Tugende Design: A social Enterprise Uplifting Communities Through Selling Jewelry, Crafts & Bags


Meet Tugende Design, a social enterprise committed to act, and to help vulnerable children and women in  Uganda by designing and selling unique, colorful and bold products for women on the go. The entreprise also provides sustainable income to women in poverty and uses fair trade practices in order to uplift communities. This Is Uganda team caught up with Dr. Monica Swahn, the Executive Director and Creative Designer at Tugende Design for a chat.

What is Tugende Design?

Tugende Design is a social enterprise business. We want to uplift communities by creating, buying and selling beautiful jewelry, crafts and bags made by talented but vulnerable women who are seeking to support themselves and their families. We use fair trade practices and also plan to reinvest funds by supporting community projects. This business is an extension of my work as a professor of global health and fulbright scholar, trying to understand and prevent high risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use and HIV transmission, primarily in the slums of Kampala.

I love the word “Tugende” and use it as a way to encourage us all to “let’s go”, let us make a difference, let us help people in need. We can all do something, we can all have an impact. I feel very blessed to support these creative, talented and hardworking vulnerable women, mostly in the slums of Kampala. We design jewelry such as necklaces and earrings and different types of bags to sell primarily in the US.

What are the items that you sell on Tugende Design?

We have focused mostly on jewelry and bags. In terms of our jewelry, we use the traditional paper beads in new and creative ways to make necklaces and earrings. As an example, we make beads out of old medical textbooks to link these beaded necklaces to my work as a global health professor. We also have many colorful bags including purses and shopping bags made out of the traditional African prints including kitenge and dashik

How did you come up with the Tugende Design idea

As a global health professor, I have worked in Uganda for 7 years. My research on alcohol, drug use, violence and HIV in Uganda seek to strengthen communities and improve the health in vulnerable populations. However, this research takes a long time so I have been looking for other ways to support communities. When I discussed these ideas with my collaborators and women across Uganda they have told me they want to find a market for the products they make. They tell me they try to sell their crafts, jewelry and bags at various markets but that the demand is low and prices have decreased because of increased supply. So I have worked with many of these women to create new designs, and to use paper beads and African fabrics in new creative ways. The idea is to sell these new products in the larger American market and to expand to Europe when we gain momentum.

What were some of your motivations for starting your business?

The motivation is to give back to the communities where we work. My goal is to find ways to uplift and empower women who are creative, talented and hardworking but have difficulties providing for their families. But, I am also very excited about the beautiful jewelry and bags we have made. I hope people will buy them because they are unique, colorful and beautiful. However, because we are a social enterprise business, people will also buy our things because we support a larger cause.

How long has Tugende Design been around?

We started the concept and began designing products a little less than a year ago, fall 2016. And, while we have sold products online since then through shared sites, we just started our own TugendeDesign.com website a few weeks ago.

How long has Tugende Design been around?

We started the concept and began designing products a little less than a year ago, fall 2016. And, while we have sold products online since then through shared sites, we just started our own TugendeDesign.com website a few weeks ago.

e-commerce is still a growing trend in Uganda and Africa. How do you get customers into your online Tugende Design shop?

Because we just started our own online shop a few weeks ago, we are still strategizing for how to find buyers and how to best identify our target groups. We have been fairly active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and are seeing results. But, we are still exploring and learning.

What were some of the ways that you dealt with the unique technical challenges of your target market?

I can’t say that we have figured this out yet. We spend a lot of time looking at other websites and social media of other businesses to get ideas, define target population and how to best present our products.

How often do you get offers by people who want to buy items on Tugende Design shop?

We have had a few sales since launching the website last month but anticipate getting new customers and steady growth over the next couple of months.

If you could give one piece of advice to Ugandan online shop owners, what would it be?

It takes a lot of work to get products listed and photographed to make a beautiful website that conveys confidence in the business and its products. Beautiful photographs and great texts that highlight the products well is the key to inspire potential customers to make a purchase.

If someone wants to get in touch with you in Uganda, where do you they find you?

I spend time both in Uganda and the US, so it is easiest to reach me by email TugendeDesign@gmail.com

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