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25-Year-Old Lena Overcomes Social Consequences of the Covid-19 Pandemic by Producing Eco Bags

Since 2021, Lena Hovhannisyan from the city of Gyumri, region of Shirak, has been engaged in the production of eco bags, which she calls a “small family business”. 25-year-old Lena created the “Vintage” brand after she participated in the Covid-19 Solidarity programme under the “EU for Business” initiative for Eastern Partnership countries. The purpose of the project was to assist women in coping with the social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lena’s mother, who also sews eco bags, lost her job in accounting during the pandemic lockdown. In order to ensure her self-employment, Lena took up the business, providing her with a steady income.

I always wanted to start a business and constantly asked myself if I could manage it. The purpose of participating in the programme was to find an answer to that question, to be trained through non-formal education”, explains Lena.

At the heart of Lena’s eco-bag business is the idea of ​​environmental protection. Within the framework of her cooperation with the Jinishian Memorial Fund, she participated in several discussions about environmental protection, including the harmful effects of plastic bags. During these talks, Lena became aware of the scale of environmental problems in Armenia, as well as got information about the legislative changes in Armenia related to reducing the use of plastic bags.

Lena had two main reasons for starting her business. She explains: “At the end of the programme, participants could present their ideas and possibly receive a grant, which would help bring their business plans to life. I decided to come forward with the idea of ​​creating eco-bags because the environmental theme is very important to me.  On the other hand, since my mother was unemployed at the time and had a sewing hobby, I decided that this business could provide her with income. We bought two sewing machines and raw materials and started our family business”, she says.

Being a communications specialist, Lena decided that she would handle all the marketing related to her business herself. She also enlisted her sister, a web designer by profession, to create the design of the bags. The “Vintage” brand, however, has faced some difficulties since its inception. Lena’s originally planned business moves have encountered a number of drawbacks, but, as she reminds herself, “the first three years in business are usually full of obstacles”. Many shops in Gyumri refused to cooperate and replace plastic with reusable eco bags.

We want to change the way people think. We developed a unique design for the bags. They have several pockets that are very convenient for shopping at the store. It was quite challenging since there are very few shops and very few people who use cloth bags”, says Lena, emphasising that the subsequent branding of the business focused on changing people’s mindsets. She hopes that people will be more environmentally responsible in the future and will prefer reusable bags, which are slightly more expensive but much less harmful.

The obstacles to cooperation with private businesses, however, did not discourage Lena. As a result of her collaboration with diverse organisations and educational institutions, she and her mother are still involved in the production of eco bags. Lena says that in Armenia handicrafts, particularly bag production, are mostly done by women, and it is important that in the age of mechanisation handicraft traditions are not forgotten.

It is extremely important to me that the programmes implemented by the European Union emphasise the ideas of handwork, environmental protection, and the role of women in business when they announce grants. I wanted to start my own business and I intend to expand it further because I believe in all these ideas”, says Lena.