Mission Driven Entrepreneurs Episode 55 - Keren Long of Ethical Apparel Africa

Passionate about textiles at school, Keren Long forged a career in retail with big names such as Marks & Spencer and then Asda's new retail arm 'George'. Her strength in maths led her to a career in merchandising.

When Walmart bought Asda, Keren moved over to set up a sourcing function where she did 3 years looking after kidswear - spending 40% of time in Bangladesh, India , Turkey and China. This was the early days of the 'value' retailing, resulting in low-cost jeans as low as £4! When a new role Head of Change and Sustainability came up, having enjoyed working with the factories, Keren jumped at the chance.  She helped set up their offshore office, trialling it in Bangladesh and over 3 years the team grew from 6 to 34, looking after the manufacturing of $320 million of product.

Keren Long of Ethical Apparel Africa

When Walmart bought a new business in Africa Keren was bought in to look at the viability of adding clothing. Local manufacturing was her focus due to the high import duties on clothing. The reams of red tape got Keren thinking that how after 18 years of retail how she wanted to do things differently. She had 6 months with a life coach looking at her core values and what was important to her. She realised there was a need to find a way to empower the factory workers while still satisfying the competitive environment in the retail environment. She did some consultancy work for artisan companies 'Peace and Co' and 'Made in Africa', giving her an insight into the American retail market and into African clothing market from both artisans and mass manufacturing. Through this she met her dynamic co-founder Paloma Pineda, who was both a Yale graduate and a Bain consultant, whose skill sets complimented Keren's perfectly.

Together they started 'Ethical Apparel Africa', deciding that if they wanted to make a difference. To guarantee the ethical credentials of the business they realised they had to do it themselves. The goal is to dispel the myth that you can't manufacture ethically and be competitive from a cost and quality point of view.

Ethical Apparel Africa Factory

What you will learn in this interview:

  • Why networking has been a massive part of her journey
  • How the Bain externship programme benefitted the new business
  • How she got started with the business and met her co-founder
  • Her tips on what not to do when you start a business
  • Her biggest challenges in setting up the business and what she loves about it

Keren's Book

'If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat' by John Ortberg

Quote 

The Bible: Isaiah 30:21 "Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying: this is the way, walk it".

Productivity hack

Mac book user and iPhone user. Uses Google Calendar, can see what the team is doing so really efficient when we utilise.

She tries to follow what her father did: split the day into 3 and work 2 out of the 3 slots.

Song that helped point the way 

Oceans, Hillsong

Links

http://www.ethicalapparelafrica.com

I really hope enjoyed the interview with Keren. If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them with us on Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you!

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Thanks again to Keren for taking the time to be interviewed.