Home Consumer Goods Startup pet accessory line IYAYU aims spotlight at human trafficking

Startup pet accessory line IYAYU aims spotlight at human trafficking

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When asked how to pronounce IYAYU, the name of her new pet accessories company, Elizabeth Boolbol is more than patient in offering a syllable-by-syllable answer.

“It’s ah-ya-u,” she explained, happily repeating it until she was certain there was no further confusion. “When I hear dogs, I think that when they say ‘I love you,’ it sounds like ‘ah-ya-u.’”

IYAYU human trafficking
IYAYU founder Elizabeth Boolbol with her product line. Photo by Phil Hall

Boolbol is even more patient in explaining all of the profits to be generated by her startup will go to fund Global PEHT: Partnership to End Human Trafficking, a nonprofit that she founded in 2015.

“As far as I know, we are the only pet product company tied to a social initiative with human beings rather than shelters, and that is kind of an interesting twist,” she continued. “But it is all about unconditional love. We want to take that love and spread it and push it out into the world.”

In creating IYAYU, Boolbol has merged her two passions into a single endeavor. Her love of animals is obvious upon entering the Greenwich home, which doubles as her office: six dogs and two cats are among the residents. (The four-legged friends have doubled as models on the IYAYU website.) And her concern on raising awareness to human trafficking is evident when she details the depth and scope of that issue.

“I’ve seen it internationally and it is here in our backyard as well,” she said. “I-95 is a hot bed for sexual trafficking. It is something that I feel passionately about and want to end.”

Boolbol, whose previous career focuses ranged from marketing to real estate development, is partnering in IYAYU with Thistle Farms, a Nashville-based nonprofit that works with the women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. Thistle Farms supports its mission by creating and selling jewelry, accessories, apparel and bath and body products made by the women in its residential program, who use the experience to regain skill-sets that can be used when they seek employment and rebuild their lives.

Boolbol contacted Thistle Farms to create a line of pet-focused items, which was not part of the nonprofit’s product output. “The pet segment is a strong and growing market,” she noted. “People in Fairfield County and New York tend to spend a lot of money on their animals.”

Thistle Farms is producing IYAYU’s initial line of aromatic soy candles made with essential oils, one consisting of geranium and citrus and the other with lavender, with each priced at $25. “The candles are two-fold,” Boolbol explained. “They have a calming effect on pets and it helps if you want to get rid of that scent. We hope to get into lemongrass and eucalyptus, too.”

IYAYU is also offering leashes and collars made by women in rural Guatemala living in areas where poverty has made them susceptible to international traffickers. Priced at $40 to $45, the products have leather interiors and intricate hand-weaved exterior designs. The company’s one human-centric item is a Freedom Bracelet, priced at $30.

“We realized that some people like to wear bracelets that match their dog’s collar,” she added. “And for people who don’t have an animal but want to join the movement, they can wear the bracelet in solidarity.”

Boolbol launched IYAYU in early February and is primarily concentrating on online sales, although she has displayed her items at local events and landed her first retail outlet at Spot On Veterinary Hospital & Hotel in Stamford. She is planning to add an all-natural tick spray and a waterless shampoo to the line later this year, and she is hopeful that the new company’s mission will attract the attention of activist-minded individuals.

“This is a real way for people to buy what they were going to buy anyway, but to also start a conversation,” she said.

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