Have you ever wondered how to start an African gold business? Several African countries have gold and other precious metal resources and very often we think it is an industry that looks pretty inaccessible to us.
When I visited Ghana during our Africa Business Mission last year, we were made aware that there was a need for the private sector to go into gold and jewlery processing, because most of the gold was still exported in raw format. But only few African entrepreneurs, especially those from the Diaspora, actually engage in this kind of industry.
I am therefore very pleased to introduce to you a young entrepreneur who defied the odds and started her African jewlery business all while still being based in the US.
I met Haby Barry, the founder of Fulaba.com, a unique African gold jewelry business, in California during an Africa investment conference. She had a stand there selling her jewelry and it was so popular across the board. I am very happy to interview her here, so she can share her start-up story with us. Be empowered!
1) Hi Haby, please tell us briefly about the Fulaba line and what motivated you to start a profitable business in Africa out of the ancient Fulani tradition.
I started Fulaba to preserve and share the Fulani jewelry tradition in a beautiful way. As a first generation American of Fulani descent whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Guinea, I saw an opportunity to develop the talent of jewelers in Guinea while preserving and sharing a rich tradition. Many people used to compliment me on a pair of brass Fulani earrings I used to wear that I got from Harlem and I thought to myself…I can get a much better quality version of these and really set the standard for this jewelry because after all, it is a part of my culture. Beyond Fulani jewelry, we are working to broaden our collection to include jewelry from other African tribes and political empires, the royalty and nobility of which we define as African High Culture. We want to make an economic impact in Guinea and provide opportunities to youth there. I want people there to see an example of what they can do and be right at home in Guinea.
2) Please tell us more about how your company is operating and who your key customers are
As the Founder, I wear many hats and am learning a lot about logistics, supply chain as well as importing and exporting. Nearly all of our materials are sourced from Guinea and we are working with just a few local jewelers in Conakry who handcraft all of our jewelry. We are a small team with just myself in the US and my aunt and her assistant in Conakry, Guinea. I contract with people from time to time to help with tradeshows and events. We are looking to bring on a Sales Manager to expand our wholesale accounts once we get some funding. We are always looking for interns, brand ambassadors and volunteers.
Our key customers are women aged 25 and older who appreciate statement jewelry from Africa.
3) What were your key challenges in starting an African business and how did you overcome them?
The key challenges were finding the right people to work with and implementing a process for scaling production of the jewelry. We overcame by trial and error. You don’t know until you try and then you will improve as you go. We had to get tools and layout specifications to achieve consistency with our handmade jewelry no matter who was making them and we are still improving.
4) What is your vision for your company – where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
My vision for Fulaba in the next 5 years is to have at least one retail location in West Africa and have Fulaba jewelry available in select boutiques and shops in the US, UK, France, Nigeria and South Africa. I see Fulaba becoming the premier global African jewelry brand, influencing the world to know and revere the jewelry and history of African high culture, as well as making a positive economic impact in Guinea and West Africa. I am excited to be a part of this growth and having the opportunity to serve Africans as the continent rises and grows its middle and upper-middle class.
5) What advice would you give those who are considering to start an African business?
Make sure it is something that you are passionate about and something that you can work to be the best at. Have your sights set to deliver the utmost value and make sure there is a defined need in the market for what you are trying to offer. Then get to work and keep in mind that you don’t need to have all of your products and services ready in order to launch, you can start with just a couple and build from there.