Agnese Cigliano: The Hatch Founder Promoting Business for Good through Artisan Rugs

Agnese sat on a sofa with blue and yellow graphic brush strokes behind

Agnese founded Aasté Rugs to bridge the gap between the creator and consumer of luxury goods. Her social impact business ensures that people with a passion for interior design are able to purchase high quality rugs that invest back into the artisan communities that produce them, rather than contributing to capitalistic systems that oppress workers.

“Very often interior designs, luxury items are very easily available, but we don’t know where they’re made, who made them, how the money is used, how much these people are paid.”

How can Business be a Force for Good?

There is often a perception that business is for profit, and social good is simply a nice-to-have that can be added on as an afterthought. With her vast experience in the non-profit and sustainable development sectors Agnese was convinced that this was not the way it had to be. 

Looking through the lens of the UNs Sustainable Development Goals it is clear that business is not something that can be left behind when looking at the blueprint for a better world. Goal number eight is ‘decent work and economic growth’, and Agnese saw this as an opportunity to apply her experience of campaigning and advocacy in the third sector to make a real difference through starting her own business.

Sustainable development isn’t about dismantling the entire system all at once, it’s more about rejecting the assumption that things can never change and looking at what we can each do to build something that is going to have a positive impact.

Agnese recognised that building a business that prioritises people, distributes profits fairly, and constantly strives to have a positive impact was a way that she as an individual could begin to challenge the status quo.

“If you’re a small business and you want to do something different, it’s possible that the pilot is not just for your business, but it is a pilot for change, and it’s a pilot to show that things can be done differently.”

A pile of colourful rugs

Agnese’s Founder Journey

For Agnese, her chosen niche was artisan rugs having identified the corruption that currently exists in this sector. The rugs are produced by the Rajbanshi Tribe in West Bengal, primarily by a woman named Sanjita Sarkar, and 70% of profits are invested back into the local community, ensuring that the workers have fair pay and conditions. Agnese explains, “I went to the tribe, I went to the village, I fell in love with them.”

Agnese invested her savings into buying the rugs and knew she had an idea for a strong business that could have a really positive social impact, but wasn’t sure how to turn that into a reality. She explains that a lot of the difficulty came from gatekeeping within the business community, and barriers related to her being a migrant.

She had worked closely with enough businesses to understand business strategy, and knew how she would incorporate in Italy, but didn’t have the knowledge of how that transferred to the UK market and UK rules. 

That initial knowledge gap was a really big challenge for Agnese and presented difficulties when she was looking to incorporate, not knowing how to adapt what she knew and what she had already done with the business to meet requirements here.

The Hatch Experience

It was through joining a Hatch Launchpad programme that she was able to tackle these knowledge gaps, “Hatch was actually incredibly crucial in empowering me and giving me all the tools that I needed to incorporate the business…it was an incredible experience.”

She joined an all-female cohort and really benefited from the community based attitude of Hatch, enjoying the prioritisation of collaboration over competition and the ability to relate to many of the experiences of those going on the same journey.

Agnese looking at one of her rugs on her lap
“I was very surprised to see there were other migrant women and it was very empowering because it was like - I'm not alone. There are other people that support me and believe in my business. There are a lot of people that believe in this story.”

Having a mentor to discuss business challenges with was another really impactful part of the experience. Being able to talk the specifics through with someone who has direct experience of running a business and seeing countless others through the entrepreneurial journey helped to turn huge challenges into manageable tasks.

Aasté Rugs is now incorporated and operational; the business ensured 225 days of fairly paid work in 2023. Agnese is turning her attention to the growth stage of her journey to increase this impact, and has ensured 60 days of fairly paid work for this year already.

Advice to Others

Agnese believes that we all have the power to enact change, particularly those of us with privilege, and feels strongly that it is up to us to advocate for those with less opportunity to have their voices heard.

Small businesses have a huge amount of power, and everyone building a business with a social core is part of this movement to challenge what we accept as the ‘norm’.

“The big industry businesses, capitalism in general, don't believe that change can happen because we've always done this for centuries in this way. I think that each and every small business has a role in changing things.”

Learn more about Aasté Rugs

Discover the current collection of high-quality rugs to elevate your interior design and deliver social impact to artisan communities.

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