Mulberry Mongoose: when fashion meets sustainability

With a backdrop of Elephants, Lions, and other Safari animals lies a beautiful village in the South Luangwa Valley in rural Zambia that unconventionally tells a powerful story.

Kate Wilson founded Mulberry Mongoose in 2013, a jewellry company built on the foundations of a global movement with increasing popularity in Africa: Sustainable fashion.

Sustainable fashion goes beyond fabric, material, and product; it encompasses the holistic perspective of all fashion stakeholders: producers and consumers, all living species in the surrounding eco-systems, and the overall multi-generational impact that fashion can have on the environment.

Mulberry Mongoose operates in the Mfuwe settlement in Eastern Zambia. Though beautiful, the area has been cast by a shadow of high unemployment and animal poaching rates.

Founder, Kate, utilised a creative social impact model that enabled Mulberry Mongoose to take snare wires out of circulation, poaching traps known to maim and slowly and painfully kill iconic African animals.

Creatively, they use snare wires to design jewellry that narrates a story of conservation. Furthermore, they donate a portion of their proceeds to conservation with every sale, bringing their total conservation impact to an estimated $119,000 since its inception.

These unique pieces would also consist of beads, coins, and seeds handcrafted by local women from the area and so, creating an avenue where these craftswomen can empower themselves and their community.

 

 

Significance of the Name

“Mongooses work in big groups. They are very sophisticated in how they work: they have baby sitters, protectors, foragers, and all work together. For the whole group to survive, they have to work together.”

 

“Just like a band of Mongoose, we recognise the need to look after the whole; we have to give back to Wildlife conservation, employ local people, and create valuable employment that is not only for us but for the local entrepreneurs who we source our materials. Just like the Mongoose, we are small but mighty for the way we operate and the level in which we give back.”

 

“Being English, I grew up with a Mulberry tree in my garden. The tree signifies the company’s unique beauty, which can stand on its own merits and compete with any other business in the world. “

 

Business Entry Point

Kate met a young man in London, who had just left the British army, and was on his way to his pursue his dream of working in the African bush.

The young man, smitten by the young and passionate Kate Wilson quickly proposed to her, and together travelled across the world to Zambia, starting a life dedicated to preserving Wildlife.

On arriving in Zambia, Kate made a friend who taught her how to make Jewellery and in the process began her journey with Jewellery.

It was the year that Kate’s firstborn daughter was born, that she opened her Jewellery workshop.

Financing the Business

“I was very keen to put money back in the business, to keep it going, we did not take big loans and survived on profits made from sales. When the company had operated for four years, we were approached by a private investor, who gave us a loan of $10,000 to set up a silverwork arm to the business, which enabled us to set up our skills and were able to pay the loan back within the year.”

 

Marketing the Business

Mulberry Mongoose’s story has been able to play the role of the connector with famous conservationists and journalists, seeing for themselves the impact the company makes to Wildlife conservation.

A positive outcome of these connections has been a fascinating National Geographic article on.natgeo.com/3qFyyZb, written by Michaela Trimble, a  celebrated journalist. She has written for household names such as The New York Times Style Magazine, Vogue, and Travel + Leisure.

 

Key highlights

  1. Being listed by British Vogue as up and coming Jewellery brand in their exclusive edition that was edited by the guest editor of that time, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, and raising $100,000 from Jewellery sales to aid wildlife conservation in the same year.
  2. Having their designs worn by fashion and global thought leaders such as Supermodel Doutzen Kroes, Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and British actress Antonia Thomas.

 

Values

  1. The value and belief of bringing women together.
  2. The importance of personal growth.
  3. Being purposeful and giving back.
  4. Authenticity-being honest in who we are and what we want to achieve.
  5. Work ethic-belief in hard work and commitment.

“Keeping the values of Mulberry Mongoose close when it comes to making decisions, I find things fall into place as soon as I feel like I am deviating from those values, and maybe operating from a sales perspective and being worried about money. I notice that things go off course.”

 

Developing a company culture

As a leader, Kate is determined to provide safe spaces where her employees can give feedback and share their challenges.

“developing the company culture is a process. As the business keeps changing, we have to keep improving it. I do not believe that you can have a good company if the people in it do not feel good.”

“I make it a strong part of the company that our clients¬† understand who makes their Jewellery, I tell our Jewellery makers’ stories, and they (the craftswomen) even share personal notes to the clients and do videos…e.t.c.”

 

Key advice on building a business

  1. Invest in branding to tell your story.
  2. Invest in production systems to meet demand.
  3. Invest incredible financial systems.
  4. Take time to understand the business and set the right business foundations.

“As a believer in self-improvement who reads widely, I do believe that there is a correlation between the success of a business and someone who is spiritually enlightened. Not looking at everything from the perspective of your ego but rather thinking of it from a deeper place of a value-based process.”

“Act in the beginning as if you are going to be hugely successful.”

“Get the systems to grow with you slowly. As an entrepreneur, you will always feel like you do not have time, but always remember it is going to take you ten times as much effort to look back and do it then it is, to do it at the moment.”

 

Sustainable Fashion

“We could all be more ethical. The planet is not going to last forever if we treat it with disrespect. It is great to enjoy clothes and fashion, but we are responsible not to damage the planet for the love of “fun fashion.” It is not right to look good at the expense of the conservation of our planet and other human beings. There is this massive movement on ethical fashion, and I am 900% behind that.”

“I think we have to feel beautiful on the inside and out. We have to truly believe that people do not want to destroy their planet, but the choices presented to them through shops are acting on impulse. It is, therefore, the industry that must change so that the people will follow.”

 

Experience in the GrowthAfrica accelerator

” Our operations were reactive and did not empower the team. Having this break from many sales (during the pandemic) and working with GrowthAfrica.

“We have had this opportunity to step back and identify our gaps of which they were many: having done an excellent analysis of the business gave me the clarity to address these gaps in procurement, machine management, stock control, and monitoring the quality of craftsmanship.”

“I knew the issues in the business. I did not know how to approach them. I appreciated the tools for breaking things down. The Innovation sprints uncluttered my head, being able to talk about Mulberry Mongoose to someone else and have them listen and be interested and then to do all the maps and break everything down. I saw what the future of Mulberry Mongoose could be and could look like and suddenly felt like it was possible.”

“Suddenly, the dreams I had shared with the GrowthAfrica catalysts seemed tangible and real, and plausible, and they have given me direction, and enabled me to move past the focus of being swamped.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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