Meet #MBOKAWOMAN,  Tina Mbachu of Atelier MBOKA

Meet #MBOKAWOMAN, Tina Mbachu of Atelier MBOKA

This journal entry is slightly different from future ones to come. But as we launch the brand, I thought it would be great to share a bit of this journey with you.

Some years back, I conceptualized @Atelier_MBOKA as platform to re-envision product development, combining my love of materials with that of creating impact. I had a clear definition of the types of products I wanted to create, and the type of customer I wanted to target. All I had to do was sample, test, sample, test - and of course, make sure that my manufacturing was up to par. My objective was/and is, to produce and sell to a global customer base. But I wanted to do so in an impactful way. But I never correlated fashion to impact. To me fashion was wasteful, conceited and frivolous with all the seasonal shows. So I packed this passion aside for a while. 

Between 2015-2017 I lived and worked in Eswatini (previously Swaziland) and like my experience in South Africa previously, I saw first hand the level of talent that existed in the informal economy. In South Africa, I saw small holder farmers innovating in ways that the government could not match. In Mozambique, despite the language barriers, I saw artisans carve out products out of unconventional materials, in ways that centred people and planet. I continue to see the level of talent of artisans across the continent, from the North to the South and the East, and remain forever inspired and in awe. 

See, after spending years in International development programming, I was left questioning the sustainability of impact of grant related interventions. Most of my projects related to creating economic opportunities for vulnerable women and youth. These are women and youths with creative talent, with micro businesses. They are developing products that can sit in global retail stores, but unfortunately for them, they do not have the means to advance and grow their business locally, least to mention regionally or globally. 

While in Swaziland, I started realizing first hand, the impact that developing the informal economy can have on the lives of women and youths - beyond statistics. I decided to start working with an artisan to sample some of my initial designs. I have sampled probably over 7 different designs till date. Throughout the sampling process, I focused on one design, a simple clutch purse, made out of wood to fit the palm of your hands. After sampling, I placed an order for 100 pieces, and tried to test market opportunity through a 3 day music and arts festival. I had some great validations from individuals who wanted to be added to the waitlist, and others of course, who said the product wasn’t for them. 


After leaving eSwatini, I find my way back to Canada; though i continued travelling on an in interim basis to continue sampling and refining the product. See, for the longest while I remained a perfectionist. The clutch was incredibly simple in design, which meant it needed to be perfect - or close to it as possoble.

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AND then COVID hit. I couldn’t travel, and all my launch plan and product rollout had to take a back seat. Throughout this period the notion of the future of work hit hard. What is the future of fashion manufacturing? What is the future of work for artisans and individual producers working in the informal economy? How can they stay connected, regardless of location? 

A virtual ‘factory’ platform adjacent a clustered production model came to mind. A platform where orders are dispatched through web functionality to artisans across geographies to their mobile phones. They in turn can produce in their studios, or from the comfort of their home. 

This became the ultimate goal for me - creating an inclusive value chain where goods produced by informal artisans are sold alongside goods produced by vetted, standard manufacturers (with ISO  and other standard in place). But I could not just jump and invest in the creation of this platform. I had to first do some testing to see if there is a customer out there for my products. So I restructured production, found another manufacturer, and now, I am ready to launch the brand. I say this with the outmost excitement!

July 20th, I will be launching the website with a pre-order campaign. I am still very early on this journey but I have learned so much already. 

I am grateful to those who helped me pivot production, to those who have been my accountability partner without even knowing. 

There is more to come.

Stay in touch.

Instagram: @atelier_mboka


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