Could you introduce yourself?
I’m Anne Mukuria, I’m Kenyan, coming from a community where we weave most of our lives to support the little income we get from our agricultural activities. I grew up seeing my grandmother weaving. After struggling with employment for a while, I took up the opportunity to market the most common activity of our community : Weaving.
This is where Wendo SHG -Self Help Group was born. Wendo means love in our tribe. As common with most startups, the hurdle of selling one’s idea to get funding from friends and relatives was a all order. While being an undergraduate, the advice I got was to first get a white-collar job, gain work experience and have some savings, and only then I could venture into self- employment. This attitude really made me struggle to jump-start my vision and get the ball rolling in terms of getting the right weavers, sourcing for quality raw material and meeting the timelines given by the client.
What is the name of your brand? Could you present your team?
The women I work with have formed a community-based group called Wengo SHG, but our official brand name is African flair. We are two groups of women comprising of 30 women. We also work with 4 men who do the pristine leatherwork on the kiondo baskets.
Mainly we are self-trained since its a community activity, which is in-grown organically in us. From time to time we try getting training of new designs mainly through youtube. Also, through intermarriages, we learn and share this craft as different tribes and communities have different and unique styles of weaving. Through these learning experiences, we have managed to forge a unique team of women who strive to make a difference in their lives and families through weaving.
How do you work?
I simply work from home, however, during production, I visit the workshop where the women weave to monitor and evaluate the quality of the weaving and final product. If there are any variations I try to make sure this is rectified on the onset. Once the final product is done, I thereafter do the packing and shipping of the baskets to various destinations.
How do you sell?
My niche is the international market and I source my customers via Instagram. This is because such handcrafts are rarely done on a global scale and thus, we try to expose our work for people to appreciate and to support it, through placing orders.
Instagram is the number one social media platform for us to showcase our work to international clientele. I engage with various people and potential buyers via Instagram, and when it converts into an order, I finalise the deal and instruct the women to weave according to the customer’s preferences. We provide weekly updates on how the client’s work is progressing by providing pictures via mail or whatsapp. Through this interactive engagement with the customer, we are able to create and produce refined works of art to the preference of the customer.
Please note that depending on the time of the year, our women might be busy on the farms planting or harvesting in which case orders take longer to be fulfilled. Thus updating a customer on the progress of her/his order is vital and imperative. Most of the orders we process are from return customers and referrals and this helps us know our quality of work is appreciated and loved.
Which difficulties do you face?
These are the main points:
- When we have work to do and our women must go to the farms and vice-versa.
- Lack of proper machinery for preparing the raw material for weaving.
- Lack of sufficient capital: When it comes to sourcing capital from financial institutions, security and bank statements are required. I am labeled “risky business” and thus this requirements deterred me from getting adequate capital. Most people around me were not not supportive when it came to funding, as they thought the activity of weaving kiondos with the village women, was outdated. However, I overcame this challenge after many by saving and by reinvesting my profits into the business.
- Unreliable fast Internet which sometimes frustrates our online business.
- Accessibility to the places where the resource naturally grows: The main raw material/resource is sisal which is usually found in arid areas of the eastern part of our country. It normally grows naturally, but recently people have started growing the plant. Accessing these arid areas is quite a challenge due to poor road network and also harsh climatic conditions, coupled with poisonous snakes that are synonymous with the area.
- Logistical challenges when it comes to delivering the packages overseas.