When Dreams Turned Into Nightmares
When we first visited Nigeria in 2016, we decided to start production there. Despite it not being a French speaking country, we saw many similarities with Cameroon. We got a sense of home. In 2019, we made the decision that all our Nigerian production would be dedicated to the online store, in order to allow our Cameroon factory to solely focus on our long awaited pop-ups. When lockdowns began and social distancing became necessary to keep our staff safe, we had to drastically reduce our production.
At the time, our kaftans had huge demand but we couldn’t source the materials and produce the numbers we needed. In the end, we refunded customers as we couldn’t guarantee when they would be delivered, if at all. All the processes became impossible to execute properly. Sourcing, shipping, customs clearance; we had perfected these things over the years and now they were worthless.
Doing the right thing
We were frustrated as shipment dates would be confirmed and then continue to change. With little control over this, the only thing we could do is offer mass refunds. We also carried the emotional and financial burden of paying our factory workers their full salary, we knew what it meant for them to have fair salaries, and we did not want to be the reason they were plunged into poverty (especially in a global pandemic!).
We spent years planning our expansion, only for the pandemic to come and make all our plans impossible. We had been saving in order to make our pop-up dreams a reality, and 2020 was meant to be the year all this launched. We had always wanted to bring the Grass-fields experience to real-life. Over the years you guys have been asking for it, and we wanted you to have the experience; complete with catering, live artists and performers. However, in order to execute this well we had to make sure we had enough stock. Producing garments alone, took us over 6 months despite our Cameroon factory working at maximum capacity.
London was calling and we answered
After filming an advert and distributing it, it was clear that the demand was there, so we started to think about how we could make the experience accessible for everyone. We hired a space to be our ‘flagship’ pop-up store in London for 6 months! This cost us a huge amount of money. Plus, we had to sign a contract and pay 80% of the deposit upfront. At the same time, we had booked venues in other UK and European cities, so we had a lot of money tied up in these pop-ups. As our vision started to come together, we were ecstatic, years of planning and saving were finally paying off, or so we thought…
Surviving now, thriving laterCovid then hit and it was made clear that there was no way any of our pop-ups could go ahead at all. With lots of stock sat stranded in Cameroon, and our London partners going into administration and causing us to lose £75,000, we were left deflated.
Through all of this we remain resilient. After all, we are still alive and that which does not kill you only makes you stronger. The past year has been one of rebuilding and adapting, but if it wasn’t for all your constant support we would not have been able to survive it. We have faith that we will be able to give you the full Grass-fields experience you deserve in the not so distant future.