How To Create A Sustainable Social Impact Brand

I have been working with a leather manufacturer in Kenya with the hopes of making leather goods for the US market where 100% of the profit returns to Africa and gets invested in local businesses.

Hi my name is James Crawford, founder of Venture Leather, for the past two years I have been working with a leather manufacturer in Kenya with the hopes of making leather goods for the US market where 100% of the profit returns to Africa and gets invested in local businesses.

Recently I have started releasing videos based on my most recent trip to Kenya. The vlog documents the ups and downs of trying to do business in Africa and offers people in the US a unique perspective on life in Africa. It is very hard for Americans to really understand what is life in Africa and how to relate to the people there.

I have partnered with Causeartist to release each episode and blog post here, so the community can follow along on my journey to create a sustainable social impact brand.

Last month I got on a plane to Kenya to meet with a leather manufacturer that I have been working with for almost two years. Roy, the factory owner, and I first met in Uganda when I was working for a social enterprise. Our visions were aligned and we have been trying to realize those visions ever since.

In short, that vision is to make quality leather goods at competitive prices where 100% of the profit gets reinvested back in the community where the products are made. That is where the name, Venture Leather Company, comes from. We don’t do charity. We invest. Investing means we expect the profit to come back eventually. This way we can put far more money into Africa and we are far more accountable to the results. There is no cost to pass on to you the customer. If we invest wisely.

Currently we do not have any product to sell. Making a quality product at a good price in Africa is not easy. Today, if you want to buy something from Africa you have to pay more because it is from Africa. That is a deal breaker at Venture. My response isn’t to get people to care more but to build a better business which allows you to express the fact that you already care.

If the customer has to pay more for our products because they “do good” then we are relegating our company into a niche and will never create the jobs and belief needed to inspire the change we want to see. We want products that are globally competitive regardless of the mission or the message.

The videos of this vlog are to detail the process, the struggle, and the hope in doing business in Africa. There is no way to fully express what this experience is like through words. A blog allows the reader to put the words into their own context while video allows the viewer to better understand the context of another.

This first video is me returning to Mombasa, Kenya for the first time in 9 months. We made a number of samples 9 months ago but the materials and people were not there to start production. Our container of supplies had just arrived into Mombasa which is what prompted this trip. In that time Roy has had to move the factory, scramble to fulfill shoe orders, and turn a profit in his factory which was losing money less than a year ago.

During this two week visit, there is hope, there are struggles, there is joy, and there is frustration. But most importantly there are relationships being forged from people of different backgrounds, languages, and religions united in the belief of each other and what we can accomplish together. It is in that belief that I want to share this experience with you.

If we truly believe we are all created equal, how can we not believe in each other?

 

Hi my name is James Crawford, founder of Venture Leather, for the past two years I have been working with a leather manufacturer in Kenya with the hopes of making leather goods for the US market where 100% of the profit returns to Africa and gets invested in local businesses.

Recently I have started releasing videos based on my most recent trip to Kenya. The vlog documents the ups and downs of trying to do business in Africa and offers people in the US a unique perspective on life in Africa. It is very hard for Americans to really understand what is life in Africa and how to relate to the people there.

I have partnered with Causeartist to release each episode and blog post here, so the community can follow along on my journey to create a sustainable social impact brand.

March is the worst time to be in Mombasa, Kenya. It is that last month of dry season where is it 92-95 degrees (F) (34-35 Celsius) and above 80% humidity. At night the temperature won’t dip below 80 which means unless you have a strong fan on you, a good night sleep is very hard to come by. In my $15 a night hotel the malaria net restricts the air flow enough so I took it off every night. This is the third time I have stayed at this hotel which is more than adequate (I’ve stayed multiple times in a $6 hotel in Uganda) when it isn’t dry season. In anticipation I did bring a personal fan in my bag but the electrical outlet fried it on the first day. Sadly I didn’t get the smoking fan on video. Luckily no other electronics have faced a similar fate so far.

Once arriving at the factory Roy, the factory owner, explained the details of some of his business dealings. Specifically he talked about the massive piles of leather and materials in the factory. His ability to get materials at good prices from India became much clearer to me. The leather industry in India is huge and therefore there are a lot of materials left over. Often materials get bundled into large sacks and get sold by weight. Sometimes through auctions. Interestingly, this is exactly what often happens to our clothing and shoe donations. They get put in sacks for local retailers (small shopkeepers) to buy. The sacks are bought without the buyer actually looking into the sack and examining it.

 

Roy scheduled two women to come work on my samples but they had a conflict and couldn’t arrive until the next day. In preparation we looking into storage to find the right leather to use. Unfortunately the leather I had hoped was there went to Nairobi because of issues with taxes and customs.

After the brief power outage I sought to explain why we are using materials from India in the first place and not sourcing locally. At Venture we want to put as much money into the local economy as possible and we want to source locally as soon as possible. The challenge is that there are massive problems in the value chain in Africa. Materials are more expensive and of lower quality locally. This compromises my personal principle of refusing to make customers pay more because of our mission. The truth is that is we don’t get the product right, the mission doesn’t matter.

Rather than using local materials and charging $170 for a leather tote like our competitors, we are able to source from India and make the same bag with the retail price of $100-120. If we want to create hundreds and thousands of jobs in Kenya we have to get the product and price right. Roy owns a tannery in Uganda and I have other contacts that will help us source locally eventually but with the financial resources we currently have, those options are not feasible.

The day ends with some sweet footage down by the water where hundreds of people pack onto ferries to head home from work and I finally get back to the hotel and look forward for Day 3 when production begins.


James Crawford

 James Crawford

Founder at Venture Leather
Born and raised in San Diego, CA James received his BA in Business Economics from Azusa Pacific University where he was also an All-American in soccer and won a National Championship. He attended the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UCSD he he got his MA in International Development. After school, James worked for a management consulting firm as a data analyst before taking a position with a social enterprise in Northern Uganda as the Business Director of 31 Bits. Recently, James has launched his own company working with a leather manufacturer in Mombasa, Kenya where 100% of the profits get invested back into local businesses in Kenya.
Source: CauseArtist

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2017-05-30T14:10:31+00:00