Tindi Nancy was born in the agricultural town of Eldoret, Kenya. Growing up, Tindi craved for independence and life away from home, so she jumped at the first chance to go to Nairobi for university. It is at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology that she developed an interest in African jewelry and it turned into a side hustle. After graduating, Tindi was not so lucky in getting a job and because she was just sick of the whole job search she decided to grow her side gig into an actual business.
It’s been three years since Tindi went full time and she says she has no regrets. Being an entrepreneur has made her grow in a lot of ways and she has also invested in meaningful relationships along the way.
You create and supply Maasai tribe jewellery. Can you brief us on the Maasai culture and why jewellery is important to them?
The Maasai are found in Kenya and Tanzania. They are known for their colorful beaded jewelry and clothes.
Although the world around them have been westernized, they have refused to be influenced. They have stayed true to their traditional beliefs and customs. Women are the ones who make the jewellery and colors used represent something in the community
How do you decide what you want to create?
It’s all a process of demand and supply. I am always watching out for new trends and l work with my tools to create something similar.
Once in a while, a “wrong turn” can end up as a new design. Another way is through customised jewellery, some of our customer’s ideas contribute to a new design.
Beyond applying basic techniques, how do you evoke an emotional response to your work?
By establishing a relationship with a client. Listening to them and making sure I deliver beyond their expectations.
I reckon jewellery making requires patience especially when you are making a piece with small beads. What other attributes are important for a jewellery maker?
Creativity and artistry.
You need to come up with provocative new designs. As a jewelry artisan, you should also pay attention to detail because you work with small pieces and it’s those small items that affect the whole design or quality.
What’s the most valuable lesson you have learnt?
It takes time to grow and be the best in something. Every failure or trip along the way is an opportunity to improve your skills. You build your network with time, and through your network, you learn the ins and outs of the business, you get to learn from their mistakes and improve their shortcomings.
What materials and techniques do you favour?
I enjoy working with beads, l love being surrounded by vibrant colors. It is versatile, and I get to put it on almost everything from bags to shoes as well as other accessories.
How often do you release new collections?
At least four times in a year.
What’s your favourite solo outing?
I enjoy reading every morning, I spend at least thirty minutes reading. Once in a while, I come across books that make me struggle with the choice of finishing the read or working. It’s always a tough choice.
I just finished Trevor Noah’s “Born A Crime” and it was excellent. Every book gives me a new perspective of the world and because l love diversity, I struggle to answer what my favourite genre is.
You are launching an online marketplace in May, what are your expectations?
I am looking forward to promoting self-employment among women and young people by providing them with marketing services as well as a global platform to sell their handmade products. The aim is to give talented Africans in marginalised areas a more dignified way of earning rather than for them to rely on handouts. They know how to fish, all they need is the hook!
On the other hand, this will give consumers a wide range of unique handmade products from across the continent. I am also expecting Africans to support local economies by buying locally made products.
When supplying crafts to boutiques, what attributes do you look for? How do you choose which boutiques to supply?
The boutiques should be keen on ethical practices and it’s very important that they uphold fair trade values and value the uniqueness of every product. Mostly, they are the ones who come after me, but I have to make sure they are an ethical business and will pay on time and as agreed for the products received. Businesses need to receive their orders on time, on specification and also enjoy profitable price margins.
As a supplier and artisan, I am very conscious about pricing. I know how it feels when a customer makes an awful offer for an item that took three days to make (earning $5 for a three-day work is insulting) so I make sure the price point is profitable both for the business and the artisans. l also make sure that l supply quality products that are worth more so I take the time to go through the products. My customers have come to terms with that side of me, so when I place an order they go the extra mile of perfecting everything.
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Starting a business is tough and can be pretty scary when you’re going from just an idea to actually putting yourself out there. You have a vision and a dream and no clue if it will actually work out. We always encourage fresh entrepreneurs to get out of their heads, off their laptops and into the streets to survey potential customers and see if their ideas make sense to the people who might actually buy from there.
We’re always happy when people actually listen to us and then of course come to SLA for help. Two young women are working on a business concept that will provide a global audience access to the freshest and most creative beauty and fashion products that Africa has to offer. Their brand will focus on high-quality tailoring, textiles, luxury and accessibility for an international market while celebrating the best of African talent beyond patterned prints.
They have big dreams but need your help to get there. Basically they need you to be the Beyonce to their Nicki.
Help a sista out and fill out this quick 3 minute survey below. As a special thank you, we’re offering one lucky person who answers the survey the opportunity get featured on our Facebook page and be seen by our 45,000+ community.
Abai Schulze moved to to Addis Ababa in 2013 to start ZAAF – a company that specializes in handcrafted luxury leather handbags and accessories produced by Ethiopian artisans. The Ethiopian-American entrepreneur has been able to combine her background in economic development and love for fine arts and creativity into a successful brand. Through ZAAF, she seeks to create unique products, open up avenues of opportunity for talented local artisans, and promote brand Ethiopia.
Schulze graduated from George Washington University where she majored in Economics and minored in Fine Arts. At the core of her entrepreneurial journey, which she terms as an exciting adventure, is to be able to impact people on an individual level. She spoke to me about how she has been able to grow and market her brand.
Taking advantage of learning opportunities
Schulze, who was born in Ethiopia and adopted by an American family at age 11, remained connected to her culture. She travelled to Ethiopia during her summer breaks to do volunteer work. It was during one of these trips that she interned with USAID where she worked with artisans and designers, and helped them to create websites to market their products internationally.
This enabled her to see how businesses work in Ethiopia. Frequently visiting the country also gave her the opportunity to witness its economic transformation firsthand and ignited the desire to return in her.
Her senior thesis analyzed Ethiopia’s potential for exporting textile. “I wanted to go into that field but it didn’t make sense because the initial capital is huge and you have to have actual hands on experience,” Schulze said.
She later found out that Ethiopia has the finest leather in the world which it exports to European countries to be used as raw material by famous brands.
“I wanted to tap into that,” she said. “Why not make it at home, by our own people, add value to it, export it, and market and rebrand Ethiopia?” “That was my initial take on it,” she added.
Schulze’s plan was to get some work experience in the US and go to business school before starting her own company. After graduation she interned at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and later worked at Ashoka. It was while there that she met many entrepreneurs who inspired her to start her own company.
“I changed the timeline and decided to jump in,” she said. “I told myself, ‘If it fails, I am still young, I can start over.’” She then made the physical move to Ethiopia. “You can’t do this type of business from a distance,” she said. “I had to leave everything behind and focus on ZAAF.”
Branding and marketing ZAAF
In trying to figure out how to brand and market ZAAF, Schulze kept in mind the different connotations that come with products made in Africa. “A lot of it has that NGO feeling,” she said. “The language used is often, ‘It is made by poor people. Buy it otherwise they won’t have a job.”
She wanted to reject this guilt-driven purchase angle. “I wanted to show that we are talented, we just need to invest in our own people and we can produce something beautiful,” said Schulze. “You are buying the product because you like the product, not because you are feeling guilty.”
“Otherwise you are not going to have loyal customers who come back,” she added. “If they feel like they have done their good deed of the day, then they will move on to the next company.”
Schulze and her team were careful and deliberate about the language that they used in branding the company. Its products are made by talented Ethiopian artisans who went to school to sharpen their craft.
“They are not people who you just tell to piece two items together,” she said. Working with skilled artisans also ensures that the products are high quality. “We are trying to compete with international brands,” she said. “We want people to buy based on that.” The language they use to talk about the brand reflects all this.
“Our products stand out,” said Schulze. “When we produce them, we really want our customers to feel a sense of where the products are made.” ZAAF integrates ageless geometric patterns created on traditional looms with leather.
“Talented weavers meticulously count knots to produce patterns of fantastic combination of color and style,” she said. The unique aspects of the handbags and accessories has attracted media attention. “That organic attraction has helped us grow,” she added.
Customer engagement is critical to the brand. They engage with customers primarily through social media. They are committed to providing excellent customer service. “If a customer is not happy with a product then we will redo it,” Schulze said. They also work to ensure that products are delivered in a timely fashion.
Another way that Schulze keeps her customers happy is by investing in her team. She creates incentives for them based on their desires and needs. “That way they are loyal and create high quality products,” she said. “When you have a high turnover of employees, you can’t be consistent and your customers won’t be happy.”
Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:
Your initial purpose has to be strong. You have to be passionate about what you are creating because you will face a lot of challenges over time. This passion will help you find a way to solve them. Surround yourself with people who challenge you because sometimes you will be in your own bubble and you won’t know how far you are going.