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.

CASE: YAWAMA OF SWEDEN

  • 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

 

Sourcing ecological cotton in Africa

Cotton plant© Paul Hahn/Aid by Trade Foundation.

Cotton plant© Paul Hahn/Aid by Trade Foundation.

My aim has been to develop a fully African produced plush toy, appealing in design to a very demanding Swedish consumer and yet  within a price range that would be considered affordable despite its handmade nature. My frame of reference: I wanted  the yarn used in the production to be African and I wanted the product to be able to provide an added income for woman at the base of the pyramid in Zambia willing to learn to knit.

Zambia is a cotton growing country. However the spinning industry which did exist  in Zambia has failed and it has taken me months of research to successfully source ecological cotton yarn. Eventually I found ecological cotton grown and spun in Tanzania, dyed in Kenya and finally imported into Zambia. I am still to understand how to benefit from COMESA regulations so as not to encounter duties on imports from Kenya to Zambia. This will have to be another future project in an attempt to reduce costs on our knitted plush toys. Other sources of dyed cotton yarn proved to have been spun and dyed in India and the original source of the cotton unknown.

I feel frustrated over  Zambia primarily being a  raw material producer.  In my home town of Kabwe, Mulungushi textiles that once employed 2000 people now boasts overgrown gardens and dilapidated infrastructure. Rumour has it yet again that a “potential investor” is looking into starting up the facility.  Swarp Spinning in Ndola that had a production capacity of 50000 spindles went into receivership in 2008 at the hight of world economic turmoil. Some of the failures in the spinning and textile  industry are said to have been a result as poor management, competition from Chinese products, high production costs and the second-hand clothing industry. I believe however that there is still potential to develop this industry focusing on smaller industrial units and focusing on grass root production.

Africa is known to have some of the finest cotton-producing about 8% of the world’s cotton the majority of this cotton being produced by small-scale farmers in rural areas with little mechanical assistance. According to the Cotton made in Africa initiative   these simple conditions under which cotton is grown in Africa allow for a sustainable cotton production. The CMAI initiative promotes African grown cotton as a means of empowerment for rural communities in Africa.

Sustainable cotton

Cotton made in Africa

I am so looking forward to launching our new hand knitted children’s range made from ECOLOGICAL COTTON GROWN IN AFRICA.  I can hardly believe that we are soon there. Keep posted for more information on the design process and details on individual knitters.