrepreneurs whom you can bounce ideas, get constructive feedback and a different perspective from, and who can relate to what you are going through that will encourage you to keep going.
AiyaayiA.com | @Aiya_ayiA_