I first came across our primary sandal supplier, Lydia in Kampala, Uganda after weeks of shopkeepers in the city telling me to look for this woman. “Not the skinny Lydia, she’s a big woman, the Kenyan. You’ll know her when you see her”. So after hours of searching, three motorcycle taxis taking me to the wrong part of the city, and several minutes of me cursing my inability to speak Lugandan fluently, I finally found her.
I can only imagine the sight I presented upon arrival – a disheveled, sweaty college student, trying desperately to explain to her how much I loved her shoes, wanting to learn more, to understand why she was in Uganda etc. And yet we clicked right away. My Swahili and Lugandan might not have been up to muster and her English wasn’t perfect, but we made it work. Beautiful shoes are universal. We sat on tiny wooden stools in one of her pop up craft shops speaking for close to two hours. I explained my idea about importing her shoes to the United States and creating a social enterprise, she told me about Malindi, her background as a successful woman entrepreneur, the artisans she works with and the intricacies of sandal making.
And so the business relationship and friendship started, in a slightly unorthodox, possibly stalkerish way. I like to think us meeting was meant to be because the next day I flew back to the United States and she began traveling back to Kenya. As with all start-ups, there are hard days. But when I think back on that first interaction with Lydia, I find motivation in our grassroots foundation and the friendship that has made this whole business possible.