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Featured Venture – Zoe Calahan – Designs by Zoe

IMG_2029 (Demo)

Zoe’s story so inspired me that I had to share it. A perfect example for my recent speech, Building a Business that Gives Back.


Tags include a button from Africa.
Tags include a button from Africa.

Her mom’s venture lead her into her own. Zoe Calahan was part of a program her mom, Lauren Calahan, had started called LEAP, Leaders Educated as Philanthropists.  Lauren founded this program for young adults here in Fairfield County. “Every LEAP contains three partners , one is considered affluent, the other non-affluent. The third partner is a global one, located somewhere in the Third World.” Zoe learned the skills of leadership and experienced the gift of giving back.

She was inspired to combine her love of design with a way to help others.  In Uganda,  patients have to bring their own pillows when they check into the hospital there. Zoe came up with the idea of a pillow for a pillow. “I could sell home decor pillows here to help create a pillow business in Uganda. I thought about what they need, what I could do to help and how I1191346 could make an economic impact that was sustainable.”

Zoe realized there would be a lot of steps involved in setting up a Ugandan business from here. She partnered with a businessman in Uganda named Charles, that she could work with. Charles Mudhmba is a member of HOLD Uganda; an organization helping to train young leaders so they can start sustainable businesses on their own.   “The first step was to help fund a rental space near the hospital and purchase sewing machines.” Zoe haIMG_7608s spent countless hours on the phone with Charles talking through the process together.

Zoe looked to the model of Toms Shoes where that company gives a pair of shores to under privileged children for every pair of shoes they sell.  She would design and sell throw pillows here and use the proceeds to fund  the pillow business in Uganda.

But how to get pillows made here. Zoe’s moms’ friend became her mentor.  Cherie Green is a local home designer and she meets with Zoe on a regular basis to guide her in crafting and manufacturing her pillow line. Cherie even got involved by donating the first order of fabrics.  Christopher Farr Fabrics gave her carte blanche to help Zoe with her plan.

Once she had her pillows made, Zoe hit the road and visited local boutiques and shops like the Darien Sport Shop to ask them to carry her line.  The feedback was overwhelming.  She offers trunk shows as well.  The high end pillows are pricey, so for her next line, she plans to create college dIMG_2023orm pillows. Designs by Zoe offers custom pillows and home design consulting. Her tag line, “Creating sustainable businesses locally and globally, through the beauty of design.”

Zoe says, “Because of my training and work with LEAP, I felt I had the skills to make this happen.” Charles is underway creating the manufacturing business and is working towards turning out his first pillow and all because Zoe had a vision and is helping to make it happen.

VentureMom Tip

Look to other models of giving back to create your own model.