Updated: Mar 2
How a quick pivot helped us survive the pandemic and offered new opportunities for us and our team in Ghana
By: Lorena Miranda Bendeck, Founder || @lorenamirandabendeck
For those of you who follow my Instagram, you know that in 2020, during my last visit, I got stuck in Accra, Ghana in March when all the borders shut down because of COVID. I found out that my connecting flight to Paris from Morocco was canceled when I arrived at the airport at 1am. After several days bouncing from airport to airport and a lot of money spent on tickets looking for a way home, I finally returned to my home in Miami.
Waiting for a taxi In Accra at 3 am after my canceled flights- March 15, 2020
On that day, after a 15-hour deep sleep in my own bed, I woke up to email after email from our buyers requesting that their orders be canceled because of the shutdowns.
I felt battered.
In that moment, I never, ever imagined that this situation would last so long. I had gone to Ghana to prepare our team at the Victoria Centre to scale, for what was supposed to be a breakthrough year for my small business. Instead, I returned to face what felt like certain death for my business.
Fast forward to February 2022. We survived the COVID-19 pandemic and repositioned our company from a mostly resort brand to cater more to the home décor space. Since travel slowed and folks were staying home, it was a pivot that saved our business during its hardest time ever. And it thrust our company into a swirl of creative opportunities given the immense talents of our team of weavers in Ghana.
We began submitting designs to the team. To be frank, I wasn’t sure they could make them. What we were looking for was very intricate and detailed.
A few weeks later they had the samples ready. I was expecting something far from what we requested and believed that this, too, was going to have to go through the long cycle of product development.
Samples in the making. I received daily updates and worked with each weaver as they created the designs and styles.
I was floored when I saw what they created. Beyond my wildest expectations. I realized that having only baskets and small home goods in our collection was a missed opportunity considering the grand things they can produce with the generations of knowledge in their craft.
While still sorting out the impact of COVID-19 on the business, we moved forward with them to create an entire collection that really encompassed the scope of their abilities. I wanted them to have the freedom to really flex those creative muscles and show the world what they were capable of. Once the samples started arriving, I saw the elegant and magnificent nature of each piece. I knew we were on to something big and unique.
The Atelier Line is just that. An elevated collection of Ghanaian goods that truly showcases the capabilities of our artisans while bringing exquisite taste and high design to any space.
The Sonder and Holliday Atelier Line
As soon as we settled on designs, styles, sizes, and prices, I knew the time had come for me to return to my beloved Bolgatanga. Afterall, it was almost 2 years since my last hectic visit. I was anxious to go back given that COVID was still a reality, but I knew it needed to be done. For them, because they appreciate the visits which both deepens our connections and shows we are invested and for me, because I needed to organize the team and find additional weavers that would be able to make our Atelier Line designs.
I flew from Miami – Barcelona – Paris – Ouagadougou – Accra, then took a 19-hour bus ride form Accra to Bolga because I missed my 50-minute flight to Tamale by 10 mins due to timing confusions (don’t even get me started on how irate I was about that.) I arrived in Bolga exhausted but excited. After a colorful 2-day journey, crammed on planes and busses, I was ready to move and get to work!
The team waited for me at the center. When I arrived, the reception was sweet and warm, it felt like family at Thanksgiving. I spent most of the time there reviewing our agenda which included information about the COVID impact on the business, new products, and price updates. We openly negotiated prices and discussed the logistical issues and inflation hikes we were all feeling across the board.
First Day at the (roofless, more on that later) Victoria Centre
But more importantly, for the first time since I have been traveling to Ghana, I felt tremendous progress. I noticed so many things that were indicative of the positive impact our partnership has had on that community.
There were no children at the center during working hours. They were all in school because the mothers could afford to pay for their school fees. I noticed that there were new weavers. We’ve gained a reputation for paying high wages so now we attract the best talent. I spoke with several of the women’s young sons, all of which told me that since we started working with them, their mothers no longer ask them for money, which now means they can use their own money to prosper in their own way. But one of the biggest things I noticed was that the local shop, a few blocks from the center, had a variety of soap available for sale. That was new. In the past, the weavers had to travel into town to buy goods. Now, because they have more spending dollars, the goods come to them. The economy around them is flourishing thanks to the influx of cash that our orders inject directly into their community.
For the first time, I wasn’t noticing what was missing. My thoughts were occupied by all the progressive change that was around them. It was extremely validating, especially since we have done a lot of things to not waiver on our values as a business, often having to take the harder, more expensive route. Seeing these big changes showed me it was worth it. It also inspired me to keep going.
And I will.