I started this business for two reasons: I wanted to help talented women, and I was in love with African fabric
60% of the Ugandan population is under 18. Most of these children had to quit school, to work to help to support their families, and many young girls got assaulted, and subsequently, pregnant and were forced to drop out. These children could not seek higher education, and therefore were barred from getting prominent positions with high salaries. I met some ladies who did not have the opportunity to receive a decent education, but were skilled with things such as sewing and education. I wanted to support them, to help them showcase their incredible talent, while providing them with the opportunity to gain a salary. I was so impressed and inspired by the bold and vibrant African colors and designs, which I had never seen in my home country of Japan. I knew that there would be a large demand for these in Japan. After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, we saw purchasing habits change. There was a higher demand for ethically made products, and I found a very good niche there.
I wanted to support them, to help them showcase their incredible talent, while providing them with the opportunity to gain a salary
Most of my lovely employees are single mothers living in urban areas. We are also collaborating with a NGO that helps ex child soldiers. These single mothers are isolated and ostracized from their communities. They have to make money to pay rent, for food, for education, for medical expenses. If they live in villages with their families, the whole village helps out. But for single mothers in urban areas, they have no support structure. I try to hire these people, who have such talent, and just need a chance to show it.
Single mothers in urban areas have no support structure
My one goal was to survive three years. That’s considered the benchmark for success. Starting a business is easy, anyone can do that. Continuing it, though, is tough. It’s been three years since I started the business- now I’m aiming for five years. You have to take it one day at a time.
Starting a business is easy, anyone can do that
Like any job, there are good and bad parts. Probably my favorite thing is seeing and selecting new fabric. I also love meeting with and working with my employees, they’re all such strong, proud, talented women. I also enjoy meeting with new artisans, buyers, and partners. The possibilities are endless: we are now looking to break into the global market!
On the other side, I hate dealing with bureaucrats. Going through so many people to get the proper permits and licenses, it drives me crazy. I also dislike reviewing the facts and figures. It has to be done (everyday), but that doesn’t mean I have to like it! I also don’t like having nothing to do. There’s nothing I love more than to be busy, I love always thinking about my business, and working to help it grow.
There’s nothing I love more than to be busy
My day-to-day duties include checking in on production status, checking in on the sales at the shops, and talking with other stakeholders.
We sell to a few department stores, and a couple of boutiques in Japan. Some of the stores we sell to are Isetan, Takashimaya, Daimaru, and Sogo & Seibu. We have two stores in Uganda, which are just our stores.
We work closely with a NGO (Terra Renaissance) centered in northern Uganda, who provide an education and vocational training to ex child soldiers and impoverished training. They give these kids trauma care, and a way to support themselves. Some of the older children learn tailoring, stitching, and embroidering. We work with some of them, they embroider a banana motif on the pocket of one of our bags, and we buy from them. We sell mainly to women in their 30s and 40s, although we have a wide range of consumers. We’ve had customers in their 100s buy from us before!
Looking forward, we’re hoping to expand to markets in China, the US, and Australia, while keeping our wages high, our practices ethically and environmentally sound, and inspire other businesses to do the same.