Social entrepreneur Emily Duffy


Social entrepreneur Emily Duffy talks business, saving lives and not giving up.

Emily Duffy’s idea was to develop a sleeping bag that would be waterproof, fireproof, well insulated, lightweight and cheap to make. Her ambition is for the bag to be used in emergency and disaster zones around the world and to help people in Ireland who are victims of the homeless crisis.

homesless in dublin

The Duffily bag is made of metallic fireproof bubble wrap which provides a waterproof layer. 

Charles Richards of the Mendicity Institution approached Emily following the Young Scientist competition in 2015 where her idea first came to light.

The Mendicity Institution is the oldest working charity in Dublin. Established in 1818, it creates opportunities for people experiencing homelessness, isolation, and marginalisation to live better lives.

After a few modifications of Emily’s prototype, manufacturing of the bags began in Dublin (sponsored by Mendicity), with the workshop employing people who have experienced homelessness.

How did you come up with the name for your bag, did you have any other names in mind?

The name Duffily is a combination of my first and last names, and I won’t be cheeky enough to claim the credit for it. The bag was initially called the Homeless Wrap, and the rename was due to the ingenuity of one of the people I currently work with

duffiily bag

What is your company’s biggest achievement to date?

Being in a position to pay the homeless people who produce the Duffily Bags. They earn €10 an hour which, for a while, was 66% more than what I was earning at my part-time job.

What’s the most important thing you have learned so far in business?

That not everyone has to agree with what you are doing so always follow your gut and do what you feel is necessary.

Between school, study and being a social entrepreneur what your average day is like?

My average day starts at seven am so I can get an hour study in before school, and everything is timed to the exact minute from then until 10 pm. Making sure my time is used wisely to get the most out of every day.

In the future would you prefer to be a small, medium or large business?

I think the size of the business wouldn’t matter to me, as they both have their advantages and disadvantages, as long as I can make a positive impact on the world.

How did you get to your price point for the Duffily Bag?

The bag is produced and sold at the same price, so it didn’t require much thought. I am fortunate to have such generous sponsors who can back the production of the Duffily bags.

What is the best advice you have for someone wanting to start their own business while still in school?

I know many young entrepreneurs who started their businesses while in school, and they will all tell you to not to let your age be a barrier and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“If I were ruler for a day I would form a more efficient system for helping the homeless across Ireland and review the International Protection Act 2015.”

What job would you love (or hate) to have? 

I think this is the nice way of you asking what I want to be when I grow up. While teachers hold my highest level of respect, I am very lucky to have been blessed with such amazing and encouraging teachers in my school Desmond College especially my teacher/mentor Donal Enright, but I don’t think I am cut out to be one.

Are there any newspapers, magazines, blogs, newsletters  or social media pages you read on a daily basis

I try to keep up to date with current affairs, and I find that app is a great source for a quick synopsis of the daily headlines. I also follow various business blogs on social media to add a bit of useful content to my newsfeed which is taken over my aspiring makeup artists and funny videos.  

If you were ‘ruler for a day’ what would you do to change the business or social climate in this country?

If I were “ruler for a day” I would form a more efficient system for helping the homeless across Ireland and review the International Protection Act 2015. Then I would make high-speed broadband available all across Ireland.

Interview by Barry Walsh. 

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Images from Emily Duffy and Shutterstock.