Training and networking can provide the much-needed push to overcome the barriers to growth for women entrepreneurs. As part of its Capacity Development program, FMO supported two programs one in Zambia and one in Bangladesh aimed at bankers and business women.
Mercy Chewetu, Founder and CEO of Queen of Chitenge Fashion, Zambia
“In Zambia, nearly 80 percent of our clothes is imported. Even though we make beautiful fabrics, like Chitenge, which play a very important role in our culture. I want to give Zambians the opportunity to buy clothes that are made in and for our country. With my brand Queen of Chitenge, I celebrate the traditional Zambian Chitenge fabric through modern, unique and afro-centric design. “
“I started my business nearly three years ago. At first I focussed on making jewellery from Chitenge on a sewing machine in my living room. After a couple of months, I started designing Chitenge clothes, because people were asking for matching outfits to go with their colourful jewels. Currently, I own a boutique shop in Lusaka, 8 industrial sewing machines and I employ 8 to 18 people on a part time basis. Just before COVID-19 hit the country, I ventured into large-scale production, and created the label QC with uniforms and protective clothing for the corporate world. Right on time! Because now I am making Chitenge face masks - which are 100 percent cotton - for large corporates and even some UN organizations. I have been able to scale-up my business and am dealing with mass orders from organizations and with individuals in my store. It is amazing how much I was able to grow and learn in such a short period.”
“Invest in yourself. No one else is going to do that for you.”
When I started my business, I did not have enough money to scale-up. I was reluctant to open a bank account. In my country, the bank is not seen as a friendly place. They can make you feel useless if you come in for a loan and don’t have a lot of money, collateral or credit history. It can be very intimidating, especially for women. When I joined the female leadership training program from FMO and the Zambian banks in 2018, that completely changed my view. In that week, I got to interact with women who worked at the banks. I presented my business plan and they gave me advice. This opportunity made me realize I had great vision for my business, and gave me the confidence to continue on the path I had chosen. The training gave me the mental and financial push I needed: with my business pitch I won a grant which allowed me to scale up and acquire the first industrial sewing machines for my company. It also made me realize that, in order to be taken seriously, I needed to open a bank account for my business.”
“I want my brand to become an everyday wear. In 10 years, I hope every Zambian has one item of Chitenge clothing in his or her wardrobe. But, my business is not just about me making money. It is also about my community’s economic growth. The clothing industry creates employment. In the next 10 years I want to build a factory that employs people, and contributes to our GDP.”
Tips for women entrepreneurs across the globe
Invest in yourself. No one else is going to do that for you.
Entrepreneurial programs are important to develop yourself as a leader and to scale-up your business. At the end of the day, you need to learn about marketing and finance to understand how you can grow.
Don’t be afraid to approach a bank and ask what they have to offer for you. Lots of banks have grants or loans designed for women entrepreneurs; you only have to look for the opportunity and take it with both hands.
Sabah Khan, Founder and Ceative Head of 'Print me Yellow by Sabah Khan', Bangladesh Business inspiration
“I wanted to integrate my passion for fashion with my (former) work in the development sector. That is why I started a business to uplift Bangladeshi artisans out of poverty. My artisans are the highest paid in Bangladesh. They receive training to further develop their skills. Ultimately, I want our fashion culture to survive by creating a sustainable livelihood for artisans.”
“I started my business 'Print me Yellow' next to my fulltime job in the development sector. I created small collections of clothing, which would sell out quickly. I increasingly had bigger orders coming in. At the end of 2017, I quit my job and started working with three employees in the building where I also lived. In March 2019 I got an SME loan from BRAC. Finally funds to grow my business! I had no credit history, but BRAC gave me a loan anyway. By now, I have 70 employees. And, by the grace of God, I have become one of the top designers in Bangladesh
The training program of FMO and Brac bank taught me about the importance of human connection. I was never really good at networking. But in this industry, it is so valuable! The training also gave me insights on what is happening to my company, in terms of financial numbers. Now I am not dependent on my accountant anymore, which is helpful in making business decisions. When COVID-19 hit, I decided to continue paying most of my employees because of this. It is about them, not me making money.
“In the coming year I will need work very hard to sustain and survive the crisis. But in the long run, my ambition is that the Bangladeshi fashion industry is saved. Currently, we are overshadowed by India and Pakistan. And I believe that is because artisans were never properly valued in our country. It has taken a lot of effort to make my employees understand they can earn a solid, sustainable livelihood with the skills they have. And that is because they put a human touch to every piece of clothing, which has been passed on for generations. This needs to be maintained and further developed. That is why I started calling them artisans from the day I started my business. They are not just workers, weavers or embroiders, they are true artists. And I am proud to contribute to their growth.”
Tips for women entrepreneurs across the globe.
“Being kind and empathetic to everyone involved in your business can work wonders. Human connections are the most important asset for an entrepreneur.”