I met a young women from Michigan who followed exactly these roads. I found her story very interesting and touching. If this wasn’t reason enough to ask her for an interview, Internet use is a necessity in her project, to communicate and seek out future sales channels.
During her university study 3 years ago she had the opportunity to take part in a global perspectives and service exchange program in Nicaragua. During her stay there she visited a garbage dump where thousands of people were living. Unable to do much at the time, she went home thinking about how after graduation she could serve people living in similar places in South America. She contacted a school in the capital of Paraguay, Asuncion that educated children living in the dump. Tarah spent 4 months there teaching English to first graders, and through this she was able to meet the women in the children’s lives, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers.
These women, living in the city’s refuse, lacked basic education, career opportunities, and basic skills that could increase their quality of life. They all had a common connection to each other... they were dreaming about their own business in Paraguay and better lives for their families and themselves one day.
In addition the women created some hand-made local products and really had fun doing this. After a short while Tarah started to pay these woman a bit of money and they used this money to buy 5 sewing machines.
Out of these first steps, the idea came about to try selling these products in the US and possibly the UK so that the women could earn additional income that they could save and invest into their own business dreams. In Paraguay, the local people do not have the money to buy their products; there is not a speciality item niche in the country. It is crucial for small start up micro-businesses such as this to define their target group overseas as precise as possible and get a feeling of what the expectations are.
As you can imagine the whole charity market around the world is huge and growing already. Define your target group – as precise as possible. Otherwise it might get difficult to create articles which fit in their expectations.Based on our conversation, it is mainly women in the age between 20-40 in US and UK who are interested in social justice and fair trade products in general.
Problems for Tarah are:
Women in Paraguay have a different idea of what is beautiful, or “marketable”. To them everything is beautiful, but this does not help when you are appealing to western tastes. The first baby products would have never reached the expectations of Tarah's target group in the US and UK.
There are a couple of different targets within this project from different groups. So far Tarah can provide 10 working spaces with the sewing machines in Paraguay.The woman in Paraguay are working to be part of the Fair Lady team, and are using this income to one day pursue their own dream in setting up their own business one day. Therefore, they appreciate the chance to get a good education in different fields as well. On the other hand, Tarah's goal is to set up a running business in western countries (not solely a charity project ) with these women while using different sales channels.
The competitor situation is broad around the world and even in Paraguay as well.
Tarah works already together with a large women’s organisation called Women at Risk International, to use their network and their established selling channels to offer the products in the US through 2 boutique stores, home parties and their online channel. This way is working well but is not the ultimate solution she is aiming for. Dependencies in one direction are far to high and the possibility to establish her own brand gets far more difficult.
A website is planned to be one of her main sales channels in the future. The questions which have to be answered are more or less the whole conception of the site.
Should it more focus on the emotional side with a big explanation of the background of the women and their living conditions? How important is information around the cotton manufacturer that Tarah hopes to form a partnership with? This company was contracted by Tarah and acts locally in Paraguay, creating more than 1000 jobs in this area. Focus on this aspect appeals to those seeking “green” products.
The main target of the website is the whole e-commerce process as well. But in my personal opinion, the emotional side should get quite a lot of space. Products themselves are replaceable. A fitting logo, slogan, and personal stories are irreplaceable and their creation is a task worthy of thought and time.
So far, no website is existing so there is not much to analyze about the Internet spread itself. While setting up her own website Tarah should define fitting keywords for her products. Collection is important for future SEO optimization and possibly SEM campaigns which might follow.
In the end, sales will be offered by different channels – online should be one of the main ones due to the minimal and fixed business costs. The whole definition around an e-commerce channel is not a simple task. Who sends the products to the customers? Who takes care of complaints, returns... ? What kind of payment options will be offered?
Future trends / target
Tarah’s situation at the moment is in the early stages of a project. The idea is fixed, the team setup is more or less fixed, the production process is well known and the capacity can be planned. The target for this year is to set up a working website where all necessary information is offered, including brand recognition with a logo and slogan.
In parallel, she will sell these products “offline” in 10 different stores in the US by the end of 2011.
The main revenue out of this project should come out of the online channel once the website is established.
What do you think? Due to your own experiences – is there something you might recommend Tarah? Or are you interested in further information? Here is the place to write about or get in contact with me directly.
Further pictures are here to find.