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Founder’s Name: Sugandh G. Agrawal

Location: New York, NY

Mission: To be the leading cruelty-free, ethically made designer fashion label supporting the vegan lifestyle choice of our demographic.

Biography: Meet GUNAS New York’s self-proclaimed design addict, visionary, and world citizen, Sugandh G. Agrawal.  Born in India and brought up in Germany and the United States since her middle teen years, her international experience greatly influenced and further cultivated her interest in design.

Sugandh earned her BFA in Industrial Design from the Columbus College of Art & Design, Ohio.  The intense 4-year program refined her raw talent, transforming it into design expertise.  She then worked as one of the lead industrial designers for Whirlpool and KitchenAid in Michigan before deciding to relocate to New York.  She enrolled in the MPS Design Management program at the prestigious Pratt Institute, where she formed the basis of her sustainable design thinking.  Before embarking on creating her own collection, Sugandh had the opportunity to strengthen her industry knowledge by working at Be&D Handbags and Victoria's Secret, creating visual brand language and conceptualizing innovation for their products.

Soon after completing her Masters, Sugandh fused her flair for design and marketing to launch GUNAS® Inc. in 2010.  GUNAS is a line of luxury vegan bags that allowed her to combine her love for cruelty-free practices and sustainable design.  Being a vegetarian and an ardent animal lover spurred her to create the ultra-chic accessories with an eco-friendly focus.  GUNAS is now a brand that’s highly sought after within the vegan and vegetarian community, with fans in the US, Europe, Canada, and Australia.  The bags have been featured in publications such as Marie Claire, Times, Huffington Post, PETA, Organic Spa, and Veg News amongst many others.  In 2012, the Ethical Fashion Forum in London awarded GUNAS the best in the Ethical Handbags category.  In 2015, Sugandh was acknowledged with the Green Handbag Designer Award by Handbag Designer 101, sponsored by Instyle magazine.

Sugandh draws inspiration from nature and other cultures, and finds great pleasure in identifying emerging trends to keep her brand current, ethical, and eco-friendly at the same time.  This ingenuity is what fuels her imagination and zest for design.  Meanwhile, her customers can rest assured knowing that although they are sporting the latest fashion trends, their carbon footprint is lessened as no animals, exotic or domestic, were used to create their ravishing GUNAS bags! 

Creation Story: Being a lifelong vegetarian and now vegan, I found a deep disconnect between my eating and fashion choices.  Having grown up in India, a country where cows are worshipped and ironically also slaughtered for their meat and skin, I knew in my heart that I had to do something about it.  So, on a cold wintery night in 2009, GUNAS was born in the warmth of my studio apartment in Manhattan.  As I sat on my apartment floor, brainstorming with my husband the name of the brand, little did I know that I was about to experience a small miracle.  Wanting to have an essence of my name in the name of the brand, I wrote the letters S-U-G-A-N-D-H on pieces of paper and started rearranging them.  I stumbled upon GUNAS (pronounced as Goo-naz); it sounded interesting. 

I googled it only to find that it had deep spiritual meaning.  The 3 Gunas, the essence of all our being.  Tamas, Rajas, Sattvic.  If you're familiar with yoga, you must have heard these terms.  I was ecstatic!  I had found the name.  Or rather, it had found me.  I truly believe that when you set out to do good and put your heart to it, all the forces in the universe help you achieve it.

With an intention to do everything ‘right’ and make a product that was not only vegan, but also ethically made in a sweatshop-free environment, I began with a modest 8-piece collection made in NYC.  Unable to maintain affordable prices, I pursued alternative production options.  Uncomfortable with non-transparency and the working conditions in factories in China, I set out to start my own studio in India where I trained artisans and worked closely with them to make the collections. 

Lessons Learned: Finding my path to ‘doing things right’ has not been easy.  In an industry that is practically non-existent, no formulas to follow, and being self-funded, I’ve had my challenges.  As a young designer with limited funds, you go through a lot of trial and error.  Making good decisions, improving on my mistakes, and relying on experience and my intuition are my biggest strengths.  Sometimes as an entrepreneur, you wonder if you have enough experience to start something you so strongly believe in.  I’ve come to believe that if you keep waiting to get ‘enough’ experience before making that plunge, you will never be ready.  When you feel prepared, dive in and everything you’ve learned will help you swim through. 

Proudest Accomplishment: GUNAS is America’s first luxury, all vegan handbag brand.

Dream for the Future: To have my own chain of cruelty-free lifestyle stores around the globe. 

Proceeds to Charity: 10%

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Shop the collection in the bSmart market!

Brand Name: Rachel Sousa

Founder’s Name: Rachel Sousa

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Biography: Rachel Sousa’s artwork is inspired by nature and the dynamic synergy of abstract art.  It's her intent to create images that evoke the beauty and resilience of nature, and remind the viewer of their own connection to it.  The compositions of her paintings contain the stylistic and structural lines of architecture and typography.  Her work also emphasizes the influence of Native Pacific Northwestern Indian carvings, Transcendentalism, Surrealism, Pop Art, and Portuguese azulejos.

Raised in Rhode Island, followed by a brief stint in Boston, Sousa has called New York City home since 1993.  She holds a BA in English Literature, with a concentration in Creative Writing, from Boston University, an MFA in Painting with a Minor in Printmaking from Pratt Institute, and an MA in English Education from Brooklyn College.  Throughout Sousa’s professional career, she has been developing herself as an educator, artist, and entrepreneur.

As an eighteen year old freshman in college, Sousa was writing, studying English Literature, creating and exhibiting fine art, selling to private collectors, and producing a commercial line of art that sold at local stores and flea markets in Boston.  Upon graduation, Sousa’s first full-time job was to teach art and creative writing to adults with developmental disabilities.  Over the course of the next two years, she established a studio space and amassed a portfolio of paintings.  This portfolio gained her acceptance to Pratt Institute’s graduate program for painting.  

At the completion of her Master’s degree in Painting, with a Minor in Printmaking, Sousa worked at Pratt Institute as an administrator in the Fashion Department for seven years, while also teaching as a college professor.  Upon leaving Pratt, Sousa attended night and summer school at Brooklyn College, while teaching Art and English in the New York City public school system.  Sousa continues her commitment to teaching, while expanding her studio practice and business.  

Mission: My brand developed out of a passion for celebrating the beauty of the natural world through my art.  It's my desire to provide customers with the highest quality, archival, locally produced, eco-friendly works of art.  My art evokes the beauty and resilience of nature, and reminds the viewer of their own connection to nature.

Creation Story:  Over the course of my career as an artist and educator, I have focused on refining a vision for a sustainable art studio and creating learning experiences in my community.  Each practice has enriched the other.  I strive to represent the best practices in both an ethical and environmental way.

Lessons Learned: When goals seem impossible to achieve, the best way to conquer self-doubt is to take action.  These steps may be as small as responding to correspondence, or ordering shipping materials.  It's important to make progress toward your goals every day.  Your network of support should include friends, family, and other entrepreneurs.

Proudest Accomplishment: The accomplishment I am most proud of is a recent collaboration with the talented Interior Designer, John Willey.  We staged a photo shoot using his impeccably designed homes as the set for my pillow designs.  The resulting photographs give customers a way to visualize my designs in their own homes.

Dream for the Future: My dream for the future is to expand my business into the wholesale market, and to license my designs for placement on other products, such as furniture, fashion apparel, home goods, and snowboards and skis.  

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Shop the collections in the bSmart market!

Brand NamebSmart x SHOFCO

Founder’s Name: Gabriella Bower

Location: New York City

Biography: Supporter and storyteller of fashion, feminism and social responsibility with equal conviction. Gabriella Bower is a student in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Her concentration is Fashion for Social Change. After graduating she hopes to pursue a career in the fashion industry that incorporates her passions for fashion, philanthropy, product development and communications.

Mission: Empowering the leaders of tomorrow through the fashion of today.

Creation Story: I have always been passionate about entrepreneurship. With the launch of the bSmart market, it presented the perfect opportunity for me to develop a brand that was both unique to bSmart and that had a socially responsible foundation

Lessons learned: While many brands may have one Creative Director, the design process is and should be very collaborative.

Proudest accomplishment: Finding our amazing partners SHOFCO and WeWork SoHo South, without whom our fundraising event wouldn’t be possible.

Dream for the future:  A future in which every company, regardless of industry,  has a socially responsible foundation.

Proceeds to charity: 100% of proceeds are donated to SHOFCO


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Shop JLEW in the bSmart Market!

Brand NameJLEW Bags 

Founder’s Name: Jamie Lewis

Location: New York, NY 

Biography: Jamie earned her BA with a double major in Economics and Spanish from DePauw University where she was a member of the Management Fellows Honors Program.  Always looking for challenges and comfortably shifting from one extreme to another, she balanced her Wall Street career with a an amateur boxing hobby and Columbia Business School MBA with classes in floral arranging and handbag making.

Mission: The brand truly celebrates the gutsy girls for whom these bags were designed - women who transcend cultural, geographical and professional barriers.

Creation Story: Going from the boxing gym daily straight to meetings, Jamie Lewis (aka JLEW) found herself carrying multiple bags and appearing less than put together. She could not find a true carryall sufficient to hold all of her workout and work gear that also looked fashionable so she decided to make her own.

Lessons learned: Initially I thought sales would be the easy part after tackling the design, sourcing and production of the bags.  Trying to capture the attention, even of loyal friends and supporters, in this era of absolute information bombardment has really surprised me.

Proudest accomplishment: Having the guts to pursue my passion gives me immense pride and satisfaction but when I first spotted a woman walking down the street with a JLEW bag my heart skipped a beat; I actually asked her to stop so I could take a picture.

Dream for the future:  Beyond the fantastic fair trade and local sourcing collaborations we have planned, our bigger dream is to cultivate a community that encourages its members to embrace contrasts.  We want to encourage women to balance being strong and sexy, smart and fun simultaneously, rather than feeling compelled to portray herself as one or the other. 


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