Tales of a Travelling Bow Tie Salesman: Taking Zimbowties To The USA (Again)

When we started working on Zimbowties, one of the things we realised early on was that we wanted to create products that we could export to different countries so we didn’t have to depend on how Zimbabwe’s roller-coaster of an economy was performing. The United States has a population of over 300 million people and on my first trip out here to attend the Watson Institute in Boulder it struck me that out of all those people we could surely find a market for our colourful, handmade bow ties and other accessories!

The Suitcase of a Travelling Bow Tie Salesman

The Suitcase of a Travelling Bow Tie Salesman

So towards the end of April, I returned to the States to continue my search to find the best way to market and sell our products out here. But the USA is a humongous country! Where do you even start? Well, I started with the people I’d already met and the Google machine of course.

Connections

Watson connected me to a great network of people who’s advice has helped guide me towards my next best step to take. One contact put me in touch with the team at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, BMoCA and a selection of our traditional and pre-tied bow ties are now available there.

You can now find a selection of Zimbowties at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art

You can now find a selection of Zimbowties at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art

Next, the Watson team helped get me into a pitching contest at TiE Denver. TiE is an international organisation started in Silicon Valley with the aim of connecting entrepreneurs around the world.

TiE-Denver.jpg

At the event, I was selected as the audience favourite winning a one-year membership to their organisation and I’ll hopefully be attending their international summit in Denver next month. I’m excited to see what this leads to.

Another win for Zimbowties!

Another win for Zimbowties!

Another avenue I wanted to explore more of on this trip to the States was to try to connect to more Zimbabweans living in the States and with more Americans who have visited Zimbabwe.

While I was living in Boulder last year I heard of a marimba school there called the Kutandara Center. I’d never got a chance to visit it until one day last June, while I was wandering around Boulder, I randomly heard marimba being played in the street. I tracked down the source and I found some kids from the Center busking in the street as part of their summer camp. I went over to them and got to meet the founders of the Center, Amy and Randy.

The Kutandara Center in Boulder teaches Zimbabwean music and put me onto Zimfest

The Kutandara Center in Boulder teaches Zimbabwean music and put me onto Zimfest

I learnt from them that marimba and Zimbabwean music is pretty popular in parts of America and that every year there’s apparently a Zimbabwean Music Festival, Zimfest as it’s called. As soon as they told me about it I knew that I had to go.

And so last week I flew out to Oregon where the Zimfest was being hosted in a small town, Monmouth which is south of Portland. The festival was spread over four days and featured Zimbabwean musicians who travel there from all around the world to perform and to run workshops where they share Zimbabwean music and culture with the attendees who are mostly Americans.

zimfest 2019.jpg

It was a wonderful celebration and sharing of so much of the goodness that both Zimbabwe and the USA has to offer. The Zimbabwean musicians share the different music and cultures in Zimbabwe and the attendees learn from and spread these lessons in their own societies but also help keep the Zimbabwean music scene alive through their support of these artists, helping them travel through America, hosting them and financially assisting them and their music projects in Zimbabwe.

I was able to set up a stall at the festival and it was really special to be able to share the Zimbowties story with everyone there.

The Zimbowties stall at Zimfest 2019 📷 Chris Donahue

The Zimbowties stall at Zimfest 2019 📷 Chris Donahue

I got to meet so many new people who are from or connected to Zimbabwe. Hopefully, we’ll find ways to collaborate with some of them to promote our products and to develop our scholarship program.

Googling Around

Many people that I have met in my travels have also given me advice on places to try to find stores to sell our products in. So when I got to visit Portland and the Bay Area (which included San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley) I had a rough idea of the places I should go looking for stores. Then with the help of Google maps I’ve literally been hitting the streets to find them.

The light orange areas on Google Maps are my guide for finding stores

The light orange areas on Google Maps are my guide for finding stores

If you look at Google Maps the light orange areas indicate commercial areas and so I walked them looking for small indie stores or boutiques that look and feel like a good fit for Zimbowties. My game plan was then to walk into the stores and talk to whoever was working there about the store, what kind of products they try to sell, who their customers are et cetera. After that, if the person asked who I was I’d slip Zimbowties into the conversation and see what kind of interest they had in our products.

Walking the streets in search of stores for Zimbowties

Walking the streets in search of stores for Zimbowties

So far this game plan has gone pretty well and I’ve had some awesome conversations with really interesting people. However, I’m yet to have gotten our products into any shops like this yet so I’ll keep you updated on that!

Last Days in the USA

While the US feels like a giant pond and I sometimes feel like a very small fish, lost in it, I think the trip out here has gone pretty well so far. More and more people hear about the work we are doing and we slowly grow every month. I’ve got a short time left before I return to Africa and I look forward to sharing what happens before then.