28 Aug 2011

My Passport to Style | Meets Nadia The Founder Of Luxury Label Danaqa

Nadia at Danaqa-Kensington & Chelsea Chronicle

Q1Sharon-Hi Amanda, what inspired you to set up Danaqa?

A-Nadia- Well it was an interesting combination of things. Firstly my husband David and I both work in the field of international development-him in development finance and me in agricultural research and development. This has meant two major things in our lives- one that we have had the privilege of living and working in wonderful developing countries around the world, and secondly that we have had direct exposure to development issues and opportunities in those countries.

 As a result I always came back from these trips with lots of unusual and beautiful jewellery, textiles, wooden items, things for the home and things for me and for gifts. Our Christmas presents for family and friends were always very different and unexpected.

The culmination of the idea behind Danaqa was the planning of our wedding.. We found lovely colourful hand loomed shirts for the men and raw silk material for the bridesmaids in Sri Lanka. Little give away baskets in Ethiopia.

And from this the precursor to Danaqa was born—what we coined as our theme- ‘Development Chic’!

We figured from all of this that there was a gap in the market in Europe for high end beautiful goods from these countries, especially countries underrepresented, under exposed, or with negative reputations in Europe.


Q2Sharon- I'm dying to ask why did you decide to choose Danaqa as your company name?

A-Nadia-This is a really great question. At that time we were living in Ethiopia and they have a beautiful world which gets used to describe things, people, concepts, thoughts, moods or anything as being beautiful, pretty, lovely, etc—and that is ‘konjo’. We initially wanted to use this term—but again it was not suitable for a number of reasons.

 A shortlist of words were then shared with people interested and involved in the setting up of the business and a pole was taken.

Emerging from whole process was ‘Danaqa’. As a derivative of the Amharic (Ethiopian language) word ‘dinknesh’ which was the name given to Lucy- the prehistoric skeleton found in Ethiopia to denote their wonder and surprise at this amazing find, ‘Danaqa’ also provides the sense of being pleasantly surprised.

A beautiful word when written down, this word also encapsulated what we wanted to achieve—for people to find beautiful items for what they are, but to be pleasantly surprised about their origins, context and deeper meanings.

Q3Sharon-. How does the ethical nature of your business benefit the women you commission to produce the pieces you stock from third world countries such as Nepal?

A-Nadia-Firstly, we don’t exactly commission pieces from our suppliers. Danaqa is about recognising and supporting the whole value chain in countries for our products. This means respecting and empowering the beautiful design processes that happen there, not just using suppliers as producers. We search for items which are beautiful and that we think would be attractive in Europe given the current seasons, trends and desires of the market—and often supply our groups with style sheets and magazine clippings to expose them to what people like in Europe at particular times of the year. But essentially we honour their design as well as their production skills.

As for how our ethical business benefits women, we work with small women’s groups to enable them to lead enterprises in our source countries and equip them with the business skills needed to sustain their endeavours.

As an ethical business we also make use of fair trade principles. We pay a fair price, try as much as possible to ensure that the working conditions are good, we pay half or more of the money for the order up front so that suppliers don’t have to take loans out for materials or labour, and we don’t do once off buys—thus giving them some longer term security.

As an ethical business, we also support the whole value chain in countries so as to keep the majority of money in those countries to benefit people. We don’t just import raw materials for production here, instead we buy finished products. We also buy packaging and get services from those countries as well.

Q4Sharon - It's great that you back up your offer with business advice and support for women in third world countries. Have you noticed any changes in consumers attitudes to purchasing ethical fashions and accessories?

A-Nadia-One thing is that we get a lot of repeat customers. People come in and are interested and come back again and again to look some more, hear more about the products and then eventually buy. People are becoming more aware of their own consumption patterns both due to internal financial issues such as the rescission in the UK but also because of awareness off what is happening around the world. We do see some sceptics who see the products and then see the prices and feel that they are too high. But many once they hear about how items are handmade over weeks of skilled labour, using high end materials such as silk, leather, and silver then have a better grasp of the value.

Another thing that strikes many of our customers is the uniqueness of the items they can purchase this way. Rather than multiple, exactly the same items that can be made from large factories, our items are made by small groups so are in small numbers and often are never the same either. We can see this starting to appeal to consumers more and more.

Kitenge cloth bag in lips and lipstick print made in Rwanda

Q5Sharon-.What’s been your greatest challenge since setting up?

A-Nadia-Well as a small start-up there are many challenges and the nature of our business brings many challenges too.

While a challenge, it is also exciting, but working with a wide range of small suppliers in 5 different, developing countries does bring a fair share of issues to deal with. Scale, quality, consistency and chic design are key things we have to always watch for and work closely with our suppliers to achieve. While beautiful, it is hard to sell, especially online, 20 necklaces all with completely different colours and designs, for example.

Dealing with shipping, customs and delivery on both sides can present challenges too.

In the UK, setting up a business is something that has been supported by the government in words, but in practice it is quite a complicated process. Meandering through all the rules, regulations, not to mention taxes and costs—could easily put off people, especially when you are a small, different business such as ours.

Then finally—trying to push this niche market and our concept through marketing when we operate on such a small scale right now can be challenging. How to compete with the big high street shops and department stores in terms of visibility is something we are trying to be creative about, but we still need for the public to know about us.

Q6Sharon- What’s your philosophy on business?

A-Nadia-I am quite new to business myself so have been learning a lot along the way.

For me business needs to make sense. You need to have a good concept, approach and model to keep guiding you, as there are many forks and speedbumps in the road. My husband and I spent a long time developing a business plan and strategy and checking it with others—to make sure we had something good to guide us along the way.

Key to being an ethical retail business is remembering that as nice as products and the stories behind them are—this does not make them sell. They need to match the market demand, they need to be priced right and they need to be marketed. We cannot achieve our good aims if things do not sell—so we need to make sure we are acting like a business.

But businesses need to be adaptable and flexible and be able to change and match what is happening around them—can’t just be stuck in your ways.

Q7Sharon- Great advice! What makes you smile?

A-Nadia-In general—people make me smile. I am a people person and get my energy from people. When people are happy, satisfied, fulfilled and enjoying themselves—it makes me smile too.

Q8Sharon- Got to ask, do you have a favourite accessory in this seasons collection, you know mines the goats skin bag and the Nepalese urn!

Ostrich Eggshell necklace made in Botswana

Wow—so hard to choose a favourite as I Love EVERYTHING we have. But if pushed I would say:

• The bright coloured ‘kitenge’ cloth covered leather day to night bags from Rwanda. They are so fun and individual (and make me smile too), plus can be worn in so many different ways for the day and night—a key for me as I am often out for the whole day and night, especially on weekends.

• The ostrich eggshell necklaces and earrings made in Botswana. These are so different. They are large and chunky but still light to wear. They are an amazing natural material, made with skill and precision over weeks of cutting out the little beads from the eggs…and are stunning to wear!

• And for the home… I would say I love our collection of cushion covers from Ethiopia. Made from a silk and cotton mix—they are so soft and perfect for cuddling up with in the evenings—but look beautiful and natural.

 Q9Sharon- What gives you the most satisfaction and what’s been your proudest moment?

A-Nadia-I guess one of the proudest moments was the day we opened the doors to our shop with beautiful ethical stock and our beautiful sign outside. It made our whole dream become a reality.

My satisfaction comes from two things:

Firstly- when someone comes in and falls in love with a product and buys it and looks so happy.

Secondly-when we relay feedback to our suppliers about the business, how products are selling and what people are saying about them. To see or hear their sense of pride of being recognised as skilled craftsmen and business people in their own right gives me such a warm glow.

Q10Sharon- If you could give one piece of advice to women hoping to start up a ethical business what would it be?

A-Nadia-Make sure you believe in what you are doing. For me, I believe in the beauty, quality and chic aspect of our range and in our business model we have designed. When we have days with bad sales or someone coming in and saying something negative about our shop—I always go back into my heart and remember why I am doing this, who I am doing this for and what I can achieve and it keeps me going. You need that belief, that passion, that rock—because it isn’t always easy.

Q11Sharon- Brilliant advice! What do you think is our biggest strength as women?

A-Nadia-Well I believe as a woman my strengths, many shared with other women, are the strong connection between the emotional and rational side. While I can develop a business and do all the necessary practical things—I always bring my passion, my belief and my emotions into as well. Some may say it is our downfall, but I believe it is what makes us more resilient, creative and outstanding.

This emotional side is also very key in ethical business. It gives us the heart to always remember the ethical side—when the business side demands so much attention and can often be overpowering. The emotional side comes in strongly in choosing products, working with the suppliers and telling the stories too.

I guess to be a bit stereotypical, I do also believe that women are great multi-taskers—and in this type of business it sure is necessary.

Q12Sharon- Where would you like the company to be in five years time?

A-Nadia-I would like Danaqa World Chic to be a recognised brand within the ethical fashion world as well as just the fashion world too. I would like to see the company as a frontrunner in ethical fashion, bringing new ideas and innovation as to how we can combine commercial fashion with achieving good contributions to the world around us.

I hope to see us with an expanded network of shops as well as being featured in other larger retail spaces.

I see our company working side by side a successful foundation which uses some of the profits to give back to the countries we source from in even more ways through business training, support to preservation of crafts and skills, and promoting trade.

Hope you gals, have enjoyed finding out more about luxury ethical label Danaqa, you can kind find their shop in Notting Hill London or online here at Danaqa.com   

Adaptable Kitenge cloth bags made in Rwanda

goats skin Kitenge bag made in Rwanda 


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