When she decided to pursue her dream of starting a business, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to honour her heritage and tap into a market teeming with natural resources and raw talent – Africa. But she needed to figure out how to connect the dots. For the past six months, she has done just that and has a successful line of African products that celebrate her African roots and empower local artists.
Last November, Lucy Ziriro took a leap of faith and decided to actualize a dream she’d held near and dear to her for a while. And now, what started out as an idea has transformed into a business with a range of products in high demand.
“Having grown up in Africa, I always admired African products because they are unique, and they are made from the heart by talented people whose talent needs to be showcased to the world,” Ziriro told The Weight She Carries. “You see a lot of unique paintings; unique bags being sold to tourists. And usually a lot of tourists want to buy these products.”
When she thought about how African products are cherished by people who visit the continent, Ziriro knew there was a market for these products in the Western world.
“So, I said to myself, ‘If people from other countries can come to Africa and buy these products to take back home, I better take these products directly to them and bring Africa to the First World,’” she said.
Ziriro, who is based in Canada, reached out to a friend in England and told her she had a plan and wanted to start a business selling products from Africa.
“She had already been doing business and she linked me with contacts in Africa who are now my business partners,” Ziriro said. “And they are the reason why I continue to grow and do business because they have been my pillar. Without them there is no business.”
The business, African Heritage Products, boasts a line of choice handbags and clutches, sandals, jewelry, and African dolls.
Ziriro said all of her products are unique and intricately designed, and that her handcrafted bags are the most sought-after product she sells.
“You won’t find your neighbor with the same bag because they are a unique market,” she said. “People praise our bags. Everywhere we take them people say, ‘Oh my goodness, these bags are nice!’”
One bag, in particular, is in such high demand that she can barely keep it in stock.
“It’s a brown bag and has some brown leather. People can’t get enough of that bag,” Ziriro said. “The moment it comes in, it goes out. And you cannot find our bags in any store.”
Selling African products is about more than celebrating beautiful craftsmanship. Ziriro hopes to change the way people think about Africans in general.
Although African Heritage Products is thriving now, it was tough in the beginning, and some initial hurdles threatened to thwart the business.
“When I first started, one of the challenges I had was shipping,” she said. “Shipping from Africa is so expensive, and we didn’t know what to do because we would buy the bags at a very good price, but the shipping costs were so high. At one point we didn’t think we would be able to continue because shipping 10 bags was costing $300.”
Ziriro and her team brainstormed and found a way to ship products to Canada at a reasonable price.
African Heritage Products is currently running a Mother’s Day promotion for its handbags. One of the great things about the bags, Ziriro said, is that they are made with hyacinth material.
“Hyacinth is a raw material that actually grows in a river. So they take the fresh material and they dry it and make bags out of it,” she said. “We want people to have more of these bags because they are organic and don’t damage the environment. Our bags make the ideal Mother’s Day present. So to everyone out there: buy a mother, a sister, an aunt a unique bag for Mother’s Day.”
To order products from African Heritage Products, visit www.nhakayedu.com.
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Vimbai E. is a writer, journalist, ghostwriter and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.