As touched upon in last week's post, Michelle and I took a loan from a friend to grow our business and improve our client's experience with us. Borrowing from a friend had not been our first choice, however, but a 2 month search for a loan from a bank back in Cameroon had proved fruitless.
()A Ghanian market, much like the markets in Cameroon.) (Photo Source: Hmaacvoices.org
Around six months in to selling clothes, we were desperate to expand on the inventory we already had. We kept hitting snags with orders. We'd find a certain fabric we liked at the market, get it tailored (into a skirt, for example) and put it up our Facebook and Etsy page. We were finding that by the time we'd received orders for the new garments, the market had sold out of the fabric we needed to make them! This was due to all the material being bought up by a charitable group; they were using the fabric to make themselves uniforms for meetings so that they were easily spotted in public. This was definitely not ideal, as we were having to contact customers and ask them to select another fabric. We wanted to create a smooth buying process and portray a real professionalism in what we were offering. It became clear that we'd have to source fabric from elsewhere; somewhere we could buy it in bulk. But that meant we needed money, and the only available option at the time was to apply for a bank loan.
Like usual, I was up very early on Monday morning. I put on my smartest clothes and made sure I was at the bank for 7am. I waited for two hours before I could even speak to an employee, and she told me I'd have to wait to see the manager. I knew this could be a very lengthy wait; in Cameroon there isn't really a system of set working hours. Working in a bank is seen as a very respectable role, and gives the people who work there a sort of freedom to pick and choose when they will start and finish... sometimes they won't even show up at all! I was at the bank until 4pm without any sign of the manager and I decided to try again in the morning.
Tuesday came, and I was at the bank again bright and early. The manager made me wait until 3pm to see him. I showed him our website and laid out our plans for the business.
His words to me were, 'What makes you think you'd be able to pay us back? It's obvious you're just trying to scam us, get out!'
I was absolutely devastated; where on earth had he got that impression of me from? I went home and cried to my sister, who tried to remain upbeat by telling me not to worry, that there were other banks to try.
Unfortunately, the experience I'd had with the first bank set the tone for the others I tried afterwards. I had meetings at four different banks (one of them I visited everyday for a whole week!), and even after putting together a well presented folder of documents regarding my Masters Degree and the plan for the business, I was rudely turned down each time. The reasons the banks gave for not lending to us varied; from us being too young, not having enough experience, that we would just squander the money on partying, the business was 'too risky' and that I wasn't presenting myself with the 'right look'. A manager at one bank tore my papers up in front of my face, and another told me that I must think I'm better than everyone else because I have a degree; then she threw my documents into the bin. All of this pales in comparison to one man who said he would be happy to loan us the money... just as long as I would be his girlfriend for the duration of the time it took to repay. As much as I was disgusted by this suggestion, I was not surprised. Cameroon has a very male-dominated culture, but as an educated businesswoman, I would never lower myself in that manner.
Our salvation came in the form of my good friend Rodica. We'd met when I was in the UK, which was where she was still living. She heard about our struggle with money and wanted to help. As a cleaner, she didn't really have the money to give us herself, but said that she'd talk to a friend she had in Spain. Graciously, he agreed to loan us £1000... and was even kind enough to tell us to just pay him back whenever we were able. I was utterly shocked! Michele and I had never even seen £1000 before! In no time at all, we had more inventory, much more fabric and more packaging for shipping. This really had been the boost we'd needed!
Dealing with the banks had left me with a lot of questions, and a slight feeling of disappointment in the system. How was anyone supposed to get a loan? I felt real empathy for people who were in our position; people who had a small business and were just trying to make it in the world. Why wasn't there more help available to people like us? We were very lucky because we had someone to help us, but I felt bad for other business owners who didn't have that opportunity. This is the only loan we've ever had to take, and I'll never forget the friends that have helped my sister and I.
We will always be thankful to them.
Come back next Monday for more from Michele!
Thanks for reading!