This week, ONE and the Akilah Institute trained 46 women from the US State Department’s African Women’s Entrepreneurship (AWEP) program on social media for business.
After the event, I had the opportunity to interview one of the AWEP participants, Barbara Rwodzi. She is the co-founder of the House of BarRue Knitwear, an organic and green brand of knitted fashion from Zimbabwe.
Her company employs about 700 rural women from the Midlands, a province where she was born, and empowers them with the tools they need to find their path out of poverty.
In our interview, we talk about why she started BarRue, the challenges she faces and how social media can help her business.
Caitlyn: Why did you pursue this venture?
Barbara: I am a person who is passionate about improving livelihoods of those who are marginalized. As a young girl, I had an opportunity to have well-off parents who could send me to better schools in the capital city, but my parents would make sure that we visited the rural areas every year over Christmas time.
And it was touching to me that people were so disadvantaged in their lives. So, ever since I was a kid, I always wanting to do something to improve lives. I worked with my husband as an entrepreneur for 15 years doing different things, but four years ago I came back to my pulse. I’m so passionate about fashion, so I thought about synchronizing the two. There is an abandonment of hand knitting in Zimbabwe, and I also grew up knitting as my mother used to knit our jerseys to go to school. I thought of synchronizing fashion, hand knitting and those people that I used to think about when I was a kid.
Video about Barbara’s business:
What is your biggest challenge with your business?
My biggest challenge is training and development funding, because the fashion world is evolving every day, every minute and my customers require different designs. So that means that among all the women we have, I have to train them on different designs and global fashion.
Secondly, because it’s in the rural areas, our business has not grown enough to buy big trucks for transportation. All 700 women live in different areas, and we have about seven centers, We call them centers, because they each have 100 women. We drive around the whole district, about 250 kilometers, visiting the centers. I am currently using my own trucks from my husband’s businesses so we need to grow our business so we can buy trucks.
Do use social media in your business? And if so, have you had successes in your business?
Because of the excitement of when we started to sell our products, we went on Facebook and we opened a website. But, because handmade knitwear has a lot quality issues, the orders became overwhelming and the quality was so bad.
We actually had a container that was returned from Spain. And so, in the moment we have closed down Facebook and the website so we can get our training in order. Once we get things right, then we’ll go back to social media. The social media is positively effective, and we’re so looking forward to go back on the platform and do well with our business.
Stay in touch with the women from the US State Department’s AWEP program, and “like” them on Facebook.