Vania Santoso never thought that what once was her social project can actually be a social enterprise and give a huge impact. Aside from the environmental impact, the business also hires rural communities in three areas to do the production process and used a profit-sharing system.
Thirteen years ago, Vania and her sister, Agnes Santoso formed a youth-based environmental community. Their focus was to raise awareness about the environment using creative & fun methods – like making environmental song tapes and recycled-fashion fashion show.
“It started with me and my sister, then my sister’s college friends joined. After a while, I can invite my school friends as well. Unfortunately, environmental issues were not as popular as it is now. At that time, our proposal to fund our environmental project was often rejected,” she said at her residence at Jemursari, Surabaya.
Vania then realized that if she wants to make a social mission that has a sustainable impact, it needs to be accompanied with a clear funding strategy. She realized it when she won an international competition in Sweden in 2007 which was organized by the United Nations Environment Program and Volvo. At that time, Vania successfully won first place with a prize of USD 10,000.
In 2009, she earned several recognitions like Ashoka Young Changemaker, Asia’s Most Inspiring Young Entrepreneurs, and Social Changemaker in Hong Kong. The recognitions make her more motivated, as she strived to build an impactful business for the society.
“I was there with other entrepreneurs like Hendy Setiono, Founder of Kebab Turki Baba Rafi. Since then, I became more motivated by how entrepreneurs can create social impacts. After graduating from high school in 2010, I decided to continue my studies and pursued a bachelor degree in Management studies at Airlangga University,” she explained.
Vania’s journey to deliver social mission through business brings her to new places. In 2012, Vania was chosen as the One Young World Ambassador to represent Indonesia to Pittsburg, USA. The program was funded by DIKTI Kemendikbud RI, which has now become Kemenristek DIKTI.
“I brought a variety of upcycled products (products made from recycled materials) which sold out there. However, when I returned to Indonesia, it turns out no one wants to buy that same upcycled product because the consumer behavior is different. From that moment, I learned more about business and innovation of recycled products in order to make environmental education more compelling, ” she said.
In 2014, Vania decided to start a social enterprise named heySTARTIC. Her enterprise focused on community development to produce innovative upcycled products. At heySTARTIC, Vania chose used cement paper as the raw material to create products that are not only functional but also has artistic and social value.
“We were focusing on creating a sustainable social mission. We need to think about the concept of a socially responsible business model that is also strategic, so we try to build heySTARTIC,” she said.
Recycling Cement Paper to Eco-Fashion Product
Vania chose to use cement bags waste as the base material of heySTARTIC products based on an extensive research process, which she did while doing the final semester of college. Assisted by the professor, she later found the formula to polish cement bags to become an eco-fashion product. The polished cement bags have characteristics that resemble leather.
“Cement bag has a unique texture because it is able to accommodate loads up to 40 kg. It can be used as base materials for bags, wallets, or shoes because it’s durable and scratch-resistant,” she said.
The use of cement bag waste as the raw material is also due to the conditions in Surabaya, where there’s currently a lot of ongoing construction projects, either residential or apartment construction. She sees that the demand for cement will also increase significantly as many constructions are still ongoing, which will increase the amount of cement bag waste eventually.
“The used cement bag will be just another tons of garbage. However, if the aforementioned cement bag is processed, it can be products that have added value,” she said.
HeySTARTIC now has varied products, including bags, wallets, clutches, and shoes that are sold from Rp 50 thousand to Rp 1 million. By the time this article is written, they already produce 300 to 600 products. All the products are handcrafted by local artisans. The products are distributed and marketed to Mirota- a well-known gift shop, government galleries, and several online marketplaces.
“Through heySTARTIC I would like to produce the three impacts: social, environmental, and economic. On social aspect, I want to empower society with life skills that are necessary for their self-development, either with craft skills or communication skills,” she said.
The second one, in terms of the environmental impact, is to educate the public about environmental issues through a non-conventional way – so the message about environment conservation can reach a wider group of society, not just the already – green-conscious group. Third, in terms of the economic aspect, is to increase the income of marginalized communities.
A Dream to Build Kampung Eco-Fashion (Eco-Fashion village)
“In the future, I hope heySTARTIC can continue to grow by expanding our market coverage. I also want a Kampung Eco-Fashion that can be an environment educational tourism spot. There, visitors can engage in the production process and choose a variety of environmentally friendly products,” said Vania. In addition, she hopes that Indonesian people can be more environmentally conscious and appreciate environmental-friendly products, especially in the domestic market.
“I hope that later on, heySTARTIC can be on their top of mind for eco-fashion in Indonesia,” she added.
Vania added, thanks to the materials and preparation strategies from Indonesia Impact Accelerator Program (IIAP), she now has more courage to enter the investment scene.
Impact Accelerator Program is a program adaptation of the Village Capital incubation’s ‘Peer Selection Investment’ model. The Indonesia Impact Accelerator was spearheaded by Patamar Capital and Kinara Indonesia in 2018. The 4-month program comprises of three workshops and two webinars that aim to improve business performance.
Vania is one of the four women entrepreneurs from innovation and ethical fashion sector in Indonesia, who were selected to receive investment in IAP. She received an investment of USD 25,000 to scale up her business. The investment will be used to expand her business network and to buy production equipment.
“When heySTARTIC first started, we only focused on seeking grants as additional capital support, now we have more understanding about the forms of investment. If I did not join IAP, maybe I’ll still be stuck with idealism as a social activist – which might make our financial management less likely to be sustainable” she concluded.