Sian with her fabric supplier in the market

How to set up a social enterprise

Sian Wells created a social enterprise after completing a Restless Development ICS placement. We asked her how she did it, and here’s what she said!

Q: How did/do you currently run the logistics of your enterprise? Was this difficult to set up?

A: Once all our lovingly handmade products from Tanzania are finished we ship them to the UK in bulk to save transportation costs. When we receive an online order we pick and pack them ready for dispatch before they are sent to worldwide destinations including North America, Europe and Australia. It can be challenging and complicated shipping from Tanzania but you have to be patient, learn from past mistakes and allow plenty of time for delivery in case of any delay.

Q: What are the challenges of trying to create a sustainable business whilst also ensuring everyone is properly and ethically rewarded for their work?

A: Setting up and managing a supply chain in a developing country is challenging due to a lack of quality raw materials, poor infrastructure, frequent power cuts etc. Also the cost of our raw materials can be high as we choose to source only high quality fabrics in order to support the African textile industry. However, we try to keep our retail prices as competitive as possible and have proven that you can run an ethical clothing brand, based in Tanzania a developing country, and know exactly where the materials have come from and who has made each item by hand.

We ensure all our tailors are paid a fair price per item and as we are able to increase our order quantities we are starting to create more social impact on the ground. For example, our main tailor Abdallah was able to open his own workshop  for the first time in May 2016. He has also invested in eight new sewing machines and has hired and trained two other tailors to work with him during peak times using the profits he has made from our orders. He plans to move to a bigger premise in the near future so he can utilise all of his new sewing machines and increase productivity.

It is very important to us that all our tailors are treated fairly with respect and dignity and work in safe and clean environments. We have worked hard to create good working relationships with our tailors and their families over the years supporting them as best we can.

Q: What piece of advice do you wish you had been given before you set up your enterprise?

A: I wish I had been made aware of the importance of building a strong support network around you including friends, family and finding good mentors who can listen to your problems and offer support and guidance. As a small business owner you cannot do everything by yourself and some tasks are best to be outsourced to professionals when you can afford to do so.

You must be determined, believe in your vision and never give up even when the going gets tough. Being an entrepreneur is like an emotional roller coaster ride with lots of highs and lows. It’s important to celebrate your successes and to focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: My favourite and most rewarding part of my job is paying our tailors after all their hard work, dedication and commitment in making our beautiful, high quality products. Also seeing the benefits for them and their families after they have invested the money in their own business growth which has been life changing.

Q: What skills or experience from your ICS placement have you used within your job?

A: I learned a great deal about Tanzanian culture during my placement so knew how to communicate and be respectful to others. I used to travel daily by local buses to work at the different colleges and universities during my placement so I felt comfortable getting around the city on my own. It was also very useful to already know some Swahili so I could get by and have since continued learning the language as I would like to become fluent so I can communicate more easily with our tailors. I also used my network of friends and contacts I met during my placement to help set-up Kitenge’s supply chain from scratch.

To find out more about social enterprises and access free resources, visit the Social Enterprise UK website.

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How to set up a social enterprise

by wearerestless Reading time: 3 min