Monday, July 19, 2010

The *African* T-Shirt Company

I remember when I was turning nine and had just moved to Kenya with my family. I was in 4th grade and planned a birthday party in September, my first month in a new school.

It was 2:00 and no one had come. I stood in the driveway with my mum and Beatrice, our ayah/nanny/housekeeper and looked forlornly at the closed black gate. "No one has come yet," I whined softly to my mum.

Beatrice was having none of it.

"Don't worry," she said, wiping her hands on her apron and starting to go back to the house. My mum has baked these cupcakes in ice cream cones that she topped with frosting, and Beatrice wanted to check on them.

I nodded and swallowed hard--I can still exactly remember that feeling. But it didn't last long. By 2:35, two of my friends had been dropped off, my mum making friends with their mums on the veranda. By 4:30, the party was in full swing, and my soon-to-be best friend from Djibouti had arrived with her CD plates.

"See?" Beatrice said later as I was going upstairs to bed. "Africa time."

Twenty years later, and I run a t-shirt company with my partner that employs, when we're busy, almost ten people. We've given them so much business selling shirts online that they got investment to open a shop on Newport Street. Although we have yet to visit, they assure us there is a conspicuous sign: "Graphics Palace International." I recommend their business and they hand-silkscreen all our shirts and bags.

We started silk-screening shirts with them over a year ago, playing around with design ideas we made up (usually at bars) in New York. The first 'Mogadisco' shirt was inked in Sharpie on one of my H&M tank tops I used to wear to teach yoga. Our red ones now are a bit better and since then, thanks to some shout-outs and Facebook, it's grown into a nice little business.

And I can't do it anymore. The time it takes me to fill online orders--in between consulting for CODE, managing the Tides kitchen, and running programs with Robertsport Community Works--has stretched from a reasonable seven to 10 days to...let's just say weeks. If you're reading this and ordered something from us anytime stretching back to April, your order is in the mail. But now when people email me asking how long orders will take, I remind them that it's rainy season and invoke the sacred notion of..."African time."

I'm sorry. I should do better. As a personal practice, the endless patience I have with deprioritizing one of my own start-up businesses is amusing. After all, as I am continually telling myself, it's just t-shirts. No one minds if their beach bag or 'Failed State' arrive a week or two late. What's late anyway, when you use the Liberian Postal Service?

You see what's happened. It's time to pass the business on and delegate. We shouldn't be managing it. We're recruiting for a Project Assistant right now: someone who would source quality shirts, update the website and manage online orders. Email me if you know someone. And if you're interested in bulk orders and helping to market the business outside Liberia, I promise African time is a thing of the past.

Also, we hope to have a *very* cool shirt online soon...

1 comment:

  1. Oh, no. That was a traumatic bithday party. Was I there? You and Nate are superstars!


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