Wednesday, December 9, 2009

dreams of sewing machines...taking stock

this post is cross-posted from my personal blog, Locus Amoenus - some thoughts on running One Mango Tree.

I'm back at Schiphol Airport again.

It really hasn't been that long since I was last here - it was summer then, on my quick layover back to Entebbe. One thing is certain - I always feel very far away when I'm here. It's cold and dark. It's almost 8 am and the sky is still inky black.

So, in my usual habit of reflection at Schiphol, here's the list.

  1. I climbed Kilimanjaro.
  2. I made a second visit to Zanzibar and got a henna tattoo on my butt.
  3. I survived malaria.
After surviving malaria, I succumbed to workaholic syndrome - putting aside everything else in my life to focus 110% of my energy on One Mango Tree.

dreams of sewing machines...

Personal merged with professional, and my emotions suddenly linked up with the ebb and flow of doing business in Africa. In short, over the past few months I thought I was losing it. Coming out on this end, surrounded by the sterile organization of Schiphol, I can now say that I've "learned lessons" and "overcome challenges." Starting a business in Uganda is no easy task - trying to make it sustainable is even more difficult.

  1. moved into our new workshop
  2. hired a cook/cleaning woman, compound manager and armed guard service - fired compound manager for pimping and hired a new compound manager, suspended new compound manager for stealing airtime... and so it goes
  3. started up the One Mango Tree Guest House, and quickly discovered that being a landlord is a full-time job in and of itself
  4. hosted Stacey Edgar, founder of Global Girlfriend, who visited our new workshop and gave me a schooling in all the things I didn't know - she more or less lit my ass on fire
  5. worked with Hilary Dell, our first design intern, to design 5 pieces of apparel for Global Girlfriend - a cami, scoop neck tee, tee dress, cardigan and wrap dress - production on 7,500 pcs. starts in December
  6. started working with Gihan da Silva - a Sri Lankan living in Uganda who knows everything - about apparel production, textiles, used cars, rally car racing, government bureaucracy, how to talk to Acholi women to make sure they show up for work, etc. He is my saving grace and my best friend in Uganda, and he's now working with One Mango Tree
  7. found a Ugandan lawyer and went through the annoying process of registering as a national NGO in Uganda, which took months and cost $1,000 and about a dozen trips to the lawyer's office, only for him to send me home to collect additional documents. Our complete certificate sat on the NGO Board Director's desk for weeks just waiting for her to show up and sign it, but it is now complete
  8. went through a similar lengthy process to acquire a TIN number (like the EIN in the US)
  9. faced slightly less run around and acquired an export certificate
  10. build a relationship with a mostly reliable shipper, dropping our costs from over $12/kg to about $4/kg (thanks Gihan)
  11. learned how to fill out oodles of customs paperwork - commercial invoice, packing lists, GSP Form A, and continued my education on AGOA policy (handbags don't qualify), Category 9 exemption and HTS codes
  12. learned how to procure packing materials - carton boxes, poly bags, sticker labels - the things you don't really think about until you get an order for 4,600 pieces
  13. completed a 4,600 pc. order for Global Girlfriend - definitely our biggest accomplishment this year - through this production we brought all of our tailors up in their skill levels and perfected quality control. The change this created in our capacity was incredible, and we had to bring on three new tailors to get it done - the end result was 133 cartons of One Mango Tree products shipped to Seattle
  14. received a grant from International Organization for Migration (IOM) to take on referrals from their partners (ex-combatants, vulnerable women) for training and employment, training program starts this month, wrote a case study for their Labor Market Analysis
  15. found a textile designer and worked with volunteers Anna and Zach Thompson to design four of our own fabrics for 2010 - all organic and absolutely beautiful - allowing us to cut ties with the Chinese wax print knock-off market we relied on in the past
  16. signed off wholesale distribution in North America to Global Girlfriend
  17. brought on Alison Farley to be our independent sales rep through Global Girlfriend
  18. received another order for 3,000 pcs from Global Girlfriend
  19. made our first projections and income statement
  20. somehow squeezed in production for Christmas and gave the website a face lift, with help from new intern Amy Karr on photography and editing
  21. since June, our staff went from 6 to 25
And finally, at 8:20 am, the darkness is lifting outside. Welcome North.

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