Why I dropped everything to work on TSM over the summer

Jack’s enthusiasm for life isn’t just infectious, it carries over into his work and most importantly the mission of the Social Mercenary. We bumped into each other through Challenges Worldwide . While he was working in Ghana, I was working in Zambia and we both went on to various things in Hong Kong. I also like to think of myself as a positive person – great minds think alike – and I supported his work on the fledgeling Social Mercenary in Hong Kong.

Here’s my contribution… the first logo! It only took me 2 hours on paint.

It’s only been a few months and yet the Social Mercenary has grown and is showing signs of taking root. Jack asked me to write a blog piece about why I joined The Social Mercenary, but the why is in the name.


The Social Mercenary is about more than just being a new brand and smashing deliveries out to whoever orders; the idea is to empower both the consumer and the producer. Simply put, The Social Mercenary isn’t about help, it’s about partnership; putting entrepreneurs in Ghana on equal footing with their peers in Western markets. Ghana is an under-developed opportunity that is at the heart of regional power in West Africa and before I slip into political mode and start discussing the effects of post-colonial. I believe that like many less developed countries beyond the West, Ghana has not been given the respect or opportunities it deserves, and businesses like the Social Mercenary are working daily to remedy that.

The Social Mercenary is not a panacea for all ills, but it isn’t meant to be. What I like about it is that it is set up as a platform; the blog is about getting attention to products that leverage the skills of people in Ghana. It’s about creating more ‘Social Mercenaries’ who believe in a better way of doing business and engineering collaborative social change. It’s also not all about Jack. Don’t get me wrong; Jack’s a great guy, but the important thing about a collaborative effort is the movement of the whole community and that’s what TSM is about; the army pulling together. I’d like to think that in some small way, I can be a part of that army – but also that anyone can. I’m helping out Jack physically now with everything and anything TSM, but you can join the movement too by buying one of the bags, sharing something, or following the blog, even if just while you wait for the Social Mercenary t-shirts, hats and second generation bags that we’ll be launching soon [watch this space].

I’m looking forward to the next few months and the kickstarter and a couple events we have coming up, but the main thing is to make sure we lay good foundations for the greater things that the Social Mercenary has coming its way. The Social Mercenary is not something that will materialise overnight, but with its goal, and while the army grows, I’m happy to say that I can be a Social Mercenary!

Ed Ashdown

A Story From The Heart

How it started

It all started back in May 2016. I was in the midst of organising the biggest adventure of my life – A placement, a year long break from my course at Loughborough University, that not only defied convention but caused chaos for the placements team that were trying to facilitate my life-changing dreams and my determination to see all that I could see and to learn all I could learn. Thank you to Chloe who now no longer works at Loughborough (but is on to great things I am sure) and the rest of the placement and study abroad teams for making this happen.

Knowing that I was going to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, experience far away cultures and travel to extraordinary places. I did what anyone that grew up with the internet would do – I started a blog. Using my recent web design & WordPress skills from my previous business Haslo (delicious hazelnuts from Georgia) I created the blog. Now – any self-respecting blogger has to have a catchy name… So I thought for long and hard about what I wanted to call it and I decided upon a juxtaposition that made heads turn, The Social Mercenary.

Why? Well, I have always been inspired by social entrepreneurs across the globe and I fundamentally believe that social values and societal impact should be ingrained in every part of the value chain in order to create scalable and sustained impact. A business is of course about making money but I see no reason why the people and the environment that is enabling this wealth creation has to be damaged or unfairly treated in the process. I knew that the blog would demonstrate this careful harmony and so I believe I and others are now Social Mercenary’s, we are fighting for change, fighting for a better way of doing business but like Mercenaries we don’t fit any army or any mould, we are adaptable making our own path and carving out our own future.

My Ghanaian Adventure

(The amazing Challenges Worldwide in-country volunteers)

The blog documented my time in Ghana, where I worked with SME’s and helped with absolutely everything from their financial accounts to marketing to investment strategies’. I learned a lot from this process and have much to thank ICS and Challenges Worldwide for providing such an enlightening opportunity. You won’t believe the entrepreneurial spirit that surrounds Ghana, never before have I met people that can dream like Ghanaians. I won’t lie to you, the world is against many of them, Ghana is small, not particularly well known and getting their products or themselves to another more developed country is almost impossible. For example, last year my friend Prince got offered by OXFORD UNIVERSITY to represent Ghana in a huge debating competition, only to be rejected by immigration officials. This is of course just one example, but the passion, determination and underappreciated skills in this country, to this day, astounds me.

Overall Ghana taught me two things:

  • Patience

There’s a lot we take for granted back home and so it can be a shock to us when dealing with setbacks or challenges we never imagined. I for one did not expect 3hour long traffic journeys but I changed my perspective, enjoyed the views and the lovely hawkers that would bring the most amazing snacks to your vehicle.

  • Creativity

I’ve never really been one to care about what I wear and having a history of Mental Health issues I often look back and think it had quite a lot to do with not caring much about myself. I always failed at trying to look like others and although I might have eventually made a great chameleon it really wasn’t representative of who I was as a person. Right now, if I had one word to describe myself it would be impassioned and as such Ghanaian fashion really took a hold of me. I began to really express my positivity, my love and zest for adventure and my gratitude for life all through the incredible prints I was surrounded with. It was at this point that I knew I wasn’t a Banker.


Hong Kong – The time that TSM became more than just an idea.

(Hiked up Victoria Peak at 4am for this shot)

After an amazing 3 months in Ghana, it was time to move on and in keeping with the theme of juxtapositions I went to Hong Kong which is as far removed and the complete opposite to the more laid back city of Accra in Ghana. Before departing, I briefly returned to England for 5 days and gave out a few presents, everyone I spoke to loved the prints and loved the bags that I had brought back! So, I decided at that point I would sell them! Upon arriving to Hong Kong I was shown the bustling life by a good friend Mike Gee (See his incredible coat here) and I lived in what can only be described as a coffin for a mere £300 a month. I can’t complain however because my room was twice as big as my friend Katie’s. Hong Kong was an unbelievable place and I truly learned so much over the course of my 3 months there.

(Lushious Hong Kong)

My time in Hong Kong started by working as a marketing intern for a Health and Wellness company that encompassed a great deal of spirituality, it was not somewhere you expected a banking student with ambitions to rise-up through the corporate world to be starting out, especially in Hong Kong. Despite being paid only £8 a day, I was given many challenges and tasks that I learned a great deal from.  As you may realise the numbers here don’t add up and I was beginning to feel burdened with little free time and dwindling financial resources. I ultimately decided to quit. I didn’t just resign from an internship I defined a new life for myself. From that moment on I vowed never to work as a corporate employee ever again. This meant never living out my previous dream of working in the Investment Banking Industry. Thank you to Jay who was practically a mum to me in HK and to Soraya for all the help and support here!

Whilst at work I began telling Soraya about my blog and she said why don’t you have loads of different sectors or different businesses all in line with The Social Mercenary! This couldn’t have been said at a better time, I was currently reading Richard Branson life story and his ability to go from one unrelated business to another inspired me! After doing talking through my ideas with another friend Ed, we decided I should move from just the blog to the bags, he designed our first Logo – it took him 2 hours on paint and I still love it to this day but what it lacked in professionalism and design it made up for in enthusiasm!

I spent the entirety of my student loan and the savings I had using my network of tailors in Ghana and had 90 bags designed and made. I realise now that I was being very ambitious but what is life without going in head first. What I hadn’t expected was the delays, the quality control required and the extortionate cost of shipping! It was 3 weeks until my launch event at The Conrad Hotel and this was big for me! I ended up having to borrow £2000 from my Family for one week because a previous currency transaction got declined and my team in Ghana couldn’t ship the products without any money!

(Show time – the first event!)

It was a great relief when the bags came days before the big event and I cannot tell you how overwhelmed with joy I was at that moment. The bags were actually here! Oh and how beautiful they looked! I was so excited to be starting out at one of the most prestigious hotels in Hong Kong with the support of my incredible friends. The funniest moment of the whole day was on the way back from the fair, we hadn’t much money so we had to take the metro/tube each one of us holding a huge box of bags. Knowing we could not take the escalator we got the lift. I was lagging behind– typical weakling and the other carry on and pile in to the lift and as I see the glass door close the lift didn’t move. They had all gone in with these huge boxes and no-one had pressed the floor button! They were now crammed in a glass container with none of them able to move. I should’ve helped, instead I dropped my box and began rolling uncontrollably in laughter as they stood and helplessly watched. GOLDEN!

(At the Conrad with support from Patrick, Mike and Caz)

The day itself was exciting I cannot tell you the number of people that came to say hi and show their support! I am particularly thankful to the Loughborough Alumni who showed tremendous support! Especially Patrick, Kalam, Vanessa and Caz! At the event, I was looking around the stalls and I met Nick the founder of Elephbo who has been a tremendous source of guidance and inspiration. He upcycles cement bags from Cambodia and creates a beautiful travel bag that successfully raised a tremendous amount on Kickstarter. After the event had concluded I think we had sold 4 bags in total, not a lot and certainly not enough to cover the cost of the event. It was at this point I realised just what I had gotten myself in for.

Times got hard, but I still couldn’t complain, I was working at a surf shop on the most beautiful beach outside of Hong Kong and I was also proofreading and providing English and Employment tutorials to as many people as I could. This, was just about enough to survive the rest of my time would be solely focused to The Social Mercenary and selling the products.  Shops wouldn’t take me seriously so I began to sell in every way imaginable. I would rock up to universities and just set up shop, I would be stopping people that pass by just to tell them about what I was trying to do, I didn’t even mind if I didn’t sell any of the bags. I would do this ferociously, selling 6 bags one day! This would continue until I got kicked off campus for breaking university policy by some angry officer shouting at me in Cantonese. I’m sure they just thought I was a silly exchange student.  Big thank you to Josh who taught me how to sell and gave me the confidence to overcome my fears and to go out and grab my dreams by the horns.

(Talking to students- wheeling and dealing)

Often, I didn’t have money for lunch nor to do exciting things but my vision and my friends kept me going. I managed to scrape enough money together to attend another fair. Unfortunately for me this wasn’t very well attended but I later heard from Rebecka (a Swedish lady working in fashion but creating amazing hand crafted candle’s amongst many other things link here), that she was in awe of how I literally went out on the street and pulled people into the shop for 5 hours straight. This for me was a necessity – I needed the money to survive, let alone realise my dreams.  I can’t thank her enough for the fashion wisdom she gave me especially in terms of design and scalability. A friend of mine Alessandro was studying video journalism at HKU, I had told him about what I was doing and it tied nicely to a project he wanted to do so he came and interviewed me at the fair. I loved it, the other stalls were so confused as to why I was being filmed but it really helped showcase the bags!



After a few months, I was becoming what I ate, a noodle, lucky for me. Ming, again a member of the Loughborough Alumni found me another job counting seeds! Daisy my boss was amazing and I enjoyed her company so much, I really felt appreciated and I learned a lot about leadership from her. I know my previous vow but this time I felt like it was on my terms and also meant that I now had enough money to enjoy Christmas with my brother in Japan which having not seen him for yonks I was rather excited about!

(Kyoto with the bro)

People started understanding what I was trying to achieve – Singapore

After a fantastic holiday with my brother in Japan <3 and realising my dreams and ambitions regarding The Social Mercenary, I have to tell you, I was actually not looking forward to Singapore, I heard it was boring in comparison to Hong Kong (which is somewhat true) and I was definitely not looking forward to studying again. But to my surprise I have had a brilliant time, made yet more incredible friends and developed The Social Mercenary further!

(The Last Supper inc. cousin Max)

Of course, I brought my bags to Singapore too! The fairs weren’t particularly successful – in fact I am certain Singaporeans are scared of bright colours. But I have learned a lot from the process I know exactly how to improve the products, what’s a good price for them and how to market it. I have been on the most fun photoshoots with so many people helping me out particularly Hugh for being a voice of reason and a great camera man and to Yashaswini for creative ideas! I have entered The Social Mercenary in competition after competition and this has helped me narrow and channel my business plan and envisage how everything will fit together.

(My first fair in Singapore at NTU)

There are countless more friends that have helped me along the way and I’m sorry I couldn’t mention you all <3 But one final shout out to the We Are The People (the first ever Kickstarter store) for showcasing my products in a special early-designer booth! This generated a number of fantastic links for me and taught me the power of crowdfunding!

(We love monkeying around at TSM)

I am now in my final week and it’s time to talk about the future and may I just point out this is a very exciting future indeed. This year has been an unforgettable journey and I picked up a few people along the way that believe as I believe that if you really but your heart and soul into you might actually change the world.

So I’m coming home… what’s next?

This summer I have 3 incredible people taking the bags to the States to showcase the incredible work from our team in Ghana. I have about 5 people in the UK that I can tell you right now are the most creatively gifted and ambitious people I have ever met who will be helping create events up and down the country to promote an imminent crowdfunding campaign. AND, I will be going back to Ghana meeting old friends and improving designs and formalising future plans – My old ICS colleague Quaye will be filming for me so I will be documenting the whole journey you can check it out here.

As Maxime a good friend of mine likes to say “I’m so FRICKIN’ excited!” and I truly am.

So I will conclude on the final and most contrasting juxtaposition of this whole story: I am a Banking and Finance student that is going into the world of fashion. Wish me luck.

Feel free to leave a comment below 😀



Jaron is the Founder of Artisan & Fox, a social enterprise for extraordinary craftsmanship across the developing nation.

The startup works with artisans in developing nations, including Afghanistan, Kenya and Nepal. Artisans receive 50% of the profits from each purchase.

Jaron Soh, Founder & Team Leader of Artisan & Fox

Hey Jaron! Tell us about  yourself and this incredible project of yours Artisan & Fox!

Hey everyone, I’m Jaron, and I’m the founder of Artisan & Fox. I’m also a final-year undergraduate at the London School of Economics.

Artisan & Fox is an online ethical marketplace featuring extraordinary craftsmanship and ethical fashion from the developing world. We help artisans in countries such as Afghanistan, Kenya and Nepal, sell their crafts online to mindful consumers worldwide.

Our aim is to help small artisan businesses expand, and help consumers understand the provenance of their purchases. Artisans receive 50% of the profits from each item sold on our platform.

That’s an amazing commitment! What inspired the idea?

Artisan & Fox materialised during a trip to Nepal in the summer of 2015. I had just completed my first year at the LSE, and decided to spend a month across the Himalayas with a non-profit founded by a classmate.

Back then, an earthquake has just struck Nepal, and so all I heard about the country on the news was about the devastation. However, when I did arrive in the country, my experiences were totally contrary to what was on the news. The country remained breathtaking, warm and beautiful.

During my trip, I had a chance meeting with a Nepali silversmith named Prem. Prem made these amazing sterling silver rings, at very affordable prices. But I was surprised to learn that he was struggling despite his excellent craftsmanship and beautiful products. There was minimal demand for his craft due to low numbers of tourists and weak local demand.

As a result of this, Prem was struggling. Similarly, many Nepali artisans and their trade were dying out because many young people saw little prospects in artisanal work.

Prem in action. Prem is Artisan & Fox’s first partner artisan.

I decided to help Prem sell some of his crafts online. I bought some sterling silver rings, built a pilot online store for £100 back home. Soon afterwards, we sold out of Prem’s rings entirely – they were just 20 bucks a pop, for amazing quality, genuine sterling silver and excellent craftsmanship..

Soon afterwards I realized that Prem’s story is not unique. Many artisans globally are facing similar issues in accessing the global market. In the fashion industry, some face even worst conditions, being paid minimally or forced to work extended hours in unsafe conditions.

This is a global problem that needed our attention. So Artisan & Fox started formally with a dual aim on improving both the crafts and fashion industry. One, empowering craftsmen to go online and help preserve artisanal heritage. Second, building a fashion industry that is kinder to its makers.

Jaron and Prem in Nepal

Wow what an incredible story! What inspired the name?

“Artisan & Fox” represents the symbolic connection between the Artisan and the Fox.

In Japanese mythology, the fox is seen as a spiritual messenger between the people and the gods. This represents our role as a connector between the artisan and the mindful consumer. We see our role as a spiritual courier, shining the spotlight on extraordinary artisans and their beautiful craftsmanship.

This ties in with our mission to build a retail and fashion industry that is kinder to its makers in developing nations. Our vision is to inspire a more socially conscious world that is mindful of the provenance of how and where the things we wear are made.

To help consumers understand the provenance of what they buy, we place a heavy focus on storytelling and transparency. We interview each artisan to find out their aspirations, and share these with the consumers with their permission. We’ll also be publishing the full cost breakdowns of each purchase, so consumers know exactly how much of their purchase goes to their makers.

An assortment of moonstone rings by Prem, forged from sterling silver.

How has experiencing different cultures and places changed your perceptions on business and your subsequent goals?

Ten years back, to be able to work with artisans all across the world would not be possible in a team as small (and dispersed) as ours. Since we began in summer 2015, we’ve expanded to a team of 3 and have artisan partners in 5 countries: Afghanistan, Kenya, Guatemala, Mexico and Nepal. As for our team, I’m a Singaporean based in London, and my co-founder Laura is Canadian and based in Singapore!

To be working across different places and cultures is challenging, but at the same time we feel very privileged to have made connections all across the world.

In working with our partners, we’ve learnt to be respectful of the nuances and differences of each cultural context, and to adapt to the needs and local dynamics in each community. For example, on occasion, we may unknowingly make insensitive remarks to some of our partners without meaning to – but when that is brought to our attention – we apologise, adapt and learn from that mistake.

At the same time, we’ve found it beneficial to state on very clear terms for the artisans on what is required in terms of consistency and quality. We have a set of internal benchmarks that we share with and enforce with our artisan partners, to ensure the excellence in the craftsmanship and aesthetics of each piece is up to par.

This is so exciting!! Could you talk about some of the other products and how it helps the artisans.

The artisan Saeeda, from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Our impact extends beyond Nepal, to artisans in countries including Afghanistan, Kenya and Mexico.

Each purchase provide genuine economic opportunity for the maker, and helps to preserve craftsmanship with decades of history. Our aim is to help these micro-businesses expand, so we can create more local job opportunities, and reinvigorate nascent economies.

For example, in Afghanistan, we’re working with the nonprofit Turquoise Mountain to help preserve Afghanistan craftsmanship. As a country that is under the threat of war, many artisans in Afghanistan are struggling and years of cultural heritage are at risk. In Kabul, we’re working with an exceptional woman artisan, Saeeda, to help bring her crafts to more consumers worldwide.

Saeeda’s story is one of perseverance and strength. She spent her early years in a refugee camp in Pakistan. She fell sick in her early years, and the illness took her hearing away. After the fall of the Taliban, Saeeda and her family returned to Kabul. After finishing high school, and a short stint as a teacher, Saeeda started learning craftsmanship from the master craftsmen. Now, she’s an exceptional artisan dedicated to her craft!

Examples of Saeeda’s creations we’re helping to market online.

Tell us what’s next, when can we begin purchasing these amazing products?

Our first partnership collection with extraordinary artisans in 5 countries: Afghanistan, Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal and Kenya, is now live on Indiegogo! You can discover extraordinary craftsmanship paired with ethical fashion at our crowdfunding campaign.

Web catalogue: https://www.artisanandfox.com/catalogue/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/artisanandfox/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/artisanandfox/


Elephbo – Upcycled cement bags from Cambodia

Nicolas Huxley is the CEO and Founder of Elephbo which upcycles cement packaging material in Cambodia and uses it to produce high quality fashion products whilst maintaining a societal impact. Here’s Jack with an exclusive interview!

Hey Nicolas, some really awesome products! So tell me where did the name Elephbo come from?

Thanks! Well, I’ve always been in love with Cambodia, ever since I first visited on a trip around south-east Asia, You may or may not already know that the elephant is the national animal of Cambodia. Oddly enough, the first batch of bags we produced only used a type of cement bag with huge elephants on so I thought it was something that had to be incorporated into our name! As a result Elephbo is a cross between Elephants and Cambodia

Neat! So the idea occurred whilst traveling – but how did the whole idea come together? Was there for example a particular eureka moment?

I’ve always been searching for a project that a social twist and I liked the idea of working in a developing country purely because I could see so much opportunity existed here.

“Elephbo really stuck because everyone really loved the uniqueness of the product and this positive feedback really motivated me”

Cambodia was so unlike my home in Switzerland which was so clean, organised and developed. I already had a few projects on the go whilst I was studying but Elephbo really stuck because everyone really loved the uniqueness of the product and this positive feedback really motivated me. After about 10 messages from my friends I knew I had something that people wanted and I was ready to really commit myself to this project!

What made you decide on this unique combination of Italian leather and upcycled Cambodian cement bags?

The first products were initially made entirely from recycled cement bags and after a few bags were sold (30-40) I would hear from my friends that the bags would break only after a couple of months.

“I was shocked!”

I didn’t want to be selling a poor quality product so I changed tact immediately and began working on a new design which would look great and last a lifetime. I found a great designer in Switzerland Giulia Pasani and we began looking at different materials and designs – it was then that we decided to upcycle the cement bags alongside real Italian leather to create a truly unique and high quality product.

It took about 1 year to design and make a final prototype that would then be manufactured, I could now begin thinking about our Kickstarter campaign. It was all finally coming together!

Throughout your journey founding Elephbo what have been your 3 biggest challenges? 

Overall, there have been 3 main challenges for Elephbo and I over the past few years.

  1. Building up the guts to just quit my day job and focus on Elephbo full time. It was also quite difficult in the early stages to keep focused because, hey, my boss was gone. Although, this was an unexpected challenge it has also been a great learning curve and I’m now much more organised and motivated with my day to day work.
  2. Dealing with the media! Later, Elephbo began to get a lot of media attention and my one piece of advice is just to let the haters hate! There will always be people against your idea but at the end of the day any publicity is good publicity! We were sure that in the long-term people would understand our ideas and ethos better and this has grown with the business.
  3. DON’T THINK ABOUT OPPORTUNITY COSTS – I quit a role in finance to begin this venture and if I thought about what I could be earning (which sometimes I have) I’d be totally demotivated! No, what I do now for me is so much more fulfilling and rewarding than the corporate lifestyle I had before and I know the money I reinvest into Elephbo is going to go to good use! Also, work doesn’t feel like work anymore – I enjoy every minute of what I do!

In regards to your supply chain did you have to provide any specialist training to support the businesses you work with in Cambodia? or any of your partners for that matter?

I spent 5 months in Cambodia to organise everything – I even hired a tuc tuc driver Komnit Nit who later became my right hand man; helping to translate, oversee quality control and to distribute money to all our workers who just didn’t have bank accounts.

We were first producing in Cambodia but unfortunately the quality wasn’t quite good enough. We then moved the final production to Switzerland but I soon realised we couldn’t maintain these high costs if we wanted to survive.

“As I looked round the factory the next day – I knew immediately this was a man I could trust!”

I then found a small family run factory in Bosnia, they’ve been such great partners and have really made consistent high quality bags for us ever since.  The father who actually owned a farm alongside the factory put me up for several nights in his guest house. As I looked round the factory the next day – I knew immediately this was a man I could trust! The factory has 7 workers and I know them all by name, which is very gratifying. We still maintain our facilities in Cambodia who focus on preparing the recycled cement bags for production in Bosnia.

It is Elephbo’s hope that as we expand we can invest more into upskilling the cambodian workforce, so that in the future a large proportion of our bags could be completely manufactured in the country itself. However ensuring we maintain a quality product means that this  process will take time but something we are completely committed to seeing through.

Being an entrepreneur has its own rewards but for you what has been the pinnacle or most valued success story to date?

Most would argue our Kickstarter which raised over 34,000 Swiss francs would’ve been my pinnacle – it really accelerated our growth and our media attention really exploded.

However, the real peak of the project so far for me was when we had enough money to reinvest into Cambodia, we built a new production hut that is also used as a schooling centre, and it was all made of wood and natural materials. It was fantastic, each day I would see it develop a little more, and then a little more until it was finished. Seeing the final structure with local people using was so gratifying and it was the most rewarding thing I’ve done at Elephbo so far!

To anyone out there hoping to incorporate social and environmental values into their business, what advice would you offer?

My advice would be that it’s great to be driven by core values and I think having social values embedded into a business is really fantastic but you must never forget about the business aspects.

Without making money, your business model isn’t sustainable and you have nothing to reinvest back into your business to allow it to grow. It is our hope at Elephbo, to move away from leather to animal-free materials and cater for a more vegan friendly market. Over time we hope to keep investing into Cambodian infrastructure and to one day have a production facility which can make a bag from start to finish.

So to summarise, DON’T FORGET THE NUMBERS!

Watch more about elephbo here:-


or Check out their website:-



Haslo – Delicious Hazelnuts from Georgia

Haslo Limited connects Georgian hazelnut producers with the UK and EU. The hazelnuts we produce are from Georgia because of the richness in flavour and the excellent quality.

Why are Georgian hazelnuts better?

The Eastern coast of the Black sea where Georgia is located offers the perfect mix of conditions for the growth and production of hazelnuts.  Therefore, no need for pesticides is required when they are being cultivated.


Another reason to turn to Georgia is the fact that encouraging production of hazelnuts there will impact the country in a positive way, creating a sustainable business and benefiting the local communities, which are often being pushed to seasonally migrate to Turkey and live in poor conditions in order to harvest hazelnuts there.

Did you know that Nutella owned by the Ferreo family controls approximately 60% of the world’s Hazelnut Supply?

What can I get from Haslo?

Haslo Limited offers a variety of products, such as: hazelnuts in shell, hazelnut kernels, blanched hazelnut kernels, chopped hazelnut kernels, hazelnut flour and hazelnut meal.


The products come in variety of sizes depending on the needs of the customers. All products offered by Haslo Limited are packaged to EU standards and regulations and have gone through a strict quality control. Currently Haslo sell to businesses but they are in fact looking to make hazelnuts into a delicious snack for the likes of you and I.


What’s so great about Haslo?

Haslo Limited’s biggest strength is that it deals directly with Georgian hazelnut producers and supports the local agriculture industry where it is most needed. At the same time the products offered excel in quality and are 100% organic. The prices of the products are competitive because the company is relatively new and wants to break through and get a larger market share and develop. Haslo also donates 1% of their profits to the Georgian community helping workers and children affected by seasonal migration via a specific charity organization working in the country.



Haslo Limited is a great alternative if you are looking to purchase hazelnuts, because you not only get the product on a competitive price, but also receive excellent quality and at the same time support the Georgian agriculture and help create a sustainable business for the local community.

ZOLO Active Mats – Ideal for the eco-conscious yogi

 Christa is the Founder of ZOLO Wellness a startup wellness brand that has just launched their new sustainable ZOLO Active Mats made from cork and recycled rubber.


Christa where did this amazing idea come from?

I love Yoga. I especially love hot yoga and practice almost everyday.  I was sick of being in the studios where only a towel was provided to put over your plastic mat to prevent you from slipping.

First of all, the towel didn’t cover the area of the mat, so there would always be a crease under your mat.  It made the practice harder, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when the form is incorrect.

Secondly, I grew up in Hong Kong.  I love being outside – in the park, the beach, the mountains. But the weather in Hong Kong is just so changeable.  One minute it will be super sunny and the next it is pouring.  When it starts to rain halfway through your practice, you either keep going – slipping, or, you have to stop and leave.

Why are you using cork rather than the usual plastic?

Having studied and worked in the hospitality industry, I have seen so much wastage of cork in the restaurants and hotels.   Why? Probably because they don’t know where or how to recycle, or simply can’t be bothered.  Without even knowing the tremendous benefits, I started collecting cork.  My Mother is an artist and sometimes uses cork in her personal art projects.  I also started seeing some cool accessories that were being made from cork, such a wallets, bags, shoes, as well as home décor for floors, lamps, chairs – you name it.

FUN FACT: Cork even serves NASA as a coating insulation protection on the tanks of their space shuttles!

Many people think of cork as just a wine stopper and little do they know of the plethoric benefits of this phenomenal material.

Not only does cork support the most environmentally friendly harvesting method in the world, it is perfect as an exercise / yoga mat.  So I thought, “why not try and make a YOGA Mat made out of cork?”.

Tell us more about these Yoga Mats!!

The mats are made with 100% recycled rubber from Malaysia provide a bottom layer to the cork which is 100% naturally compressed and recycled. The cork comes from the Shaanxi Province of China – originating from the Cork Oak Tree – Quercus Variabilis.

As a result of our sustainable sourcing and use of natural materials our ZOLO Active Mats are:-

  1. Hypoallergenic – Many people complain of skin irritations from plastic mats such as PVC & TPE.
  2. Anti-microbial – Less likely to have odors, mold and bacterial growth (however we do provide a natural mat cleansing spray for extra care before and / or after practice)
  3. Grippier with sweat & water (perfect for a hot practice or in the rain)
  4. Dries quickly
  5. No trees were cut down in the cork bark cutting practice (the harvesting method is passed down from generation to generation).  After the first 25 years of the Cork Oak Tree, the bark is eligible to be stripped every 9 years during the lifetime it has of about 200-300 years.  A stripped Cork Oak Tree absorbs about 300-500% more CO2 than an unstripped tree.  There are 2 species of Cork Oak Trees – Quercus Suber & Quercus Variabilis – we use the Quercus Variabilis found in Asia – China.
  6. Not hot to use in direct sunlight
  7. Easy to unroll & lays flat

Every mat comes with a ZOLO Mat Carry Strap and the all-natural 1oz. ZOLO Mat Cleansing Spray.

We are currently updating our website and background information in more detail. For now, you may find our crowdfunding campaign site on the platform SparkRaisehttp://bit.ly/getzoloactive

ZOLO Wellness will soon be putting out a collection box in bars, restaurants and hotels in Hong Kong for recycling.  In the future, we hope to make more products using recycled materials.

Great! Christa you clearly know a lot about this incredible process! Please tell our readers more:-

Certainly, the amazing thing about harvesting cork is that the tree has a lifetime of about 200-300 years. After the first 25 years, the bark of the cork tree is eligible to be stripped every 9 years – kind of like shearing sheep.  The bark of the tree actually absorbs 300-500% more CO2 than un-stripped cork oak trees. Carbon footprint studies show that cork uses one of the most environmentally friendly harvesting methods in the world.  Every single part of the cork is used for various purposes – even the fine particles of cork dust are collected and used as fuel to heat the factory boilers. This harvesting method is usually a family trade passed down from generation to generation. Not only do our mats support safe, environmentally–friendly materials, the cork material itself is host to plethoric benefits that are especially amazing for a yoga practice.

First of all, cork is composed of the substance, Suberin. This is a kind of waterproof waxy material which actually gives a better grip when you are dripping with sweat or water. For those especially with dry hands, we recommend spraying a bit of water before use.  With every mat purchase, we provide a cleansing spray made from distilled water and essential oils, mixed on Nantucket Island, MA.  This can be used to clean the mat or to spray before practice.  It is so safe, that if you wanted, you could even use it as a body mist.

Initially, the cork mat could be a bit dry when you first open the package.  I put mine in the bath for about a minute and started practicing in order to mold into my mat.  The more I use the mat, the more comfortable it gets, especially with a little spray down.  With the recycled rubber on the bottom, the mat was quite resilient and springy – not hard on the floor. The cork dries very fast when hung or laid flat and doesn’t get burning hot in direct sunlight.

Cork is also anti-microbial which means it naturally kills bacteria, mold and odor. Although, still, for extra hygiene, we do recommend using a soft towel to wipe the mat down with either water or our ZOLO mat cleansing spray.

Cork is also hypoallergenic.  I have heard several complaints of people getting skin reactions from mats made of PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) or TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) materials. This is even worse when the mat has not been cleaned properly from before.  Our ZOLO Active Mat is also great for kids as the materials are safe on most skin types.

The factory we use is certified by SGS – formerly known as Société Générale de Surveillance, headquartered in Geneva.  This makes sure the products comply with global standards and regulations, covering the entire supply chain from raw materials to final consumption.  Our products are also qualified for the Forest Stewardship Council – promoting responsible management of the world’s forests.

By using cork, we are actually helping the ecosystem in the cork forest. The cork forests have relatively dry land and are prone to desertification. The forests are home to many endangered species and biota or living organisms – (flora / fauna / fungi). The cork forests also play an important role in poverty alleviation, supplying employment and growth.

Thankyou Christa for sharing ZOLO’s interesting product!