ML Dreams: Shanley Knox, Co-Founder, Olivia Knox, Brooklyn, New York + Kampala, Uganda
Made Lokal: How did you decide and take the leap to start Olivia Knox?
Shanley: I was burnt out on being an entrepreneur after a failed first business, and almost didn't do it - actually. It was my Dad who convinced me I should. He said, "I was a failed entrepreneur in my 40's, and had to go back and take a normal job because I was responsible to so many other people. You're 26. You're free. Go do it - for both of us. You can always go back and get a normal job, but right now you don't have to." I've never regretted that decision.
Made Lokal: What is the vision of Olivia Knox?
Shanley: At Olivia Knox, our vision is to bring a new perspective on sustainability to the business economy in the global south, and Africa in particular. We believe that sustainability is a three-fold endeavor, involving viable business, the preservation of culture and environmental conservation all together. Only when these three things are present do we truly achieve sustainable business and long term solutions. On a more granular level, we're focused on growing Uganda's horn manufacturing industry through the use of Ankole horn - a by-product of the local cattle industry. Through the use of the horn, we promote the preservation of cattle biodiversity through encouraging ranchers to continue raising this special breed as they make more profit (there's the economic portion) from the horn. Additionally, we are deeply involved in the preservation of the culture of East Africa's nomadic tribes, which have kept Ankole cattle for generations.
Made Lokal: How did you meet Olivia?
Shanley: It was completely serendipitous. I was having the most horrible lunch with a woman I had been freelancing for who was refusing to pay me. A friend of hers doing relief work in Uganda happened to stop by to see her, and he asked what I did for a living. I told him about my dream to start a manufacturing company in New York, and he told me I had to meet his friend Olivia. He invited me to his birthday party that night, and she and I immediately clicked. It was love at first sight, and just goes to show you that the most terrible experiences may produce the most incredible results. You never know what the universe is about to throw at you.
Made Lokal: Briefly explain the history of what used to happen to horn in Ugaunda
Shanley: Horn in Uganda used to be burnt or thrown out as waste until many Chinese manufacturers, in particular, started using the material to manufacture buttons. Unfortunately, most businesses purchasing horn for this market view it as a cheap, mass market material. We see it as a valuable, luxury product, and we've worked to drive up its market value, as we seek to push up wages and working standards in the industry.
Made Lokal: Do retailers understand that buying from you they are able to make a difference?
Shanley: Absolutely! People often refer to luxury industries as stuffy or shallow. We've found the opposite. Every single partner we've worked with has been concerned about the origin of where our materials come from, and want to share our story with their consumers. Sometimes, we even find that mainstream luxury clients are more concerned about ethics than those who are categorized as "social good" companies. I have a lot of hope for the future of retail. I think it's going really positive places.
I loved this article and beautiful photos from the IndegoAfrica Blog, where they so adeptly explained the place in society of the Ankole, "Our whole life revolved around this cow. We revere it. You find it every aspect of our lives. Our song and poetry. Our dance. If a women has beautiful eyes, you tell her her eyes look like those of a newborn cow – innocent and pure.”
Follow Shanley's success @oliviaknoxmfg visit her website, www.olivia-knox.com , shop her newest delivery at Bloomingdales and view the Indego Africa Blog article!