Mumpreneur Profile: Ida Horner of Ethnic Supplies

Name of Business: Ethnic Supplies Ltd

Your Name and Age: Ida Horner 44 years old

Tell us about your family:

I live in Walton on Thames a lovely village in Surrey, I have one son aged 23

How did you start your business?

In December 2006 I went home to Uganda for Christmas and whilst there I was invited to New Year’s eve party in South West Uganda. I had never been to this part of Uganda and found it difficult to reconcile the beauty of that part of the country with the poverty – I resolved to do something on my return to the UK

I quit my job as Housing Manager for a London council with a view to do something about the whole situation I had witnessed in South West Uganda. The result is Ethnic Supplies, an online business selling a range of products made by poverty-stricken women’s groups from Uganda as well as Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar. Items include costume jewellery, mats, bags and silk scarves; all made by hand using natural materials and traditional methods.

I was unsure how best to go about it setting up a business and whilst searching for help on the internet I came across the Business Link website. I rang them up and told them what I was trying to do. They explained they offered one-to-one sessions with advisers for complete beginners like me. I made an appointment at my local centre in Woking, went in and everything has followed on from there. My Business Link adviser was able to articulate the ideas that I had and the whole process has been incredibly helpful.

Ethnic Supplies was launched in October and now helps suppliers such as Hand Products of Tanzania (HOT) which is made up of women from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda some of whom have disabilities or are affected by HIV/AIDS. By the end of the year I had managed to get one of the lines of bags into Exeter museum in Devon and I am working hard to get into other outlets/gift shops.

Ethnic Supplies provides a route to market for these goods as the women don’t have anywhere to sell them apart from the odd tourist and clearly this is not enough to sustain them and their families. It is also a more dignified and sustainable way out of poverty.

Having set up Ethnic Supplies, I was approached by various people wanting to collaborate with me in some way; one of these people is 65 year old Grandmother Ann McCarthy from Shepperton who contacted me having read a story about me in the Surrey Herald. Ann has spent the last 5 years working in a remote village in SW Uganda.

I could not see how I could help so I proposed that we organise a fundraising event. I realised that given her age and what she is trying to achieve the project was in dire need of a cash injection to finish off all the projects that the villagers had started. The most pressing of these is getting clean water into the village, currently the women and children walk 2-3 hours to get water from the bottom of the valley, but even then the water is dirty and quite possibly is disease causing.

As the organisation of the event got under way it occurred to me that I could formalise LET THEM HELP THEMSELVES as an initiative under which all the people who want to collaborate with me can work. I have since Registered the initiative a charity with the Charity commission. I see my role in this as providing a structure for everyone else.

We are looking for people like this especially those that can teach these communities business skills so that they can help themselves out of poverty instead of relying on grants.

What research did you do before launching?

I approached a few African High commissioners for help, so I could understand some of the issues the women in Africa face, as well as approaching Business link

How have you funded the business?

From savings and equity from my home

How do you promote your business? What has worked best?

As I am on a limited budget, I can’t afford to advertise so I network a lot to meet people from whom I can learn, I belong to several online networks and through these I have met people that have helped me along the way.

I volunteer my time, by speaking at events/seminars/conferences etc and also share what I know with other women here in Surrey

I found that networking has worked best for me.

What has worked well about your business?

It is hard to say, as the business has gone in different directions that I had not anticipated. I have ended up as a consultant to a coffee roaster based in North London who was looking to source his coffee more ethically.

I have various speaking engagements throughout the year, where people are seeking to learn about my work or life in Africa in general. I have also linked in with academics and have just returned from Sweden where I presented a paper at a conference about COMPUTER HUMAN INTERACTION at the University of Uppsala

What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?

My biggest challenge is saying NO to people, and this has meant that some have taken advantage of that. I have had to learn to say NO.

What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area?

Speak to me!

If you have a flexible working business opportunity, please explain briefly what you offer and how people find out more.

I offer three kinds of opportunities

1. Party plans:- if you are a stay at home Mum looking to earn an extra income for those little extras that children need this would suit you. I would provide the training, products and all you have to do is get your friends/family together and when they buy you get 20% of the overall sales. There is no requirement for you to recruit others it is that basic. This is a sale or return system

2. Wholesale:- If you want to start your own enterprise, you can have the products at wholesale price from me then you sell them at whatever price that you want

3. Sales Assistants: I mostly sell the products through exhibitions and schools fairs. As I can’t always get to all of them, I am looking for people to join me. I pay a minimum wage for this as well as 20% of the sales

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