UF alumna Rachel Connors first started selling Yellow Leaf Hammocks out of the back of her car.
In an episode that aired just over a week ago, Connors pitched the company on ABC’s Shark Tank and secured a $1 million investment with KIND snacks founder Daniel Lubetzky.
Yellow Leaf Hammocks sells handwoven hammocks created by mostly female weavers in rural Thailand. A single weaver employed by this company makes enough money that she is able to achieve financial stability and support her family.
Since the product aired on Shark Tank, Connors said that there has been a large increase in sales and the company is moving forward with new products.
Connors graduated from UF in 2007 with a double major in political science and public relations and a minor in women’s studies. She and her husband, Joe Demin, founded Yellow Leaf Hammocks in 2012 when Demin took a trip to Thailand and met a woman in Ban Boonyuen, a northern mountain village in the Phrae province.
The woman was living in extreme poverty but weaving what Demin recalled as superior hammocks.
“I’ve always loved hammocks, but this one immediately struck me as superior in every way—the vibrant colors, the softness of the yarn, and the way it cradled me weightlessly,” Demin wrote in an email to The Alligator.
Between 2015 and 2018, the poverty rate in Thailand increased from 7.2 percent to 9.8 percent, and the absolute number of people living in poverty rose from 4.85 million to more than 6.7 million, according to WorldBank.
Demin brought back some of the hammocks to America as gifts for friends, but after talking with Connors, they came up with the idea to start a company to help the female weavers from Thailand. By making hammocks to sell globally, these women are able to move from poverty to the middle class.
“We believe that the fastest path out of poverty for a family is to give a mom a good job,” Connors wrote in an email to The Alligator.
In the summer of 2019, Shark Tank invited the couple to apply to be on the show. Their segment was recorded around Labor Day, according to Connors.
The couple received offers from other judges on the show but ultimately decided to go with Lubetzky because of his history of investing in socially impactful companies, like TaDah! frozen foods, a company that donates 25 percent of its profits to organizations that are engaged in social change. Connors and Demin left the set that day with a handshake and a verbal agreement.
“It’s a very intense experience,” Connors said. “They’re constantly reminding you that you might not get to pitch your company to the sharks.”
The couple said they officially signed the deal on Christmas Eve. Their episode aired on May 15. Connors said ever since it aired, they have seen a large increase in sales.
Moving forward, the company is going to focus on a hammock throne, a new product that is debuting in August. The hammock throne includes a customizable stand and hammock chair.
Connors said that more than 200 women have been able to better their lives through the employment by the Yellow Leaf company and that by making the hammocks, a Yellow Leaf weaver is able to take themselves and their families from extreme poverty to the stability of the middle class because they are able to make and sell a product for profit.
“They are investing in the education, health and nutrition of their children to permanently break the cycle of poverty,” Connors wrote in an email to The Alligator.