Andariya was recently invited to speak at the Womenomics event hosted by the Sudan Startup Hub. The event was bustling with women in the business field and others interested in learning more about this environment and entrepreneurship concept; which suddenly became the buzz word for hip business ventures.
We were lucky to meet one of the leading local independent handicraft enterprises and interview its founder, Maisson Matar.
Like many fresh graduates, Maisson graduated from the University of Khartoum’s faculty of science (Physics and Mathematics) and worked for a couple of years (at the university) then paused work to get married and have children. She was awarded a scholarship from the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences to complete postgraduate studies in South Africa. Still heavily invested in her field, she then joined the University of Cape Town and completed an MSc in Nuclear Physics in 2010.
Armed with advanced science degrees, she returned to Sudan and received her biggest disappointment when she was unable to land her dream job. Maisson opted for teaching in a school until she figured things out. About that time in her life, she commented “it was an equation for me to solve as a math teacher; work pressure, stress, long hours and no time to socialize or spend with family. The solution was to stop babysitting other people companies and have my own child.”
Succumbing to the stress and seeking inspiration, she quit her job in 2012 and immediately began exploring potential avenues to utilize her skills and knowledge, capture Sudanese heritage and design and have strong local market positioning. Maisson remembers that time fondly “I wanted to make things that could proudly be labeled with the tag Made in Sudan”.
Maisson began spending long hours searching the internet for artisan companies with products with a conscious background; utilizing local, easily affordable, available and environmentally friendly materials. She looked at neighboring countries for inspiration and heritage designs that reflects local identities – blending ancient with modern styles.
Inspired, Maisson began surveying the local market to find a plethora of options that reflect the current status of the country’s economy. She reflected “nowadays gold prices are unaffordable to many, so the market is dominated by the cheaper Chinese variety. The competition is unfair between local and imported products, yet you still find Sudanese jewelry makers striving to survive in this industry, but they’re using imported stones and crystals to keep the prices low”. Finding the market overloaded with foreign imports from around the world and rarely any mass produced Sudanese jewelry, Maisson decided to take on a design project “out of jealousy for my country and my people”.
Strategy and Formation
Fandora was born; an enterprise that utilizes local and recycled materials to create beautiful jewelry and accessories and focuses on environmental education by organizing recycling workshops at schools, cultural centers and prisons. Fandora also collaborates with local NGOs in organizing environmental awareness campaigns, women empowerment and prisoners reintegration programs. On the meaning of the brand name, Maisson states “we created the name out of two Arabic words “Fan= Art” and “dor= role”. Fandora is “the role of Art in the community”; we believe art plays a major role in change and development in any community.”
Maisson soon found her co-founders Mehera Magdi and Khansa Taha, who were captured by her idea and sought an option that wasn’t the regular 9-5 desk job. The trio used a rooftop room in Maisson’s family home as their workshop and in February 2013 the brand made its debut in the popular street fair Mafroush.
The three also set together to strategize for the budding company; putting women’s issues at the forefront, they sought solutions through their work. Dedicated to work with vulnerable women groups, they set about to position Fandora as a poverty fighting enterprise. First they researched and practiced solid waste recycling (paper, glass, plastic and metal) and its use in handicrafts. Then they began fostering partnerships to share this knowledge as an income generating tool for women. They partnered with the Free Art Center and trained women (ages 20-50) on recycled paper handicrafts.
Finding their way to women prisoners through a partnership with environmental organizations and UNV, Fandora began trainings to reintegrate women at the AlJireef reformatory, by focusing on building and expanding their skill-sets.
Fandora and its founders applied to the first round of the Mashrouy entrepreneurship competition in 2013 and got in, quickly rising in the ranks to secure a place among the 5 semifinals. Getting chosen out of 2000 applicants was a tremendous morale boost for the team. They persevered to get as much guidance on their business and marketing plans from the plethora of experts they mingled with during the competition. After a few months on the show “people knew about Fandora and showed a lot of support; it was like a free advertisement for the idea”.
Maisson found herself spearheading the company alone after her partners left to pursue graduate studies, but equipped with confidence, solid plans, experience and a growing network of business peers, she set forth with concrete expansion steps. First off, it was time to hire extra hands to grow the line; Fandora contracted 17 part timers for the design and manufacture processes.
Fandora’s marketing expanded to include online and offline advertising and promotion. The company held monthly bazaars in Sudan Café in Bahri and relied on friends and family to draw more customers and build a fan base. Knowing that Sudanese love their music, Maisson always made sure there was a band or musician present to entertain the customers and add flavor to the evenings. Fandora also caters to customers who buy directly from its gallery and online store- which displays merchandise on various social media
platforms. The enterprise launches a new collection every three months.
Currently, the company is working on various capacity building and entrepreneurship projects with UNDP, local NGOs and women associations; to reintegrate women prisoners, former prisoners and victims of gender based violence. Fandora is looking into expanding their production line to hire more women and girls in the process, but remains ambivalent about microloans, thus the road will be long and hurdled but the founder is not in a hurry – dream big, but start small is the motto.
Building a business in Sudan is not easy, especially for niche non-mass produced products such as recycled waste jewelry. Fandora may be tiptoeing into the business world one small step at a time, but recognition came in good doses – Maisson was recently assigned the title of Entrepreneur Ambassador for the WED 2015 global event. She received the news via e-mail, and is still unsure about the selection process, but believes the team’s hard work in the last two years didn’t go unnoticed locally or, finally, internationally. Maisson happily accepted the title so Fandora can have the license for the international event that will be held in Sudan and because the volunteer opportunity matches her interests in furthering women’s economical development and advancement.
With the word entrepreneurship floating around excessively around the globe, we wondered how Maisson defined it: she offered “it’s one way to escape from our unfortunate conditions; war, economic problems, unemployment etc. It’s the dream of the new generation, instead of waiting for the perfect job.” Although many may be skeptical about the term, buzz and actual impact, Maisson is a firm believer that it brings good to Sudan especially for women who can create their economic fortune through non-traditional avenues and secure their livelihoods, and those of their families and communities in turn.
To learn more and purchase Fandora’s design check out their Facebook page .