Barefoot in, not aid

On this day 5 years ago I was filming the final sequence for my first documentary, Barefoot in Business, in Uganda. I had gained exclusive access to the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association (UWEAL) and was filming their Female Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. As an entrepreneur myself, I was really interested in finding out what life is really life as a business woman in 21st Century Uganda, and what it takes to be the best. Is it a matter of making millions and building a business empire? Or simply making ends meet and making a difference in the face of incredible adversity? I was encouraged and inspired to see that it is in fact the latter, so through Barefoot in Business my aim was to capture this alternative definition of “success” and present a positive and empowering portrait of Uganda - a world away from aid and Aids. This was about trade not aid and these women meant business. They weren’t asking for our sympathy or handouts, they were simply asking to be taken seriously and given the chance to show the world what they were capable of.

So that was the plan. I’d make the film, shine a light on the work of these amazing women and then move onto the my next project. However like so many plans in business, it didn’t quite work out that way. You see, I didn’t go to business school. I set up Scrumptious Productions back in 2010, with big ambitions of changing the world one film at a time but absolutely no business experience. I figured how hard can it be? Oh the naivety! So these women and this film was my education in entrepreneurship and I’d learnt so much from them and revealed the frustratingly simple challenges that are standing between them and their big ambitions that it simply didn’t feel right just to say “Cheerio and good luck!” once I’d finished filming. It especially didn’t make sense to do so when the reaction from everyone who watched the film - whether it was a member of the Ugandan diaspora in London or a female angel investor in Edinburgh - was so overwhelmingly positive: “Where can I buy these products? How can I help these women? I want to mentor them. I want to help train them. I want to go to Uganda!” And, ultimately when when the message from the stars of the film and the 10,000 plus members of the Uganda Womens Entrepreneurs Association (UWEAL) was so clear:

“We want your orders not your aid”

So with that the idea for the Barefoot in Business Marketplace was born - a unique online platform for female entrepreneurs from across Uganda to share their stories, sell their products and access the necessary training, mentoring and investment to bring their big ambitions to life. This is site where you’ll be able to access the best products from across the Pearl of Africa - from yoga bags to baby carriers, cushion covers to clothing - and where each of our individual businesses will receive match made support from across the globe to help get them market and investment ready. These are women like Nellie Ssali, founder of Makika Stylz. According to Nellie, “When you empower a woman, you empower the world”. We’re proud to be empowering Nellie through the Barefoot in Business Marketplace to develop her business plans and product line - starting with stunning clutch bags which be custom ordered in a choice of kitenge fabrics on the Marketplace.

Nellie is one of Uganda's leading trainers in textiles and arts and crafts, so in addition to working with her to help grow Makika Stylz, we’re also delighted to be working with her to train a new generation of fashion entrepreneurs in Katanga Slum, the largest slum in Uganda and home to over 20,000 people. These are women like Babyire.

She’s a single mother of two and has lived in Katanaga for 5 years. Babyire currently works in a local Chinese factory making pillowcases and bed sheets. For every pillowcase she makes, she receives 500 Uganda Shillings (10p). In a good month she can earn 200,000 Uganda Shillings (£50 approx) however in a bad month when there is no work it can be as little £10. As one of the creators of our limited edition Barefoot in Business tote bags, Babyire will now be able to earn more money in two days of work than she would in a “good month” in the factory.

“I am so thankful and excited for this opportunity. I want to leave the factory and grow my business so that I can be independent and stand on my own. That would be a very good feeling and make me so happy.”

After more than 5 years in the making, it makes me “so happy” too to announce that the Barefoot in Business Marketplace is now live. So from now until December 22nd, you can order your favourite handmade, limited edition Barefoot in Business bag directly from the website - This is a unique collection of yoga, clutch and tote bags which you’ll be able to customise in a kitenge fabric of your choice and meet the talented tailors who’ll be making it and hear what a difference your purchases are making to their individual businesses and lives. Then, it’s time to sit back and watch as we capture the entire production process stitch by stitch and ahead of the final delivery of your bag on March 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day.

You see this project isn’t just about Uganda. It’s about providing a unique platform for women around the world to trade, interact and invest in each other. We’ve got big ambitions for Barefoot in Business and the Pearl of Africa is just the beginning. I was honoured to welcome Dr Margo Thomas, former Chief Secretariat of the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment to Scotland for the official launch of the Marketplace. As part of the Global Goals, the UN has set a target for “every women and girl around the world to be empowered” by 2030. I’m proud to be playing my part through Barefoot in Business and proud to be working with Margo to develop the long term strategy for Barefoot. She means business.

We mean business and I’m delighted to be able to offer each of my fellow female entrepreneurs from across Scotland who “mean business” too a 10% discount on all sales from now until December 22nd using your exclusive “WES10” promo code.

Shop. Screen. Inspire. Empower.

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