Taaluma Totes, backpacks that give back to far-away countries, entered the Shark Tank on February 20th.
Heavy interviewed Jack DuFour about his company’s purpose, his girlfriend/business partner and their appearance on the show. Here are the facts on their unique venture.
To read all of Heavy’s Shark Tank coverage, click here.
1. The Couple Behind It Met at a Virginia Tech Tailgate
DuFour runs the company with his girlfriend, Alley Heffern. When asked what the pros and cons to working with her are, he gave no negatives, and said it has brought them closer as a couple. “They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. But what if you love who you work with, too? It’s a double-win,” he gushed.
She traveled the world with her family from an early age, so introduced DuFour to that lifestyle. When asked to name the best places they’ve gone to together, DuFour couldn’t choose just one. Instead he broke the question down into categories.
For the best experience with nature, he picked Corcovado National Park and Costa Rica. The best people he encountered were in Chiang Mai and Thailand, and the best cultural experience was in Bali and Indonesia.
They were both engineering majors at Virginia Tech when they met. As far as how they first found each other goes, DuFour said, “I wish I could say we met on the trail to Machu Picchu. But truth be told, we met at a Virginia Tech tailgate—as all good college couples do.”
2. The Totes #CARRYACOUNTRY
When you purchase a tote with fabric from a certain country like Ghana or Indonesia, the money goes back to the people of that nation. More specifically, 20 percent of profits from each tote are “microloaned to farmers and small business owners in your tote’s count.”
That loan is used to assist with the country’s farms or businesses. When it is repaid, Taaluma uses the money to buy more fabrics from that country, so it’s a continual cycle.
3. The Idea Came on an Engineering Trip to Uganda
During college, the couple traveled to Uganda for a solar power project. They quickly noticed the bright fabrics they used there, which they just had to purchase. "We bought fabric at a market, and took it to a local seamstress with my boring, black backpack that I had brought from the US," DuFour explained.
After “lots of body language and a bit patience,” the seamstress was able to replicate his plain backpack with the local fabric. It was Heffern who first could envision the bigger picture, and the company was born.
They got the name from the Swahili word for culture. When asked about the word choice, DuFour said, “That’s what Taaluma Totes are all about. They remind us there’s an awesome world out there—with awesome cultures, places, and people—who can all be connected through a backpack.”
4. Their Employees Are Disabled
The couple works with a nonprofit organization called STEPS, which stands for Southside Training, Employment, and Placement Services. Located in Victoria, Virginia, they work to provide jobs to adults with disabilities. “The first time we visited them, we knew it was a perfect fit. Because we both have social missions, we understand each other and work together better than we ever could have imagined,” DuFour said.
The nonprofit provides them with employees like Dorothy, who is legally blind. “I don’t think there is a day in her life that she doesn’t have a smile stretched from ear to ear,” he explained. “Dorothy is an insanely skilled seamstress and sews together the body of the backpack.”
5. ‘Shark Tank’ Called at Midnight
Well, the show didn’t actually phone at midnight, but because the couple was in Thailand at the time, the time difference made it 12 am for them. The next step was making a video, so they literally made it in the streets of Thailand. “I like to think being in such a unique place helped our video grab attention and really convey what we were all about,” DuFour explained.
They were also out of the country- this time in Laos- when they received the final call back. The pair had traveled to the small town in search of fabric. The town had “barely any internet,” so they “scrambled” to find a place to fill out the contract.
Also on this episode: