Incubator graduate fights human trafficking with beach bags

Thea Caye is changing the world for women, one beach bag at a time. 

A passionate feminist and advocate for those living in poverty, founder Carlie Rioux partners with a FairTrade factory in Nepal, hiring women to sew beach bags at a living wage — all of whom are survivors of human trafficking. 

“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime on the planet,” Rioux explains. “And the best way to get women out of trafficking and keep them out is to provide work.” She landed on beach bags as her vehicle after a conversation with her mom about why beach bags “were a big hole of suck,” sparked an idea to make the ultimate beach bag that also gives back. 

Poverty has always deeply impacted Rioux, including her own lived experience as a child living on low income. “By the time I was 11, our situation had improved, and our parents were taking us on a road trip to Disneyland,” she recalls. “And this was a big deal to a kid who was excited about grocery day.” 

Before making their way to Anaheim, however, Rioux’s parents took a detour to Tijuana to teach the kids a valuable lesson. “I thought I understood poverty before,” Rioux says, remembering the slums and chaos around the border. “That three-mile stretch changed our reality.” 

As the family was heading back over the border, a little girl about Rioux’s age approached the car. She was holding her baby sister in one arm and was selling roses to the queue of traffic in the other. “And here I was about to visit Disneyland,” she says.  

“We left Tijuana that day, but that little girl never left me.” 

The past year has been busy for Rioux. She graduated from Thrive’s Incubator program in Fall 2018 with a business plan for Thea Caye, amplified its sustainability on every level after getting feedback at the Social Venture Institute in June, and one month later received a generous investment of $50,000 from a fellow entrepreneur who said “how about instead of giving you advice, I cut you a cheque?” to which Rioux thought, “What just happened?” 

 “I would have never finished the business plan on my own,” she says. “Incubator challenged me to be very succinct, and without that I never would have gotten that funding. I wouldn’t have been able to show him what was in my brain.” 

“I’m so glad I did it.” 

Thea Caye is set to launch its first line of beach bags that give back in spring 2020.  

TAKE ACTION: 

  • Click here to learn more about Incubator to start a business that makes a difference like Thea Caye. 
  • Check out stories of our other Incubator graduates, including vegetarian worker-owned restaurant The Allium, and WeAble — a day home for young adults with special needs