The Process

I am so excited about the business growth that we are witnessing. The initial team of 5 knitters has grown and now more than 30 ladies are part of knitting and crocheting groups spread in the surrounding villages.

Little Ndaba have developed the business model  where women are now devided into piece makers and joiners. The piece makers work from home at specific meeting points in their different villages while the joiners work from Little Ndaba ensuring that the final toy is stitched and stuffed in accordance with EU regulations for toy safety. Little Ndaba coordinate yarn delivery and collection of knitted toys and conduct in field training.


Each piece maker gets paid per completed set and the joiner is paid per completed toy. The ladies today receive the equivalent of 6-8% of the final price of each toy on the international market. Our ultimate goal provided we can are able to start bulk buying of yarn and start importing larger numbers of toys is 10%.

This is a great business modell for the development of rural communities that I sincerely believe has the potential to provide many women with the possibilites of work outside of the farming season and is further independant of other household commitments. Many of the ladies are able to work from their homes or in smaller groups within the village setting. Smaller children can still be part of their mothers day.




Craft as a tool to lift women out of poverty

women crocheting bags in Zambia

women crocheting bags in Zambia

In Zambia 80% of the labour force work in the informal sector earning less than USD 2 per day. These are traders, crafters, rural enterprises, home businesses and are predominantly women. People living in rural peripherals especially women shoulder the burden of world poverty. 60% of the world’s poor are women and girls.

The aspen institute states that craft industry is the second largest employer in the developing world after agriculture. This sector specifically in Zambia has an undeveloped and inconsistent local market. The craft industry further accounts for more than 60% of creative goods exports. Hundreds of thousands of people in the developing world, largely women, participate in the artisan sector. For many, their livelihood depends on income earned from their artisan activities.

African small-scale artisans have limited access to western markets because producers lack information on export markets, know how, trends, sourcing and marketing channels.  Production often takes place in remote areas with poor communications and small production volumes result in higher production costs and difficulties to compete with cheap mass-produced goods. Producers are often limited with no access to finances.

At Yawama of Sweden we believe that supporting and working with individual craftsmen, NGOs and small businesses through a long-term commitment is an effective and sustainable way of changing people’s lives. We aim at supporting our producers by

  • Merging Scandinavian design into product design and development
  • Training and information on regulations and standards for EU markets
  • Sourcing and supply of eco-friendly material
  • Start up finances
  • Access to direct markets excluding middle men from the value chain
  • Using internet and mobile technology to connect suppliers to producers and producers to markets

By investing in artisans Yawama of Sweden are reinvesting into family futures. Women working with Yawama of Sweden are able to see their income increased by a factor of 4. Women have been able to reinvest their income into nutrition and education. An investment in one woman is a future investment for a family of 6 people.

the making of a soft toy

Women knitting soft toys in Zambia


Spider arbetar med händerna

The making of bottle top baskes

Improved trade within Africa

This week we finally received som fabric that was ordered from South Africa and delivered to the Chikumbuso Womens Group in Ngombe Lusaka who are to work on new cushion designs for Yawama of Sweden. The payment was made for the material in October 2014. An application was then made for SADC certification which would allow the material to be imported into Zambia duty-free. A period of close to 5 months where money has been tied into stock and planned production deadlines moved forward. Similar hurdles have been met when importing yarn into Zambia from Kenya where duties have suddenly been slapped onto goods from Kenya, even though both Kenya and Zambia are part of the free trade COMESA region.

African trade has to be made simpler, more cost-effective and efficient for continued economic growth and to be competitive for world export markets as summed up in this world bank documentary.

Know your European market

Who do you want to sell your product to?

Once you have established your business model, identified your key values in your organisation you need to understand your market before dashing off and purchasing products in what can easily turn out to be a fruitless affair. Trust me I am talking from experience. So study your market well in order to get you perfect marketing mix. Again I am focusing on products from developing countries to Europe and my references are from the home decor sector.

An excellent resource for understanding the potential that the European market has for goods produced in developing countries is the CBI Market Information where for my part the home decoration and home textiles category has played a significant role in outlining the potential within this sector. Other sectors include footwear, jewellery, fresh fruit and vegetable, cut flowers among many others. There is lots of reading here that will help you define whether your planned products should focus on low-end, middle end or high-end markets and information that will help you to understand value chains so that you can work on your pricing and product.

The price breakdown that CBI outlines within the value chain in the calculations below are general for textiles like curtains pillows within the home decor sector which can be confirmed from my personal experience with imports from Zambia and Southern African.

Value chains imports to europe from devloping countries source: CBI

Value chains imports to europe from developing countries source: CBI

Interior trends in Europe and Sweden

It can also be said that a general trend in Europe is the growing interest to know where and how their products are being made as can be seen in the increase trend towards eco and fair trade products which are perceived as inspiring and pleasing preferences. Consumers are searching for individuality and originality. Part of this trend includes an awareness of design, material and production techniques. The market for second hand and recycled interior products is also growing. These are all smaller nische markets. I will talk about the design aspect which I have perceived as one of the major challenges when working with products from small-scale producers in Africa in a later chapter.

Sources that can also be useful in order to study trends and markets for the home decor industry in Sweden include

Svenska moderådet – here you can subscribe to annual trend reports. The biannual leading trade fair for Nordic interior design Formex is an interesting event that will introduce you to products, markets and competitors. If you have a limited budget and can’t attend design fairs, a great place to start is att bloggers who attend these events.

There are a number of interior design bloggers in Sweden that are good to follow if you would like to keep up with the latest trends like Trendenser, Hemtrender, Husligheter,  Inredningsvis and stilinspiration.

Some of my very own personal favourites that promote more earthy country styles, eco friendly living, fairtrade, vintage and handmade include underbaraclara, kurbits, caisak, volanglinda, EmmasvintageMittlivpalandet, Att vara någons fru, and  Kammerbornia.

Interior design for kids room showing a blend of vintage, new and handmade  cow from yawama of sweden

Interior design for kids room showing a blend of vintage, new and handmade cow from yawama of sweden from Underbaraclara



Understanding our Core Value.

I will include this into the business model section as I feel that this is a starting point to developing your social business or your inclusive business model.

A core value is the  principle that guides how we work and our relationship with the world around us. It also guide our relationship with the external world. Understanding your business core value will engage and motivate you to continue what you started out to do.

As a business that is out to make social positive impact for small businesses in Africa and in particular women I soon realised that only setting targets in monetary terms or in sales statistics, did not engage me. I read this inspiring article on how to design for real impact by the Unreasonable Institute where these 3 points were underlined.

  1. Know your mission
  2. Measure the right thing
  3. Measure it well

So what is the Yawama of Sweden core value?

  • Our core value is to create good job opportunities for women in Southern Africa.
  • Our Vision is to create unique soft toys and interior details for children and adults by amalgamating swedish design with african craftsmanship.
  • We measure the number of women knitting, crocheting and sewing our handmade products.

We have incorporated our core value into our Mission Statement. This acts as our corner-stone, our compass our motivational factor.

So what drives you?

Core Value



An inclusive business Model

Not for profit or not?

I moved back to Sweden 3 years ago after having worked in Zambia for 11 years. I wanted to continue to develop small-scale producers in Southern Africa as I had previously done  working both in the private sector and with NGOs in the not for profit sector. I also felt a need to run something based on my knowledge and skills and not run a project that had already  pre-defined methods and goals as is often the case in the development sector. I did not want to pursue a philanthropic venture as I have often seen these programmes start-up to collapse when funding or personal are not in place. My goal was to create a business that could survive without me. A business that could make a difference by creating jobs and increasing incomes.  A business that was not tied to a particular place. A business that would be economically viable and attract investment.  A business with an “inclusive business model”

An inclusive business as defined by Wikipedia is a commercially viable model that benefits low-income communities by including them in a company’s value chain on the demand side as clients and consumers, and/or on the supply side as producers, entrepreneurs or employees in a sustainable way. Inclusive business is not corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility, which have inherent limitations of scope, impact and budget. Rather, it is the search for sustainable business models that “do well by doing good” and are part of the companies’ core business activities – the key to business having development impact at scale.

Inclusive business model. Source WBSCD

Inclusive business model. Source WBSCD

Yawama of Sweden is a for profit business that aims to do well by doing good, although profit maximization is NOT our ultimate goal.  The current focus is to meet current expenses which include developing products and the producers, training and testing expenses and meeting Yawama administrative costs. I do get questioned about my business model some people feeling that I would be better off running my business as a charity.  Swedes are happy givers towards philanthropical initiatives and businesses can make beneficial tax reductions on goodwill.  Not for profit organisations are a large part of the business community. My personal opinion is that building fundraising into your business concept can be costly and time-consuming and requires a large network and may not be the most cost-effective tool for a smaller business and might not provide incentives for creative and practical solutions for businesses to run.

Examples of businesses in Sweden importing from Africa and their business models

Individuella Männsikohjälpen (IM) in Sweden have existed for many years running as a not for profit organisation  successfully importing crafts from developing countries but also working with development and aid. They have a large network of producers, employees and volunteers.  IM products include fair trade coffee, teas and home interior and textiles.

Sackeus is a good example of a business that started out as a not for profit being run by the Swedish Church, and today run as a large wholesaler of fairtrade coffee, tea and confectionary.

Both the above examples are predominantly importing from South America and Asia and are established larger organisations.

North and South Fair trade and The house of Fair Trade are large  wholesalers of imported goods from many developing countries. They stock food and beverage and a range of interior accessories.  The house of fair trade also stocks children articles.

African touch, Just Africa and Afroart , are physical  boutiques based in Stockholm all supporting small-scale producers in Africa ( although afroart works primarily with producers in South America and Asia. Afroart started out as a not for profit today operates as a for profit business with design playing a large part in the productions process. I intend to discuss design processes later.

All the above just like Yawama of Sweden promote fair or ethical trade and market their products as products that improve livelihoods by job creation or increased incomes or “trade not aid or “help to self-help”.  I will discuss definitions and certifications in upcoming chapters because this is a science on its own.  All the above companies have  Webb based sales (apart from African touch) as a compliment to their wholesale or retail activity.




A guide to starting your import business from Africa

I have been so touched the last month by the numerous numbers of encouraging mails complementing our efforts in working with the Yawama of Sweden brand but also asking for advice on how I have gone about creating a business that includes Africans small-scale producers. Many of us have travelled to Africa, worked in Africa , been moved by Africa, been inspired by african colour, african design, african handicraft  not to mention its beautiful people.  We all understand that needs at the so-called base of the pyramid ( the 3-4 million people living on less than USD 2,50 – 8,00 per day….numbers differ depending on where the definition comes from)  are too numerous to mention. What do we all have in common? We want to do good business. We want to make change.  Many have ideas of starting up similar ventures or have already started. Some have started and closed shop. I would like to share my experiences. Not because I love competition but because I feel that together we can grow. Hopefully you can save time and money  by avoiding some of the mistakes that I have made. Hopefully this space will help your business to grow and therefore help others.  Something I have learned here in Sweden is that sharing ideas and experiences brings growth and I am grateful for the many opportunities where I have gained information because someone chose to share it.

I sincerely hope that we can use this as a platform to discuss and exchange ideas about import strategies, product development, design, freight costs, payments and more. Where possible I will refer to brands and businesses that have been an inspiration.

I do not feel that I have all the answers but I truly believe that Africa is in a position to offer products for the interior and children industry for Europe and in so doing also create market opportunities locally in Africa. The internet is providing new ways that we can work with producers in the South. A number of different freight options are available.  We are a number of young dynamic African offspring with a die-hard passion to bring change and economic development to the African continent and whether you are Zambian or Nigerian the word “Africa” says home.

The areas that I will be highlighting in  the guide to starting your import business from Africa will include

  1. Your Business Model
  2. Your Market
  3. Your Value Chain
  4. Your suppliers
  5. Your Distribution
  6. Your Marketing Mix

Please take note that I will write from my experiences from both Africa and Europe working with design for good. What might work for me might not necessarily work for your circumstances.


  • Products: Interior decor and textiles. Plush toys for kids
  • Producers: Southern Africa , primarily Zambia
  • Market: Sweden
  • Marketing Tool: On Line Store
Yawama of Sweden

Yawama of Sweden