1. Why the name Blue Leopard?
Several reasons: The leopard is indigenous to Zambia, and one of the iconic Big Five game (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, Buffalo). The females are stunningly majestic, agile and elegant—in two words: wildly chic! I thought it would be a great tribute to our efforts in conservation to name the brand after one of these wildlife icons—and it paired nicely with our studio (my cottage) location in an area known as Leopards Hill, just outside the capital of Lusaka.
The blue leopard alludes to a sense of magic & creativity—a mystical, powerful, creative, vibrant and playful creature—filled with a sense of imagination and possibility. It's meant to be playful and evoke creativity and imagination. The color blue also correlates to my passion for conservation, referencing the water, which we are trying to keep clean with our recycling efforts. It also just so happens that our Leopards Hill studio has a blue door, so it all came together, figuratively and literally.
2. What inspired you to create the brand?
I have always been very entrepreneurial and a creative problem-solver. Though I came to Zambia on sabbatical from teaching at a boarding school, and was only meant to stay in Zambia for a year, as with so many unexpected things in life, it turned out that I was in the right place at the right time to organically piece together three problems that I saw quite clearly (unemployment, plastic pollution, and a resistance to recycling) with a solution that I could viably implement on my own. I could educate unemployed women about recycling, which would then provide them an immediate economic and environmental impact and, as an additional value-add, tap into the heritage of handcraft with a new material: recycled plastic yarn, "plarn."
Mind you, I am not at all crafty—I cannot make any of the products we sell—but I felt strongly about the brand as a solution to problems I care about that I stayed on in Zambia, now entering year 5. My father is an engineer and my mother a fashionista-type, so with that lens it almost feels inevitable that I would do something like this.
3. What were you doing before starting Blue Leopard?
I studied English Lit at UPenn, then worked on Wall Street as an Equity Research Sales Analyst in NYC for 2 years, then was a ski-instructor before pursuing a Master's Degree (King's College London) and beginning a PhD (Yale), planning to become a professor and writer. I started teaching while at Yale, and ultimately never finished my PhD. I taught for a top boarding school for 5 years, and then came to Zambia to teach for a family as their governess—really before homeschooling was a thing. They lived on a safari lodge and ranch, so it was remote and filled with adventure, with one of the wildest animals being the children. After that, I got back into more "serious" teaching by running a program at an NGO for Grade 12 graduates (all orphans) to assist them with computer skills, advanced English grammar, understanding the Zambian economy and finding a next step to move forward with their education toward a career. It was in this role that I came to put the pieces together for Blue Leopard.
4. How did you get connected with Zambia?
Very randomly: I saw the advert for the governess position, and it sounded wildly adventurous and refreshing—the kind of recharge I was looking for.
I had never before been to Africa and thought this would be a great experience. It was, and has been, in ways I hadn't imagined when I first signed up.
Zambia impressively dedicates 30% of its stunning landscape to wildlife conservation. It is a wildlife and resource-rich country with vast income inequality and limited employment opportunities, especially for women. Deforestation, poaching, poverty and plastic pollution / proper waste management are perennial problems in Zambia. And we are striving to provide a small-scale (upwardly scaleable) solution.
5. How do you support your female artisans?
We have created a community for our artisans—we work together to improve our designs and try new things. The women are supplied with their plastic yarn for free, and are paid immediately upon delivery of a bag. We meet weekly at the studio, share a communal lunch, and work on new orders. The other days of the week, the ladies manage their work from their homes, juggling their family responsibilities and their role as primary breadwinner. We also have a very small savings-and-loan program at the request of the ladies, and they are saving for land. Through a friend, we have secured pieces of land for them, which will allow them increased financial stability as well as an increased sense of community, as they will be neighbors and likely our studio will move there.
We also support a team of 40 women recyclers: we give them reflective vests, face masks, gloves, wellie boots, and hand sanitizers - as well as a sense of purpose and community. They are paid directly by the recycling facilities.
6. We know you like to play with color. How does color play a role in the brand?
The primary color for Blue Leopard is "sand"—it is a play on straw, and a purposeful choice that way. I really wanted to create "natural" neutrals and then accent with pops of color. More color will be added; I would like to do a new color each season, while maintaining the "classics" of sand, black and white. It's just a matter of making small (and consistent) color batches.
7. What makes Blue Leopard sustainable?
We manage the process of recycling vertically: collecting it and reprocessing it so that it does not enter the waterways and cause pollution or health concerns, like cholera or malaria.
8. What sustainable practices are you looking to incorporate in the future?
We seek to have our products certified (and stamped) with a number to be re-recyclable at their life's end. We may also experiment with other materials - recycled fabrics - and even natural fibers, while maintaining a recycling mission. We seek relevant certification for our sustainability and fair wage practices.
9. Where do you see Blue Leopard in the future?
I want for BL to be replicated across Zambia—and Africa, and possibly other countries.
We need to find a solution to make our products more quickly, so some sort of machine assist—like a loom—would be helpful to increase production.
We want to showcase and sell goods of all kinds that complement a "wildly chic" lifestyle and commitment to conservation.
I would like for us to do children's decor, toys, mobiles: relating to our fun and magical blue leopard, to inspire imagination.
10. Where can we find you?
www.blueleopard.com - coming soon