Emily 67 Years Old
This is Emily one of the ladies behind our beloved ecological soft toy Kolwe. Emily is 67 years old, a widow and has 4 children. Her firstborn Lloyd is a farmer. Her second-born Ruth is married with 4 of her own children. Her third-born Feston is at teaching college and last-born Mapens is in grade 12 and living with his Aunty. Emily is a Minister at her local church, where she delivers sermons 3 times a week and keeps the church clean and tidy – all voluntarily! Emily lives in a two roomed house at the church with 4 young children, 3 of whom belong to her sister’s daughter and 1 being her firstborn’s son.
She likes to get up at 4:00 am to write her sermons as it is quiet and calm at that time and she can pray in peace. Otherwise she is often disturbed by her neighbours seeking advice – she us clearly a well-respected member of the community!
Emily earns her living by doing peace work but these days mainly by knitting her toys. She says she has learnt so much about knitting from the other ladies as well as loves the socialising! The ladies have learnt masses from her too! “When I first came I did not have skills but I have learnt from my friends. I am a widow woman, when i get a little it helps my family. I like laughing and doing so many things with my friends”
Emily and her eko-monkeys
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
- Your Business Model
- Your Market
- Your Value Chain
- Your suppliers
- Your Distribution
- 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
A short clip showing my home tests of our soft toys in the early days. Somewhat cruel but a must for all toy producers who are to ensure that toys are safe for children.
Our current ecological cotton plush toys are tested and certified in a laboratory.
She is all dressed up. Her hair is braided and she is beautiful. She carries herself with grace and laughs heartily like most African women I know do. In her hand she carries her mobile phone. She is strong, confident and positive. Like most Zambian women she believes in a brighter future for her children. Anna plays a huge part in the production process at little Ndaba our partner for the Yawama Kids soft toy collection. She ensures that the other women who come to the Wednesday meetings get the training and the encouragement that they need and ensures that quality specifications have been addressed. She is also responsible for yarn distribution.
Anna has been knitting since the age of 6. Her mother was her inspiration. She lives with her husband Innocent, in small brick house that belongs to the pig farmer where her husband works. They have electricity and running water. They have 5 children. Her oldest child is 21 and her youngest child is 8. They own a deep freezer and a TV. Innocent has a steady income.
Prior to her involvement at Little Ndaba Anna tried to make a living knitting baby blankets and scarves. She would spend a great amount of time trying to market her product. Now she can spend more time knitting and leave the marketing part to little Ndaba. Most often she knits in the early hours of the morning or in the evenings in front of the TV. Every year she plants 1 ha of maize from which she harvests 20 bags of maize for her own family consumption.
With the extra income she makes Anna dreams of one day owning her own plot of land.
YES YES YES. WE PASSED!
When this E mail came a few weeks ago I almost felt like I was back at school receiving exam results. After spending months trying to source an African organic cotton supplier, the little Ndaba team in Zambia together with the team at Yawama of Sweden ( Anna Lidström and Clara Lidström and myself) worked on new designs for the Yawama Kids. You can only imagine my excitement when ALL our toys PASSED in ALL areas of the safety test. I could not have done this alone. Thank you Charles at Little Ndaba and to Erin from Totoknits for your commitment to design, development and women empowerment in Africa.
Developing toys to meet European safety standards can be costly business but can also be done in your home kitchen. We have tested both options. I have had so much support from Conformance and have run many trial run tests on our prototypes at home before sending our toys to the lab for analysis for official testing. So when I sent our 12 soft toys off I knew exactly what their fate was. Torture.
European standard EN 71 specifies safety requirements for toys with specific regulations for soft toys. Compliance with the standard is legally required for all toys sold in the European Union. The standard has been published in 12 parts and includes tests for flammability to ensure that fire does not spread quickly if the toy were to catch fire, mechanical testing to ensure that body parts and smaller parts can handle a certain weight before falling off and that dangerous elements are not present in the toy.
Further reading for those wishing to branch out in a similar venture