We Grew up in a Household Where Designing and Sewing Your Own Clothes
was normal – my Mom made sure of it! Today, it’s African Fashion Week every week!
When I was kid we’d make trips to the fabric shops, and sew pieces that emulated the fashion that we saw on Top of the Pops or Soul Train. Because you couldn’t find much imported fashion, there was a lot of improvisation!
When I was a teenager I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, making pieces for my friends. But in the end, I attended university to secure my future employability.
I’m married to Doug and we have two teenage children.
I like to raise money for African causes and I believe the future prosperity of Africa is rooted in enterprise at the grassroots, and in trading with the West, rather than seeking aid.
In 2011, I co-founded 3ThirtySeven, a non-profit that organises charity fundraising challenges for African women. In 2012 we climbed Kilimanjaro, and I used the funds I raised to establish a revolving loan pot for African micro-enterprises, which I lend through Kiva. So far those funds have lent $5,000 to businesswomen around Africa.
And as yet not a single default!
Career #1 – Banking
After graduating from the University of Malawi, I was recruited as a Graduate Trainee by Stanbic Bank and worked there for five years.
I moved to the UK with my husband, Doug in 1996 to pursue our Master’s degrees. My banking career continued after that.
I joined Natwest Bank’s Commercial Banking division before moving to a handful of other European banks doing specialised lending. I ended up working on a portfolio of loans to some of the successful (and not so successful) busineses. The portfolio was heavily Retail-focused, from the Value to the Luxury end.
I was able to pick up some valuable lessons that I call on regularly today, doing my job running Sapelle.
Career #2 – Entrepreneurship
In 2012, I made the decision to devote all of my time and attention to running Sapelle, which I’d launched earlier that year. My contract had ended a year early – which I saw as a sign that I should focus on the business.
Sapelle is an ethical retail company that brings the best of Africa’s contemporary fashion to the global high street. Sapelle retails ethically-produced ladies fashion that’s inspired by Africa, fusing Western styling with African and ‘tribal’ accents. Sapelle’s primary sales channel is its online store, www.Sapelle.com.
I established Sapelle after making the decision in 2008 that I would use the skills and experience I’d been fortunate enough to gain in The City to contribute to the development of Malawi and Africa. After much soul-searching and research, I discovered that there were a growing number of very talented designers, artisans and social enterprises around Africa who needed a platform and assistance to reach the global market.
The opportunity to work in Fashion, showcasing talent from around the continent, using my commercial experience and UK location absolutely thrilled me. It’s the realisation of a long-held dream.
Sapelle products, which are of a high quality, are designed to appeal to not only women of African descent, but to a wider market of discerning women with a desire for pieces that are unique and yet complimentary to their style.
My passion for the empowerment of small businesses in Africa underpins Sapelle’s commitment to working in Africa (an often difficult trading zone), and ensuring that we work with suppliers who are engaging ethical principles, such as fair employment and trade terms, employment creation, and sustainable production.
We use a combination of site visits and referrals to select our suppliers and partners, and we have a collaborative approach with our supply chain to ensure that we’re all working towards the same ethical goals and we share best practice. Sapelle is a Fellow of the international body, Ethical Fashion Forum, which brings together thousands of industry players, and where we identify some of our suppliers.
2013 was a busy year, with four Sapelle pop-up shops around London to get the word out and test the concept of African fashion on the high street, all of which were very well received by the public.
In Summer 2015 Sapelle launched its London shop at Portobello Green Arcade; and its USA-based sister site, www.Sapelle-usa.com.
Currently we’re working with about 30 suppliers and our supply chain reaches 15 different African countries, including Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Congo, Benin, Mozambique and Swaziland.
Our ambition is for Sapelle to become the retailer of choice for women looking for something different to the normal high street look, and to be the major stockist for talented and ambitious ethical producers around Africa.
Sapelle – A Fellowship 500 Member of the Ethical Fashion Forum
+44(0)213 719 8566
Unit 7 Portobello Green
281 Portobello Road
London, W10 5TZ