“The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our worthiness, even our wholeheartedness, actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls.” — Brené Brown
What a journey the first few days of this trip have been?! I arrived last Friday evening along with the two Zazzle brothers, Jeff and Bobby Beaver. The rest of the team, Meighan, Pete and Elsa arrived the following morning. We were supposed to utilize Saturday as a rest day, but when we found out that there was a fashion show happening in Nairobi, that day of rest immediately transitioned into an exploration day.
The fashion show was an absolute blast and incredible learning experience for our team, most who have never been to Africa. It was enlightening for us to see how much Kenya’s development is growing by leaps and bounds beyond what your average Westerner thinks of the stereotypical African. Africa is on the rise and this is evident across numerous platforms like technology, infrastructure, the entertainment industry and also in fashion.
The fashion show highlighted this innovation and was invigorating mingling with designers and influencers across the city in one location in an evening that went the distance. When I say “the distance” I’m referring to the culture of this UBUNTU x Zazzle partnership. What I’ve known about UBUNTU and what I’m discovering more and more about Zazzle is that we are continually reinforcing one another to push the boundaries, to risk and to have a blast as we venture into creating something that matters. Saturday night was no different as we partied through the night at some of our favorite spots in the city, Brew Bistro and Tribe Hotel.
Our late night was followed by an early rise and international flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A little beat up from the night before, yet fueled with excitement for the adventure ahead we set out into Addis. What we discovered there was nothing short of overwhelming. A rising city with a culture and people all it’s own. The food of course was insanely delicious and we even managed to get into some crazy local moonshine called Tej, made from fermented honey and water…I’m a HUGE fan of all things honey!
The goal of the trip to Ethiopia beyond food and drink was looking into the shoe making process and equipped with the question, “Can we find a sustainably made ethically sourced shoe to launch the UBUNTU x Zazzle collection?” What we discovered was a flurry of innovation and creativity at mass scale that I have yet to see anywhere else in Africa. From the origins of the shoe making process to the ancient leather tanning traditions it was a quick fast paced school session on shoes. I think the silver lining of the trip was meeting this German expat named Ooly who has lived in Addis for the past ten years and is committed to sourcing an ethical sustainable shoe from start to finish. The entire team was enamored by this mans passion.
What I’m realizing more and more through this process is one, to trust the process and two, to stay courageous and committed as Brené Brown highlights in her quote above to the whole story…even the difficult portions of the story. There were definitely aspects of the shoe making process that are far from ethical or sustainable. The conditions for example could use more ventilation for their employees, the materials like the glue used to attach soles to shoe are definitely not ideal, however, that should not eclipse the fact that these factories are creating jobs which are feeding families and providing the community of Addis with citizens able to grow the future. At the same time this shouldn’t eliminate the desire to improve and innovate from what currently exists.
It’s the grey space, the healthy tension…how do we live in these in between spaces in our personal lives and in our businesses so that we can improve, challenge and grow? These are some of the questions we are pondering as a team and we’re eager to share the rest of the adventure as it unfolds.