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Raglan entrepreneur's journey bringing handwoven bags from Myanmar to New Zealand

Raglan based Nicola Todd founded Zay Bag’s in 2020 to bring sustainable bags, handwoven in the hot and colorful city of Mandalay, Myanmar to New Zealand stores.

Nicola lived in the city of Mandalay for three years with her two kids and husband where they found a new gratefulness, excitement for life and closeness as a family.

Zay Bag’s name originates from the name ‘Zay Chin’ (market bag) the name Myanmar locals would call their colourful bags used to carry their goods around while shopping.

“I fell in love with the local bags and artesian crafts there, " says Nicola. “I was amazed by the incredible traditional skill it took to create these bags.”

Nicola was intrigued and inspired to find the local weavers in Mandalay to help her create bags to bring back to her friends and family in New Zealand. Three months later, Nicola found herself in the backstreets of Mandalay, visiting homes of skilled weavers, chatting and watching their different weaving techniques.

From here, Nicola brought back bags to sell at local summer markets in New Zealand to support the weavers during her 2-month trips back home. The bags were extremely popular and would sell out fast, it wasn't long before stores became interested in stocking her products.

When Prime minster Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand was going to go plastic bag free, Nicola connected with the weavers to collaborate and create beautiful bags that would work well in New Zealand. Due to her already established relationships with the local weavers, Nicola was able to build trust and focus on designs, quality and transportation needs to successfully implement her business idea.

Nicola launched her e-commerce Zay Bags store during the first New Zealand Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and has been successfully wholesaling to stores and boutiques throughout New Zealand since.  

“The bags are so practical and durable for everyday things like going to the beach, supermarket shopping, or even going to a BBQ with friends,” says Nicola.

What makes Zay special is their motive to support the Myanmar weavers. Zay Bag weavers receive between 20-50% more working with Zay, than if they sold on the streets directly or to local wholesalers. Although the logistics in Myanmar face huge delays, the five families in Mandalay make it possible.

“The bags are one of a kind and handmade by incredible resilient women in their homes, which logistically for a business can be extremely daunting in terms of transportation, storage and quality control.”

Nicola says she loves working with Raglan local freelancers and appreciates all the local support she has been shown during her Zay Bags journey so far, "I hope that anyone who comes across Zay Bags are glad they did."

Zay Bags has recently been B Corp Certified and is focused on creating sustainable products that reduce the impact of single use plastic bags in our environment.  The company promises to pay for and organise shipping for any goods that need to be returned to ensure they are recycled correctly.

Visit Zay Bags website to find out more.

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