Tayo Adesanya, a National Urban League Emerging Leader and Bay Area Activist is the creator of Agbara Life. He developed the idea for his battery powered backpacks while at Purdue University. Originally a senior project for his electrical engineering degree, the early prototype of the bag went by the name of Power Savvy and was solar powered. His goal was to marry fashion and utility, which he has been able to accomplish in its current form.
I caught up with Tayo in the days leading up to the launch of Agbara’s Indiegogo campaign do discuss his inspiration behind the brand, why he chose to form a benefit corporation and thier experience at CES among other things.
Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity
EL Johnson: Where does the name Agbara come from?
Tayo Adesanya: I’m Nigerian, Yoruba. Agbara in Yuroba means Power, and not just power as in electricity or strength, but power within one’s self. So i chose Agbara because we’re a power designer bag, but also because were a social benefits corporation and we’re empowering the community through STEM programs.
EJ: You mentioned that Agbara is a Benefits Corporation (B-Corp), can you explain for those who may not know, what that means? and what standards need to be in place to keep that status?
TA: A Benefits Corporation is a for-profit company that uses some if its profits to better the community in some way. Think TOM’s where they give shoes away for every shoe sold, or Stella Artois who provides clean water for each beer sold. We’ve partnered with a gentleman named Mr. Fascinate, and he has a Magic Cool Bus which travels to under-resourced areas where the kids don’t have access to STEM. We’ll also be running our own affordable camps over the summer expose kids to the STEM fields.
EJ: Recently you guys went to CES, how was that experience?
TA: It was amazing! We’ve (the team) all gone in our own right, but this was the first time that we actually had a booth. It’s always nerve racking because you setup the booth and you have this fear that nobody is going to come by, but the response that we got, I mean we had moments where that entire aisle was filled with people trying to see our product and hear what we were talking about. From 9am, 10am to 6pm, because even though they closed the doors, people are still coming by. We spoke with a bunch of people who either loved the product, wanted to invest, or were interested in the social benefits aspect. We connected with about 1,500 to 2,000 people.
I was also given a full-page in i3 magazine, which is the official magazine of the CES, you can only get it at CES. We had pictures, my background, and what the company was about. That also brought people to our booth as well.
EJ: Were there a lot of Entrepreneurs of Color there? How can EOCs who are seeking to launch consumer goods benefit from attending CES?
TA: There were not a lot, and the huge factor in that is the cost. its expensive to get a booth there, there are discounts available, and ways to get around it, and we’ve been bootstrapping so we have definitely taken advantage of those. I think its really important if you have a consumer good, especially as a black owned company, that fits within CES’ realm, the exposure you’re going to get you’re not going to get in any other place.
You have companies like Samsung, Nikon, Tumi, that are coming to you booth to see what you put together, you wont get that anywhere else, and also you get to see what other people are doing, and it sparks ideas. We saw somebody there that had a product that we want to implement in our next bags; so you make those partnerships as well. But the biggest hangup is the overall cost, and once we get to a certain point down the road, we would like to help other companies get to CES through sponsorship.
EJ: Fashion is a notoriously wasteful industry in terms of the waste created during the production process, How is Agbara addressing this issue?
TA: So when we were choosing our materials, we took a lot of time to consider the environment. Or creative director was a chemist, so when we were going through all of the materials that we were going to use on the bag, we wanted to make sure that none of them were extremely harmful. One reason why we chose not to use pure leather is because the tanning process actually extremely detrimental to the environment. The polyurethane we use does have an impact, but its less of an impact.
While we were designing the bag and picking the materials, we made sure that it was durable, so its not something that you’re going to have for a year and trash. We’re building a bag that you can have for a long time.
EJ: What about the battery? You guys use a battery for the charging component right?
TA: Yep! we have a removable, 26,500 mAh power bank, so it can charge a smartphone from dead to full about 9-10 times. It’s also type C charging, so you an get a full charge on a new Macbook battery, it also has output to support fast charging like you would find on Samsung phones.
EJ: Outside of bags, what are some other products, ideas, or plans that you guys have? What’s the grand vision for Agbara?
TA: We want to create and entire power line, bags, outer wear, an entire brand from clothing to accessories, but they will all have that power aspect. We’re in the process of patenting some new technology, that I obviously can’t get into, but we will be implementing that into all of our lines moving forward.
EJ: Tell us about your indigogo campaign, how much you;re looking to raise, and what you guys are seeking to do with the funds.
TA: Our campaign launched on Feb 1st. We chose a goal of $15,000, a lot of companies choose these huge goals to cover admin costs and things like that, but all of us (the Agbara team) are doing this strictly off merit and love for this product. We’re not taking anything from it. We chose $15,000 as the number that we need to fund the manufacturing of the large order of bags that we need. We have a minimum quantity that we have to order from our manufacturer, the rest we’re going to keep trying to bootstrap as much as possible.
If we do go over our goal, which we’re hoping, we will use the extra funds to do research and development for the technology that we’re patenting, and to fund our STEM initiatives.
EJ: Are there any specific packages that buyers can choose from? What are the tiers?
TA: With Indiegogo, you can give anywhere from $1 to whatever amount you want to. We’ll have shirts that you can purchase, you can purchase the bags, the first 50 buyers on the first day of the launch will get the bags for half off, so that’s our first perk.We will have other tiers, but were still finalizing those. But anything that is given is appreciated.
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