Loren Thomas and Caragh Bennet are Co-Founders of Tribe + Glory, a jewelry line handcrafted by artisans in Uganda, is in the business of saying yes to big dreams. They continue to empower and activate female entrepreneurs to achieve self sustainability through relationship, craftsmanship, and entrepreneurship.
How did you get into the industry?
Both of us decided to take gap years before we went to university and met each other in Uganda while volunteering for the same community development organization. The two of us went on to spend our summers with the same organization where Loren ended up leading the women’s empowerment program that Caragh went on to write her dissertation on. We ended up starting Tribe + Glory as an independent non-profit as a result of our own friendship and shared love of seeing the model develop to activate more and more women under the poverty line into achieving their dreams. We now work in a real intersection of industries. Obviously as a non-profit working for grassroots development in Uganda, we very much work to align ourselves with the theory and practical frontiers of the leading work in the field. Simultaneously, we situate ourselves in the fashion industry as we are passionate about ethically sourced, beautiful products which have a story attached to them that people can believe in. We believe in seeing women chase down big dreams on every side of the globe and love the way beautiful products can connect people in that.
Any emerging industry trends?
We’re passionate about staying aware of the newest critiques of non-profit work. Over the last 20 years, the industry has faced such a huge pivot with the classic ‘aid’ model of development being called out for neo-colonial and dependency impacts. On the feminist side, women have become a real focal point of discussion in the development debate, and again this has been criticized for creating a disproportionate responsibility for women to be an ‘agent of change’. Even microfinance can come with unforeseen complications with vulnerability for rural women in debt, so it’s into this existing minefield of work that we are situating ourselves. Our biggest priority is to think everyday about how can we ensure the agency is being maximized for every single person on our staff team as well as the T+G program members. We’re thinking about how can we open spaces for decision making, power and the ability to negotiate power dynamics for each individual in a cross-cultural setting.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
We love using a market-based approach and think using markets for good is such an exciting way of looking at flows in the world. We often see supply chains and trade as a way that inequalities are exacerbated, so using sales as a means to empower and value individuals is something we are passionate about. Entrepreneurship training comes with natural challenges as not every single T+G business owner is going to succeed, but we hope that we can work together to see every program member equipped to the best possible extent to be successful in their business dreams.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
We were inspired by both what we were reading from a theoretical point of view for women's empowerment as well as from a practice perspective and started seeing the ways existing patterns in rural Ugandan economies could be shifted to maximize economic opportunity. Female entrepreneurship is widespread in Uganda, but many don’t have access to the capital they need to be able to effectively scale their businesses to see growth accumulation. We didn’t want to give grants and had seen the dark side of loans, so instead decided to leverage short term employment as a means of debt free capital accumulation for rural entrepreneurs. What we found was that the time in employment provided much needed opportunities for holistic and leadership development as well as some basic literacy training for those entrepreneurs without any previous education. Alongside the indirect and direct investment into the lives of the T+G program members as entrepreneurs, leaders and business owners, we also have seen the power of bringing women together in communities that will act as support systems and solidarity developers for these communities.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We are currently preparing to set off our first group of T+G entrepreneurs into their full-time businesses. It’s a hugely exciting time to see the model in process and to start seeing the fruits of labor! We’re also ready to launch our second collection, which we are so excited about and can’t wait for everyone to see.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
We know we are a young organization, but we are inspired by the T+G program members themselves to keep dreaming big. They set the bar high when they are actively pursuing dreams that seem impossible, so we aim to mirror them and always shoot for the dream that seems out of reach. Somehow, they’re never as out of reach as we originally thought and we’ve seen things happen that we NEVER thought we’d pull off! We say constantly that “we are in the business of saying yes to big dreams” and we hope that we can stay true to that.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Our first year was an adventure from start to finish. Loren quite literally spent months homeless in Kampala, Uganda while hitchhiking around the country looking for our first T+G base! At the same time Caragh was still finishing her final year at Oxford. We had to try and find time to make some of our biggest decisions while both being on opposite sides of the world! One of the hardest things about the first year was our construction project of building our T+G HQ and office base. However, we wouldn’t change that decision for a second and learnt a heck of a lot along the way.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Our products are all made out of recycled Ankole Cattle Horn and we absolutely love the material. It is a bi-product of the meat industry and usually burnt as waste, so we repurpose the horns and work with them through an intensive craftsmanship process to create the most unique and stunning goods. Each piece is totally individual which we love, and here on ground in the workshop, we are constantly delighted and surprised by just how beautiful some of our products turn out!
How do you motivate others?
(EXAMPLE: Tell us about your most effective techniques or strategies for inspiring and encouraging those that you work with)
We think our words are so important and are big believers in speaking life in our meetings and planning sessions. People who encourage and see the positive side are atmosphere changers and help us keep the vision in mind when difficulties arise.
Career advice to those in your industry?
We’re pretty fresh off the starting gate ourselves and wouldn’t want to pretend we know how to give advice! One thing we’ve learned for ourselves is just how important it is to keep your eyes open to be constantly assessing, analyzing and developing your model and work. Entrepreneurship is a lot of trial and error, and learning how to learn effectively from the mistakes along the way seems to be the key.
What do I do best?
We love that our Co-Founder relationship at Tribe + Glory, the accessory and home goods brand supporting local female artisans in Uganda, has spun out of a genuine friendship. We were dreaming big dreams about life and possibilities before we ever even imagined Tribe + Glory could materialize. Both of us are extremely proud of how we’ve managed to build something together as the best of friends. It’s one of the best things to work alongside someone who you have such fun with. We’re constantly planning or laughing about our next ridiculous plan for T+G that we never would do on our own! We’ve spent days giving people free bumper stickers in traffic in the centre of Kampala, put glitter on our faces to hand out free T+G flash tattoos on Venice Beach in LA, jumped in the car to take T+G products on the road while sleeping on friends couches and sketchy motels in California and sent personalized video messages to famous people with our pet goat on Instagram. We’re willing to try just about anything for T+G and love pushing the boundaries of what we think is possible for us.
What makes me the best version of myself?
We’re big on taking vision casting weekends together. We jump in the landcruiser and drive 13 hours up north to the border of South Sudan and camp in Kidepo Valley National Park, our favourite place to dream. We sleep in the back of our trusty Land Cruiser and fall asleep to the sound of lions roaring across the savannah. These times are completely fundamental to being able to effectively lead together. We get time to be inspired, get perspective, pray and talk, and some of our most tactical strategic decisions flow from these times.
What are my aspirations?
Our big T+G dream is to see 1,000 lives above the poverty line in our first three years of operations. It’s a highly ambitious goal but it’s the reason our organization exists. We know the women who we work with are capable of the most extraordinary, culture-changing impact and we are honoured to work with innovators and change-makers. We want to see the T+G model replicated in other areas of Uganda and other cultures. We think it works and would love to see it in practice.
My Biggest Success?
One of our favourite parts of T+G is seeing the friendships that have been created as part of the work culture. Yes, women have pulled themselves and their families out of poverty and we’ve seen over 150 lives above the poverty line as a result, but there is something really powerful about the community that has been created along the way.
My Most Challenging Moment?
Saying yes to Tribe + Glory also looked like saying yes to living internationally for the foreseeable future. It comes with the highest of highs, but also challenging lows. We love the privilege of meeting people and learning how to make a difference across the world, but it also feels hard to be spread across such distance and sometimes miss the stability and routine of community. We have the odd moments of feeling overwhelmed with logistics when our next trip is taking us from Uganda to LA, but our business clothes we need are in Houston… however we’re learning as we go and love the adventure of international start-up life!
We always say WE CAN DO ANYTHING GOOD. We got this mantra from the “Jessica’s Daily Affirmation” video on YouTube where the young girl shouts about all of the good things in her life and how she can take on her day! We seriously text it to each other before big meetings if we’re not together and say it together before we go into pitches or presentations.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
Our mothers are simultaneously our biggest cheerleaders, inspirations and sources of support. Both of them are so supportive of T+G and stand with us tirelessly in the most incredible ways.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
We are constantly travelling and have had the privilege of visiting some of the most astounding places in the world. We fell in love with NYC a couple of weeks ago and really love San Diego and the landscape of deserted Kidepo. However, we will never tire of the view of the Nile from Jinja, where we have spent some of our favorite home weekends together.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
There are a couple of things which we never travel without. Firstly, our T+G Ankole Cattle Horn Cocktail Tumblers which are lightweight and easily fit into our luggage for our daily sundown “G+T’s” (Gin and tea) which are a part of life for us! The two of us also live in our trademark denim jackets wherever we go. We’ve often discussed which items would be worth turning back for and which we would leave behind if we forgot them on the way to the airport and denim jackets are top of the ‘turn back’ list. We also never go anywhere without a disposable camera- we love the reaction people give when we ask them to take a picture of us with one!
My Current Passions?
We’re currently super excited about having some of our siblings join us for a week in Uganda next month. It’ll be the first time they’ve been out to the Tribe + Glory HQ and we can’t wait for them to meet the team and to show them our life out here!