Tuli. Changing lives, one necklace at a timeThis week, we have the wonderful privilege of speaking with Megan Hoye, one of the co-founders of Tuli.
Tell us a bit about the history of Tuli?It seems like Tuli is something I stumbled into, but in hindsight, I can see that it was all God. After I graduated college, I moved alone from Seattle to a sleepy coastal town in Florida to write for a small newspaper. I loved my job, but I felt restless. I started questioning my career choice, which was terrifying: If not journalism, then what? At that time, my friend sent me some paper beaded jewelry from Uganda. I was struck by how women in Uganda found a way to turn something salvaged into something beautiful in an effort to earn money in unemployment-stricken Uganda. I knew buyers were few in Uganda – but what about in the U.S.? I connected with a Ugandan woman I’d met through a former volunteer position, Jane Nampijja, who became Tuli’s co-founder. We’d both worked with nonprofits before, and wanted to create something that didn’t rely on donations. After talking about sustainable solutions to poverty, we considered the current fashion market, and I reached out to some industry contacts I’d made years earlier, when I was modeling to pay for my college tuition. After several months of work and countless disastrous attempts at designing jewelry, I flew to Uganda to meet Jane, and spent a month with her putting our business together. She and I met with the women who became our partners, and together, we came up with designs and a product line. Jane and I appointed some artisans as quality assurance coordinators as well. Ultimately, we want Tuli to be as much our partner artisans’ business as it is ours.
What are some of the trials and triumphs you have faced in bringing Tuli to where it is today?To be honest, Tuli has been a long series of trials – I think most business are - but, I’m happy to say that our greatest trials have in turn become our greatest triumphs. In the early days, we had a difficult time sourcing our materials. The key to our designs at Tuli is using high-quality chain in our products because we believe that’s the best way to compete with larger, factory-made brands. However, sourcing high-quality chain in Uganda isn’t easy, and we knew that without high-quality products, our sales would quickly falter. At the time, it seemed as though that problem would wreck us. But then we found a supplier who agreed to work with us to provide the highest quality materials. Unfortunately, after the first problem was resolved, others quickly emerged. We couldn’t attract web traffic. Then, our website kept crashing. My camera was stolen, making lifestyle photo-shoots impossible. And so on and so forth. We’ve gotten over those hurdles only to find new ones. As we scale up, we’ve been facing the need to grow the company, and it’s both exciting and difficult. But Tuli has been through so much already that I know we’ve got a resilient team and concept. I trust that we’ll be able to make it through whatever comes our way.
How have you seen God actively move in the work Tuli is doing?This fall will be Tuli's one-year anniversary. It has been mind-blowing to see how far we have come. The Tuli team has been working really hard, and we’re so far beyond where I thought we would be at this point. I’m grateful for that every day. Pursuing Tuli was a huge leap of faith and act of trusting God for me. Not only was I considering a new business - leaving behind the career I’d worked toward for years, but I was also considering a move to Japan with my fiancé. I was terrified at the time, but looking back now from my apartment outside of Tokyo, I see how taking those steps all came together to create a job that’s more satisfying than I ever could have imagined.
Tuli is a constant reminder for me to remain faithful. What made no sense to me at the time makes perfect sense in hindsight. Every experience, even something as seemingly inconsequential as modeling, came together to form Tuli. Tuli is entirely indebted to God.I don’t have a business background, and I’m the person orchestrating Tuli’s overall operations, so I need all the divine help I can get! I remember when I first started thinking about everything involved with starting a business like Tuli – from building a website to product design; from lifestyle photography to accounting. It all seemed so daunting, and I didn’t know how to do any of it. I also had no money to invest in hiring people who did. Somehow, one obstacle after another, each of those things have been provided for, through a combination of the right people coming along to help or the right resources coming along to teach me. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard – but a combination of the right circumstances and the right people made something that once looked impossible come to life.
I wasn’t at all equipped to start this business, but step by step, and through some amazing people, God provided the guidance to get me there. So, to be completely honest, the fact that Tuli even exists is both mind-blowing and a testament to God’s greatness. Everything else about Tuli, therefore, is the same testament.
As an organization what are you excited about right now?We’re excited to watch Tuli grow! We’ve been able to increase our orders to Uganda, which increases our impact, and we’ll soon be adding new partner artisans! It’s so exciting to think about how much more our customers’ purchases will help people in the years to come. We’ve also been able to expand our team a bit lately, and I can’t wait to see how the organization improves as a result. As a bootstrapped startup, there have been things I’ve had to take the reins on (like design and advertising) that really aren’t my strengths. Having talented people in place for those roles will do huge things for Tuli and, as a result, for the impact we have in Uganda.
We can't wait to see what the future holds for you. What are some of your hopes and goals for 2015? The next three years?All of our decisions at Tuli center on two interrelated things: growth and impact. We want to expand our sales, find better ways to serve our partners in Uganda and create meaningful change in their lives. For the rest of 2015, we’re planning to launch a bridal line and train some more artisans to expand the Tuli team in Uganda. We’ve been selling more items than anticipated, which is great! But a negative effect of that is, since each item is handmade with a high focus on quality, we can only produce so many products per month with the women we work with now. I’m planning to go back to Uganda at the end of this year to bring some more women on the team and further expand our mission in Kampala. Beyond that, we plan to grow. The more items we sell, the more income we can provide in Uganda. To do this, we hope to keep adding versatility to our line, get our products into more stores, and bring more people onto our team. I strongly believe that the stronger the team, the more powerful the organization.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?Bought Beautifully has been such a blessing to Tuli! We’ve loved getting to know the team and their hearts and learning from some incredible companies. I’m so grateful to your readers for supporting not just Tuli, but also the entire Bought Beautifully network of people and brands.
Wow! Thanks Megan! Partnering with Tuli has been a blessing and encouragement for us! We absolutely love your designs and the heart and women behind them.
You can support Tuli in their mission of fighting poverty in Uganda by purchasing their great products here. Every purchase employs a woman in dignified work!
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