Alumni start-up makes beaded bracelets, gives back to Kenya


Photo courtesy of Hussain Boxwalla

photo courtesy of hussain boxwalla Hussain Boxwalla, University alum and founder of Bomba Beads, works with families in Kenya. The bracelets are made in Kenya and sold in America to help Kenyan families earn a living.

By Megan Bradley, Staff writer

In 2009, Hussain Boxwalla and his family visited Kenya. When he was there, Boxwalla was exposed to the bracelets that now drive his business — Bomba Beads.

Bomba Beads, meaning “awesome beads” in Swahili, was founded in the summer of 2017 by Boxwalla, who graduated from the University in 2015.

Boxwalla now partners with Spencer Arms, another University alum, and his younger brother, Humza Boxwalla, senior in business.

The bracelets are made in Kenya and sold online. A percentage of the profits are donated to women and different charities in Kenya.

“The main way that we contribute to the women is that they never had a steady stream of income or work coming to them,” Hussain said.

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However, with Bomba Beads, now some of them do.

Bomba Beads provides steady jobs to the Kenyan women who create the bracelets. Hussain sends the women supplies and donations to make the bracelets.

The bracelets are made with Maasai beads on leather bands. There are different colors and each has a meaning behind it. Bomba Beads offers hope, peace and love bands .

In addition, Bomba Beads also has Rafiki bands, or friendship bracelets which are sold in packs of three, so customers can give two to their friends.

Bomba Beads recently launched an ambassador program where people with Instagram followings can receive three free bracelets and Bomba Beads stickers to promote the company via their own individualized coupon code.

Although there isn’t currently an ambassador program at the University, Hussain said it’s at the top of their list because the founders have such a connection to the campus.

Hussain said the program has worked well so far and Bomba Beads is willing to work with its ambassadors to give back to programs close to their hearts. An example of this would be the company donating a dollar to cancer research for every hope bracelet bought.

“The thinking is kind of how can people buying these help in their local (community)?” Arms said. “Like how can they donate to their local charities and interests, and then also overseas and give back to the women making them?”

Arms began helping Hussain at the start of the new year. He helps with social media and some of the daily operations, but still works full time at a consulting firm, which is what Hussain did prior to quitting to pursue Bomba Beads full-time.

“I think the big step was him quitting his job, because that was sucking up a lot of his time and that’s a big step that some entrepreneurs are not willing to take because they’re scared to give up that paycheck, but doing that early on, you know he’s serious then,” Humza said.

Hussain said when he realized consulting wasn’t for him, he started saving as much money as he could so he wouldn’t have to borrow money to start Bomba Beads. He wanted to do this because he wanted to make a business where he could help people.

Bomba Beads helps not only the women in Kenya who make the bracelets, but they give back to other charities like the Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey, Chicago Public Schools with a Chance the Rapper bracelet and cancer research.

“We want to keep adding, like we want to add different charities and we want to get maybe one for overseas refugees and stuff, but for now we just wanted to stick to a few so we could really grasp it,” Hussain said.

To make sure that his company is actually helping the women, Hussain said when they have a certain amount they owe the women, Bomba Beads will donate that amount in goods rather than money.For example, they are currently working on buying the women improved tables and chairs for their workshops.

A goal for the company in 2018 is to help the women’s children through donations of school supplies and uniforms.

Although Bomba Beads is doing well now, the original idea to start the company was a bit of a hard sell because so many companies sell bracelets. Besides that, it is a hard concept to explain to people and get them on board.

“I’ve never been to Kenya. It’s high on my list as far as traveling goes, so at first it was a little bit of a foreign concept to me in that regard, but as I saw it starting to grow and add new products it really seemed like something that would be cool to be part of and to give back,” Arms said.

Communicating with women who are far away and do not speak English well, and political issues in Kenya present challenges for Bomba Beads on the operating side. Getting the word out to those in the states has been challenging on the marketing side.

Despite any challenges, Hussain said he remains devoted to the company and is excited to see what Bomba Beads will do in the future.

Hussain said he sees the future of Bomba Beads as an upward trend. The company has the same sales goals for 2018, and they believe Bomba Beads can meet those goals.

“We will really be able to make it huge and help out the women and a lot of other people and charities for many, many years,” Hussain said. “We see Bomba as our first venture and are hoping to grow it to a large scale to really be able to help the women.”

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