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



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