Called to art ‘For social change’, bag designer finds inspiration in Liberia
What started as a hobby has turned into a thriving business for entrepreneur Marit Woods, owner of ARWAY bags and accessories. His business recently left the Mall of America’s Community Commons and is now available online.
Woods, originally from Liberia, arrived in Minnesota over 20 years ago. She attended Arlington High School and graduated from the University of Minnesota. She also did her graduate studies in Vermont.
“I started ARWAY in Liberia [in 2010], and I was doing comedy shows, ”Woods said. This is where she started designing her iconic ARWAY bags and accessories. Woods has also developed the exquisite molds for the products.
Woods pointed out that his passions called him to “art for social change, and that came with my youth studies degree – so I started ARWAY in Liberia”. Woods initially made the bags for herself, but her hobby turned into a business. The feedback and support she received has been exceptional, which has also resulted in increased demand.
In 2019, Woods officially launched the ARWAY bag and accessory business in Minnesota. She said, “I used my own funding and my lovely aunt also invested $ 300. Over the years, I have practically used the profits to regenerate the business. She also uses a portion of the proceeds to provide zero-interest loans to the people she works with.
ARWAY bags and accessories are truly unique. A variety of designs incorporate luxurious Ankara wax fabric, genuine leather and wood. Each bag is crafted with care and has its own unique style.
The product line is very popular. “Because we’re growing and there’s a demand, I plan to have investors,” Woods explained.
This company values social responsibility. When customers make a purchase, $ 1 will be donated to Laugh Out Loud Liberia and STRIVE, an after-school program aimed at enriching the lives of young people.
ARWAY bags allow the owner to maintain a connection with her country, Liberia. She said: “As much as I want to leave because I have a child, I have a husband, my connection to Liberia is so ingrained that I don’t want to lose it while I’m here because at the end of the day I want to go back there. there and live.
Woods spoke of the ARWAY team which includes a number of highly skilled craftsmen: “I knew people were good at what they did; the craftsmanship is incredible. And because I trained them what I wanted in the product, it worked pretty well. ”
As a social entrepreneur, Woods uses his business to improve the quality of life of others, especially his team. “The business provides a livelihood for many of the people I engage with in the field,” said Woods.
The local business successfully offers economic opportunities. “I’ve seen the people I work with excel in other ways, but because we don’t have the environment to excel and market access for these products,” the company only offers limited number of products.
Woods said balance is important in business. “In the last few years we’ve scaled to a minuscule level… so we’ve gone from 15 to 20 pieces. Now we are making 40 pieces. The demand for products generally increases during the holidays.
“As a small business,” Woods noted, “of course we want to grow. I want to be very aware of how we grow because we have environmental consequences because we have wood built into it. [the products], and the skin too. So our growth must be a little different from that of a normal manufacturer.
Like many local businesses, the COVID pandemic has slowed operations. However, “We were lucky when the mall [Mall of America Community Commons] reached out and gave us space for nine months. It allowed us to really see what the possibilities were outside of buying online, ”said Woods.
Woods started working with the MOA over the holiday season in November 2020. She was only supposed to settle in for two weeks for Christmas. The company was then offered a longer contract from March to September 2021.
Recently, the company ARWAY left the Community Commons of the MOA, but the products are available online. “I mainly focus on my online presence,” said Woods.
When asked to share farewell tips for young people or budding entrepreneurs, Woods said: “If you have a fondness for something and you think it’s something that could make a difference. or that would impact lives, I think you should be persistent and keep pursuing that.
She added, “Try to surround yourself with positive people and be flexible.”
For more information visit www.arwaybags.com.