$1,000 to $6,000 per month. “This work has enabled the women to start saving money in the bank, whereas before they didn’t even think that they had a right to enter a bank,” says Elizabeth Bansah, trainer and former BaBa Blankets production manager. “Now they have a plan and a purpose for their money and they have a way to work toward it. I know that they will go on learning and continue to prosper.”
Sabina Zunguze, 47, shares Brown’s commitment to and passion for uplifting and empowering indigenous African women through business. Her life-changing moment occurred in 1997 during a trip from Akron, Ohio, to Harare, Zimbabwe, to visit her family. While shopping at a local market in South Africa, she happened upon a group of women selling jewelry and other handicrafts. She was impressed by the exquisite intricacy and unique beauty of their designs and their superb artisanship. Zunguze knew the women’s work would be well received in the United States, so she bought $5,000 worth of jewelry for resale, which included about 300 sets of necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. “The merchants were thrilled,” Zunguze says. “The jewelry I bought sold within a few weeks of returning home for more than $11,000. I knew I was on to something.”
She returned to Harare, using the profits from her sales to buy more jewelry to sell. During her second purchasing trip, she included a stop in a Kikuyu village in the Ngong Hills region of Kenya to expand her product line. There, she established a purchasing-and-shipment arrangement with the women. During her next trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa, she began to see t
he positive impact her large purchases were having on the lives of the artisans, many of whom, she says, were previously swindled by other exporters. She became determined to increase her support of them in a way that was financially feasible for her and would also help prevent their future exploitation.
Zunguze’s husband encouraged her to open her own store, and though she was already working full time while managing a home and four children, Zunguze resolved to do just that. “If you want something done, give it to a busy person,” Zunguze jokes. In 2002, she began attending workshops at the local women’s business center in Salt Lake City for marketing, management, and QuickBooks. She also got coaching from the Small Business Administration and joined professional organizations.
In 2003, she launched Beautiful Options USA L.L.C., with an investment of $5,000 to buy wholesale jewelry, art, and handicrafts directly from women’s production groups in Africa and then sell them from home, at conferences, trade shows, fairs, and on the Internet. By cutting out the middleman, Zunguze is able to pay the women a fair price for their goods, about $10 for a necklace that costs about $4 to make, for example. That necklace would be sold for $20 each to wholesalers here. “I clearly label all of my products to show the name and location of each