Please tell us a bit about the nature of your business...
Artisanne baskets are a beautiful blend of traditional Senegalese weaving techniques, passed down from mother to daughter, and modern designs which combine to create household storage that’s stylish, practical and highly distinctive. The Fair Trade baskets are skilfully handwoven in remote villages near Thiès in Senegal. And we deal directly with the weavers – with no middlemen involved whatsoever. This helps to ensure that the women earn a regular, fair and secure income for their creations. Our close relationship with the actual artisans allows us to design our own styles while guaranteeing the exceptional quality for which Artisanne is renowned.
What inspired you to start your business?
Artisanne is the brainchild of two sisters – London-based Elizabeth, and Emma who lived in Senegal for six years. Elizabeth says 'I began by bringing baskets home as presents every time I visited Emma. People loved them so we were inspired to find ways to bring the work of these talented weavers to European homes.' Emma spent the first year trying to find the weavers and I spent it doing market research in the UK. This brought together my marketing background and my sister’s experience as a Child Protection Consultant who has lived and worked all over Africa for the past 15 years. We knew that we wanted to do something that made a difference. From the beginning, it was important to us to work directly with the weavers without middlemen.
What was the most challenging aspect of building your business in the beginning?
We have faced lots of challenges, many of them unexpected. It has made me appreciate how exposed small businesses can be, often at the mercy of things that are completely out of their control. For example, two years ago my UK bank stopped dealing with Senegal. Overnight I had no means of sending money to weavers and my whole supply chain was in danger. The work that we were giving them was life changing and had huge implications on their lives. We had to find a solution. It took me two months to find a bank that would send money to Senegal.
If you were to launch your business again, would you do anything differently?
I would have enlisted people to help me earlier.
What keeps you motivated?
The thing that keeps me motivated is the impact Artisanne is having on the weavers. We have gone from working with 3 to 85 artisans in 3.5 years. I have just returned from Senegal and asked the weavers the impact that working with us made. They all made two main points: - they no longer have to go to the weekly market to sell their baskets; a 18 km round trip which takes them away from weaving, their children, chores for a day. - the regular work enables them to provide additional food, medicine and clothes for their families
How do you balance work and family life?
Running a small business with youngish children is hard but very rewarding. It gives me flexibility but I often end up working into the early hours. During the heat wave last summer, I couldn’t sleep and decided there was no point lying in bed with so much to do so I started work at 4am. It was a long day but I am sure many working parents have done something similar!
What’s your proudest business moment?
I am immensely proud of 'Journey to Learning' which we launched last year to provide transport to and from school for weavers’ children. They used to have to walk the 10km round trip in 40C temperatures. We kick-started the initiative by donating 100% from a sale of our products and now donate 10% of all profits to ensure daily school travel.
What’s been your most successful form of marketing and/ or brand awareness?
Word of mouth - we have very loyal customers who like our story and introduce friends to Artisanne. We like instagram - we love engaging with our consumers and getting their feedback.
Do you have any positive habits or routines that you feel have attributed to your success?
During the early part of my career, I was fortunate enough to gain a business background and to develop skills in brand and marketing. I also understood that it is important for me to have a creative outlet, as it is an area that inspires me. I regularly go back to 'my basics' to check, re-calibrate and ensure I am covering off everything.
What's your favourite business app/ tool/ book/ podcast etc?
Shopify is amazing and we built our website ourselves using it.
What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs just starting out?
Keep it simple. Test your samples/proto-type/ideas with your consumers as soon as possible - you'll soon find out what they want, need or like.
If you want to get in touch or see more of Elizabeth and Emma's adventures, head over to her website or social media:
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