We are thrilled to shine the spotlight on Andrea Kolb, founder and CEO of ABURY, an online fair-trade retailer that sells old-world tradition crafts for the modern consumer. Originally from Stuttgart, Germany, Kolb recollects that becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t in her initial career plans, but after two years of working experience realized the opportunities that come with owning a business was the right path for her. Inspired by her travels abroad and personal motivation, ABURY was created to share something she feels passionate about for others who want unique, hand-crafted, and fashionable products from remote regions.
What was your initial inspiration for creating ABURY?
In 2008 I went to Marrakesh to renovate an old house in the Medina. On the site and while working with the craftsmen I found myself captivated by the immense handicraft heritage of the Moroccan people. These men and women passionately and skillfully carved, tinkered, blew, sewed and embroidered their way into, frankly, what can only be described as magic. Sadly though, some of these skills are vanishing. With them, the beauty, wisdom, identity and stories were also at risk of being lost to the past. I thought that these cultural gems should be revived by infusing the old world appeal of handicrafts with a spunky twenty first century spirit. And with a fair business model behind that would allow the artisans to shape their future with their own hands [while also allowing] us to make profit.
What were some of the difficult or challenging parts of transitioning your business idea into a reality?
One of the challenges was to set up the project idea [in Morocco]. It took more than two years from the first idea to making it a reality. The major challenge at the beginning was to find a crafts community that wants to work with me.
I had really specific ideas and it took about 4-6 months until we got close to the quality level that we want to reach. Also, establishing the ABURY Foundation was a challenge as I wanted to start immediately setting up a education and formation project – this took even more than a year before I found some villages who agreed to start a school for sowing and reading and writing in Morocco.
How did your professional background prior to the inception of ABURY help you create your own brand?
Well, I had no idea of the fashion business nor the online retail business. My background is in Marketing—since 2001 I was consulting companies—so my experience was great [for] building the brand, [creating] a vision, positioning and strategy.
The fashion market and online retail business I just slowly discovered and took my time to learn about it, and [I] still don’t know enough, but you can also cooperate with people who have a specific knowledge that you miss. ABURY started as a completely analog business in the fashion world; until last year in march we didn’t even have a real webshop!
When it comes to work, what motivates you most to keep your company at its best?
I love what I do—it is always on the move—you learn something new every day! And there is a lot of passion for the mission of the company itself involved; it is intrinsic motivation!
Do you have any advice for women starting their own business?
I think if you start a business it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman – you have to be brave, persistent and you should know your strengths and weaknesses. Try to get the best partners to cover your weakness.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of owning and running your own business? What would you say is the most difficult part?
The most rewarding part is if you can make people happy [whether it’s the] employees who really make it happen with you or customers etc. And one of the most difficult part is the responsibility – towards your employees, your customers, etc. [because] they rely on your decisions—and you never know before if is the good or the bad one that you take!
by Jeein Shin, blogger and writer