For Nadia it was Ndara’s boutique, just a few hours before it opened. For me, Charlotte, it was watching the Ndara artisans first learn how to read and write, then watching them stand with the clients and write out invoices, selling products they made in a boutique we built ourselves entirely by hand. We had come a long way for this to happen. As we are nearing our one year anniversary (June 4th), I want to reflect on what this boutique has meant to me and to the Ndara team.
Growing up in the Central African Republic, I was taught that life doesn't wait for you to learn before it throws itself at you. By sheer necessity, we often have to just figure-it-out, learning on the job as we go. While we built the boutique in the middle of the second year of Covid-19 lockdowns, I had to prepare the Ndara artisans for the challenge of running a full time sales venue. I had never taught marketing or retail management before, and especially not to a crew of artisans who could barely write their own names. But, with a new boutique we needed our whole team to know how to run daily sales. I spent a month figuring it out, and then launched an intensive training program for all the artisans.
Together we went through each Ndara product, first learning how to spell and write each one. We practiced pronouncing product names and key words to describe each product. We did role plays to learn how clients would use products and what their invoice should look like. We tested labels and set up different displays. For two months before the boutique opened we met for three hours every afternoon, six days a week.
One of the sweetest moments in this process for me was just hours before the grand opening. We had worked 14-hour days for months and were all very tired. But, we were also very excited and nervous about the opening. All the products had been installed, the last cleaning was done and we were walking through the boutique one last time.
Omega looked around and said, "I did not know anything like this could exist in Bangui."
I overheard Nadia telling Marylyse, "it’s the most beautiful thing I have seen in my life."
These expressions of joy fulfilled one of my greatest yearnings for Ndara: to show the Ndara artisans themselves, as well as the rest of the world, that there is so much joy and resilience to celebrate in the Central African Republic.
The other day in the workshop, we reflected on the 1st birthday (June 4th) of the boutique:
"Ndara is our family and the boutique is our home. It has become the center of everything we do, and it has taught us all so much. I would love to have my own boutique one day, and if I do, the Ndara boutique will have taught me all I need to know to manage it.
I am always fascinated by how a change in the display can change the whole feeling of the boutique, and how a product that is not selling suddenly will sell when we move it around to a new location."
"The boutique opened my eyes to all the systems that need to be in place for sales to happen. You don’t think about it, right? As a customer you go into a boutique, and you just pick up a product and buy it. But behind every product is someone who decided to display it right where you found it, someone who designed and printed the label and put it on, someone who put it in inventory. And before the product was even made, someone had to go get the material to make the product. Behind every little thing, there is so much work. Now, when I want to create something new, I think about the systems that I need to put in place to make it work."
"My favorite part of the boutique is the rug display. I am always fascinated by the rugs we make, how simple fabric can turn into something so beautiful. But that is really the whole concept of Ndara: a couple of women braiding rugs in a garden turned into this boutique five years later. It should be a reminder to us all that as long as we work hard, and as long as we have ndara, our small actions can become life changing."
"This anniversary is important to me, because it is also the anniversary of how Ndara saved my business. The construction and opening of the Ndara boutique meant that for the first time I had my own kitchen from where I could operate my business. From the Ndara kitchen my company has grown and become more resilient. I have also learned a lot from Ndara as a business. Especially how to better organize myself and set up systems, something that Ndara is constantly doing and improving for themselves. What I personally really enjoy about the Ndara boutique is how it brings so many different cultures and people together. It's inspiring!"
For me, the boutique has reinforced that to “figure-it-out” is beautiful, in comparison to perfectionism. The Ndara artisans are beginners in sales, writing and arithmetic. They are selling to clients with extremely different lived experiences. We are all beginners in retail, especially retail in a war torn country. We are all building our skills as we are working together, and making it work together. And now we are celebrating the one year anniversary of our boutique!
You are along for this journey, and we are so grateful for you: our customers, supporters and cheerleaders. We’ll be celebrating all of this on the 4th of June in Bangui at the boutique, and on social media. Details to come in our newsletter and on our instagram!