Shafin Mahfuz is becoming a purse connoisseur in order to give back to Bangladesh, his home country.

"There [are] three or four or five types of handbags … and then you play with how the handle's gonna look like, how the opening is gonna look like, how the zipper's gonna look like," said Mahfuz, the 32-year-old behind RokiDiva leather handbags and wallets.

Mafuz designs the purses with his brother who lives in Bangladesh. That's where their RokiDiva products are made.

Mahfuz grew up mostly in Bangladesh in a middle-class family, and witnessed what life is like for factory workers there.

"Yes, it is a business that I'm running but the passion that I have is I want to do something for those people and make a difference and set up an example because it is possible to do," Mahfuz said.

Mahfuz started researching back in 2008, and his first bags were made in rented factory space. However, in 2013 Mahfuz and his brother created their own small factory outside of Dhaka so they could properly monitor the working conditions.

Around eight family friends make the handbags part-time. Mahfuz said he pays salary — about $450 to $600 CDN in local currency — so the workers can make a fair wage.

Right now, all profit goes back into the business.

Selling bags and cars

Mahfuz came to Nova Scotia from Bangladesh in 2002 to study business at St. Francis Xavier University. He soon fell in love with the province and its people.


Shafin Mahfuz stores his bags at home in west-end Halifax. (Natalie Dobbin/CBC)

Halifax lawyer David Cameron knocked on Mahfuz's door in Antigonish while running for the provincial election in 2003. Mahfuz offered to lend Cameron a hand and they've been friends ever since.

Cameron speaks highly of Mahfuz, and thinks we need more people like him in Nova Scotia.

"If we can find a thousand Shafin's we're going to be better off," Cameron said.

Mahfuz met the late Liberal MLA Bill Gillis while working on Cameron's campaign.

After graduation, Mahfuz needed a job to stay in Nova Scotia, so Gillis sprang into action. He put Mahfuz in touch with the late Paul O'Regan, who was the president and founder of O'Regan's Automotive Group.

O'Regan hired Mahfuz as a car salesperson.

"When he [O'Regan] learned that I wanted to stay in Nova Scotia … he was very, very pleased and he said, 'Shafin, I'll do everything I can to help you out,' and he offered me the job," Mahfuz said.

Gillis taught Mahfuz how to drive so he could take that position.

"I didn't even know what a convertible was when I started the job."

Now, Mahfuz is one of the top car salespeople at the O'Regan's dealership on Robie Street in Halifax. This job helps Mahfuz pay for RokiDiva.

Hard work and determination

RokiDiva is a small operation, but Mahfuz is selling more bags each year.

Today, the handbags and wallets can be found on the shelves of four Nova Scotia stores, and online. A few good friends help Mahfuz with selling and marketing online.

Cameron is impressed with Mahfuz's progress in a market that's filled with designer names.

"He has shown, through his determination, that if you work hard enough and you work long enough to try to fulfill that dream, that you can meet with some success," said Cameron.

Mahfuz is looking to the future, and thinking of the people back home in Bangladesh.

"We can't hire people full time yet ... because of the supply and the demand," Mahfuz said, "So hopefully it [the factory] will be running full time and then we can have full time people there working."