I am the founder of Fairsole, an ethical fashion startup in Uganda. Fairsole creates high quality leather fashion accessories and imporving lives in Uganda through fair trade and social impact projects. Ask me anything.

Luke Mathiesen
Oct 22, 2017

Fairsole is an ethical fashino startup in Kampala, Uganda. We target disadvantaged youths for employment train them up and pay a fair wage. We alo donate 10% of our profits to our social impact projects which focus on keeping young girls from poor familes in school.

At Fairsole we source high quality leather and input materials from around East Africa and hand craft authentic, stylish and robust leather products including handbags, sandals and purses. We also make strong leather school shoes for sale/donation in Uganda.

I started the comapny from scratch. I am from the UK and moved to Uganda to set it up in June 2016. I'm happy to answer any questions you have on starting a business, about Fairsole and how we operate and how we wish to grow moving forward. We have just launched a kickstarter campaign and I am happy to share details about its progress and also receive any tips or advise on how to improve our chances of meeting our funding target. 

To check out our Kickstarter campaing please follow:https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/464906010/fairsole-fair-trade-fashion-youth-empowerment-in-u 

For more information follow link to our official website, Facebook or Instagram pages:





Luke Mathiesen says:

This AMA will end Nov 17, 2017 12PM EST

Luke Mathiesen says:

This AMA will end Nov 17, 2017 4PM EST


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Conversation (39)

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Where do you see yourself after 5 years

Nov 6, 4:31AM EST0

When did you start your career in fashion?

Nov 1, 3:44PM EDT0

As a social entrepreneurship business, do you still ghet thereturn of your investments monetary-wise? 

Oct 29, 11:52AM EDT0

What 3 books would you recommend that every business owner should read?

Oct 21, 12:49PM EDT0

What would you do differently in hindsight?

Oct 21, 12:39PM EDT0

What do you look for in a business partner?

Oct 21, 6:55AM EDT0


In a nutshell, when choosing a business partner I look for the following, in no particular order:

  • Skill set 
  • Honesty
  • integrity
  • Work ethic
  • Congeniality
Last edited @ Oct 21, 12:17PM EDT.
Oct 21, 12:16PM EDT0

What was your business’ original mission? How has that mission evolved in the time since?

Oct 21, 6:31AM EDT0

Our businesses mission has remained constant since inception.

Our business mission is to create high quality products affordably for our customers, employ and empower disadvantaged youth through fair pay and training, develop the African manufacturing industry and be an agent for sustainable social and economic empowerment through our social impact projects. 

I hope this mission contiunues unwaiveringly with time to come. 

Oct 21, 12:13PM EDT0

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as a business owner?

Oct 20, 3:02PM EDT0

Hi Mansoor. I'm still pretty new to business so I am sure there will be plently more lessons along the way for me to learn. 

Starting out, I did not think it was going to be as hard as it has been so far. It's a common error to make a plan based on foresight without due consideration of what happened with other peoples' businesses in similar situations which have been set up in the past. With the plan I had put in place, I belived that I was going to work very hard for quite a short period of time and be successful. If I had weighted the importance of case studies and statistics available more appropriately I would have realised that it takes an awful lot longer and requires a great deal more effort than I first thought to get a business up and running. 

There have been many mistakes along the way that I've made, some avoidable and some not. I've learned to take more calculated risks and seek advise where possible before making decisions. 

Last edited @ Oct 21, 12:19PM EDT.
Oct 21, 12:07PM EDT0

How do I find out the laws in relation to taxes for my area?

Oct 20, 2:27PM EDT0


Which country do you want to operate in? This information should almost always be available online. I would suggest first googling the tax laws you want to look up in your area. This should either provide you with the information you need, or the contact telephone or email of a civil servant who can provide that information for you.

Last edited @ Oct 21, 11:55AM EDT.
Oct 21, 11:54AM EDT0

What is an elevator pitch & how can I make one?

Oct 20, 1:13PM EDT0

Hi George. Thanks for your question. 

The term "elevator pitch" referes to a short and succinct sales pitch. It's called an elevator pitch because if you were to get onto an elevator with someone you wanted to pitch to, you would have only 20-30 seconds to complete your communication. In an elevator pitch you should be able to sell whatever it is you want to sell, for example an idea, your business or yourself, effectively in under 30 seconds. An elevator pitch is an icebreaker which should provide your audience with enough information to understand the core principle of what you're selling but should leave them super interested to find out more. 

When preparing an elevator pitch one should keep in mind the following:

  • Ensure your speach is succinct and coherent and covers the all key points.
  • Use engaging and persuasive communication. Make it sound natural and not scripted.
  • Know your audience, tailor your communication accordingly and make it easy for them to ask questions or join in. Be flexible.
  • Leave your audience wanting to learn more.
  • Follow up your pitch with a business card or way to get in contact with you if appropriate. 
  • Practice speaking it before hand (with other people if possible)

There is loads of literature online about elevator pitches and how to create them. This is one informative link:https://www.thebalance.com/elevator-speech-examples-and-writing-tips-2061976

Last edited @ Oct 21, 11:52AM EDT.
Oct 21, 11:50AM EDT0

Did you have major competitors when you started, how did you plan to compete with them, and how did that plan play out?

Oct 20, 10:01AM EDT0

Hi there Flora. We began by producing and selling shoes only in Kampala, Uganda. There were and are numerous competitors in this space. One of the main reasons we believed this business was to be successful though, was because we had spotted a gap in the market. Essentially we were to be the first to create durable shoes made from genuie leather and rubber outsoles which were affordable to the burgeoning lower-middle class of urban Uganda. We had also gathered primary data on the shape of peoples feet in Uganda and had our lasts (shoe making casts) designed on these measuremtns. No one had done this before.

Because of our high quality products and relatively affordable price and due to the fact that we already had a strong network of shoe traders and artisans, it didn't take long for sales to start taking off. 

We have faced severe resistance from the mass lower income market because our shoes are labelled as "made in Uganda". Peculiarly, it is widely belived by Ugandans that products made in Uganda are of inferior quality. It has been difficult to try and dispel this myth and raise awareness of our high quality. 

We still face stiff competition from cheap imports from China and Turkey as well as the second hand shoe imports from Europe and the US. However, our brand is becoming more and more well known and we are slowly building up a loyal customer base. 

We have just started trying to market, promote and sell our products (different to those sold in Uganda) in the UK. We are attempting to launch this through our kickstarter campaign linked in the project description above. So far I have realised that the market is extremely competitive in the UK and it will take determinaton and the support of others who belive in our cause to get us off the ground. 

Last edited @ Oct 21, 11:27AM EDT.
Oct 21, 11:25AM EDT0

What do you do to recharge when you’re feeling drained?

Oct 20, 9:56AM EDT0

Are there any good business resources you can recommend for beginners online?

Oct 20, 8:13AM EDT0

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

Oct 20, 4:21AM EDT0

Hi there Toukir. Thanks for getting in touch.There were lots of big initial hurdles in starting Fairsole. Some hurdles were specific to this business and some are common to many startups. I could probably write a very lengthy essay on all the hurdles we faced and how we over came them, however, I will ellaborate on some of the biggest ones in chronological order.

Firstly, coming into a country like Uganda as a foreigner to do business is very challenging. Unfortunately, a pervading cultural mindset exists in which scamming and cheating foreigners like myself is commonplace. Therefore, finding local people to work with, partner with and trust (which is essential as an outsider with no prior connections in the country) was very difficult. The way I overcame this was a combination of patience, interpersonal skills, being a good judge of character and also a lot of luck! Many "opportunities" presented themselves at the beggining which if I would have taken, would have resulted in my startup capital being stolen. I was very fortunate to find my current business partner in Uganda, and we continue to work effectively together to this day.

 After seeing a gap in the market, one of the next big challenges was ensuring that we could actually produce a product to fill that gap. There is very little data available on consumer behaviour and the economy in Uganda in comparison to lots of other countires. There is also very limited access to varied and quality input materials needed for the production of shoes and leather goods. We took a long time doing our own market surveys, talking to lots of artisans and gathering data on foot measurements and style preferences in Kampala. Based on this data we were able to design, on paper, various shoe types which we were confident would sell in Kampala.

The next challenge was actually fidning the quality input materials we needed. It took a lot of patience and tenacity to actually build relationships with suppliers, clearing agents, transporters and people working at customs to get the materials we needed smoothly. I began importing most of our material from Asia (India and China). Although this process turned out not to be cost effective long term, is allowed us to learn how to navigate the complex bearacracy of importing and exporting in Uganda and build the relationships we would need moving forward. Eventually, through discovering the existence of another similar company and exchanging information with them, we were able to find fantastic suppliers of almost everything we needed just over the border in Kenya. Lateral thinking, patience and again a bit of luck were vital in us getting to where we are now regaridng suppliers. 

There were lots of challenges in production we overcame. This was mostly done through trial and error, soliciting help from experts around the world, and reading relevant literature. It was important to organise our internal production supply chain efficiently and effectively, manage staff so that everyone knew what they were doing, knew what was expected of them and felt happy doing their job. I built a culture where asking questions and personal development are encouraged. This has resulted in continual skills improvements in our artisans and overall high quality production. 

Actually getting our first sales on the local market in Uganda was diffuclt. We had tried many different strategies and approached many different shops, supermarkets etc before we were successful in securing our first order for shoes. In a nutshell I would say that what enabled us to finally breakthrough with finding market for our prioducts was an ability to listen to feedback from potential buyers and make amendments accordingly to our product, pricing and/or approach. It also required a great deal of resilience and tenactiy, i.e to keep trying after many failures. Finally, again, there is always as aspect of luck involved. 

Now we have finally reached a point where we can make products to a high enough quality and have exported our first prodcuts for sale in the UK. Our biggest challenge now is trying to break into the extremely competitive market here. I will have to let you know how that goes in a few months time!

Last edited @ Oct 20, 6:40AM EDT.
Oct 20, 6:13AM EDT0

How do you believe evolving technology will impact the way we do business over the next 10 years?

Oct 20, 3:07AM EDT0

Hi Idris, thanks for getting in touch. Thats a big question!! Do you mean all forms of business in all parts of the globe or specifically manufacturing in Africa? I don't think I'll be able to answer such a far reaching question in it's entirety on here and with the knowledge I posses, but here are a few salient points:

It is now widely recognised that we are entering (lots of the planet) into the fourth industrial revolution. In this revolution big data, smart algorithms/AI, the internet of things (hyper connectivuty between smart devises) and social media are completely changing the way we live and do business. There is also likely going to be much more automation of low skilled jobs. Based on clever analytics of data and connectivity; successful business will be more able to offer timely and bespoke product placement. Businesess which fail to fully digitalise are likely going to struggle to keep up with the markets fast changing preferences and be able to compete with other businesses with accurate insights into their customers. 

10 years ago (assuming I was the same age), I would not have been able to set up Fairsole like I have now. Using platforms like Alibaba, Whatsapp and high speed internet (fairly high speed) were absolutely essentail in making the connections and communicating and allowing me to set up, fix problems and run this business. 

Uganda and Africa in general has lagged behind most of the world regarding development and technology. In the last 10 years or so though, things have really started to change. With growing stability and a middle class, Africa holds many of the worlds fastest growing economies. I belive the globalised economy made possible through technological innovation has enabled this. Hopefully, this continues to happen moving forward!

Last edited @ Oct 20, 6:41AM EDT.
Oct 20, 6:30AM EDT0

What kind of business should I set up when starting out - sole trader/limited company, etc?

Oct 20, 12:52AM EDT0

Hi Paulynna, thanks for reaching out.This really depends on lots of factors such as what kind of business you want to start, how much capital you are starting with, whehter you need to raise capital, whether you have business partners etc.If it is a small business you want to start where you are the only one working on it, are the sole owner and dont need to raise any external capital then Sole Trader might be the way to go.

If you plan to partner with others, need to raise capital and are likely to start off a bit bigger then a LTD company may be more suitable.

It also depends somewhat on which country or countires you which to register a comapny in.

Please give me more information so I can bette answer your question for your case. Also, there is lots of information on the internet which can help you. This is one such link:https://www.simplybusiness.co.uk/knowledge/articles/2016/04/difference-between-a-sole-trader-and-a-limited-company/

Oct 20, 6:38AM EDT0

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business’ success?

Oct 19, 11:44PM EDT0

Hi Dan.

First off I want to clarify that although we have been very successful in breaking into the market in Uganda, we have only just began trying to sell our products in the UK and have not achived this yet.  It's still too early to say whether my business is a complete success or not. 

It's diffuclt to quantify how important outside factors were such as timing in the market, current economy etc were. From and inside point of view it would seem to me that the single most important factor in our succeses so far has been tenacity. This is followed closely by making effective decisions, followed closely by working with the right people (teamwork). 

Oct 20, 6:46AM EDT0

How did you come up with this idea?

Oct 19, 9:36PM EDT0

Hi Alvin. Thats a good question. Since my second year of University I had always wanted to start a business in Africa. For a few reasons, Uganda was the country I picked. 

The idea for this busines came about after a chance meeting with a shoe maker through which I met many more leather artisans. I realised that there were very talented artisans in Uganda, but they lacked access to qualtiy materials and a strong market. I figured a could bridge those gaps for them. I also knew that manucturing (value addition) is one of the most effective roads to develop an economy and economic empoweremt especially through export and gaining foreign currency (look at whats happenend in China over the last 25 years). I saw it as a business model that could work for me and also empower many others.

Last edited @ Oct 20, 6:55AM EDT.
Oct 20, 6:54AM EDT0

Luke this is a brilliant idea, the world would be a much better place with more of those (that said, I am not a leather fan:)) check this AMA here btw, might be a good connection to make:)

Why did you pick Uganda of all places?

Oct 19, 5:33PM EDT0

Hi Tatiana. Thank you very much! Appreciated. 

Yes there are a few things about leather that I'm not so keen on myself. We realise that its important to know where our leather comes fom and how it's processed. With our limited options we've partnered with tanneries which source their hides and proces them as safely as possible and also employ local people. 

Thanks for the link. Looks like a good idea, I will have to get in touch with them. 

To answer your question on why I picked Uganda: For quite a while I had wanted to start a business in Africa. Through travelling quite extensively accross the continent I saw so many opportunities in rapidly developing economies, friendly people and lots of natural beauty. 

Generally, and maybe even more so in Africa, it is very important to know the right people. From all the African countires I had visited I had probably spent the most time in Uganda. Although I didnt know the "right" people yet for the business I wanted to start, I did have some friends there already and I was comfortable living there and getting around. Uganda is a relatively safe country and the people are super friendly and welcoming.  Kampala has a pretty lively nightlife and outside the city there are also ltos of fun things to do. The climate isnt too hot either! Hope that answers your question.

Last edited @ Oct 20, 7:11AM EDT.
Oct 20, 7:09AM EDT1
Show all 3 replies

Whre are you sourcing your leather from?

Oct 19, 3:41PM EDT0

Hello Melodyama.

Thanks for getting in touch. Through lots of trial and error, currently we source all of our leather from Kenya.

We feel it's important to source our input materials as locally as possible (within Africa and better East Africa and Uganda) as this helps support and develop the local economy. 

Last edited @ Oct 20, 7:14AM EDT.
Oct 20, 7:14AM EDT0

Are your shipping dates realistic? What do you plan to do if the manufacturing process hits a snag?

Oct 19, 12:35PM EDT0

Hi Shilpa. Thanks for your question. I believe our shipping dates are realistic. These timings are based on empirical evidence we have ammased from doing business over the last year or so. With cases in the past we have hit all sorts of obstacles and delays, including production snags as you say. Through these mistakes we have developed more efficient production systems and mitigation processes to go to look to when issues arise. 

Despite this, we know that it is sensible to assume there may be issues which will present them selves in future which we are not prepared for and which we will not be able to address as quickly as we would hope. In the shipping dates and timings shown, I have made a generous time provision for this. 

In a nutshell I would say I am confident in the shipping dates because they are based on prior experence and make appropriate (as much as possible) provisions for future unknown issues and delays. 

Oct 20, 7:22AM EDT0

where do you make all your products?

Oct 19, 8:36AM EDT0

Hello. We make all of our products in our workshop/factory in Kampala, Uganda.

We target disadvantaged youths who show natural talent for artisinal work and train them up. We're committed to paying all our employees a fair wage. We also donate 10% of our profits to social impact projects which we will be implementing. 

Oct 20, 7:24AM EDT0
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