Introducing From Kush: Celebrating Sudanese culture and adapting to COVID-19
Businesses and entrepreneurs have all struggled in one way or another during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
Entrepreneurs with ideas have been put on hold, encountering new challenges getting their ideas to market. Even up-and-running businesses have struggled to adapt, reassure customers and move their trading online.
But From Kush, a brand designed by Bristol entrepreneur Dina, has managed to start trading and testing the market during a global pandemic.
We’ve spoken to Dina about why she started From Kush, an online shop selling products featuring Dina’s beautiful designs celebrating Sudanese culture. Dina takes us through the process of creating products, challenges during COVID-19, ethical local and environmental products and how great design can spark cultural celebration, understanding and conversation.
Read more to find out about Dina’s story of going from idea to product during the time of COVID-19…
Adapting to a global pandemic
We first met Dina through our Refugee Entrepreneurship Project, when Lydia, our Entrepreneurship Facilitator met her at a Sudanese community group, and told her about the business support we offer at ACH.
After graduating from a degree in Biomedical Science, Dina originally sought business support to set up a scented candle business, but the lockdown drastically affected her plans for 2020.
‘So my plan was really completely and totally different for 2020. I attended the ACH programme to start a business, but it was a different business. But due to COVID-19, everything has been changed. I found that my plan has been totally wiped out, so I was very sad, depressed that everything has been changed.’
Dina explained that her original idea, to start a scented candle business, has been put on hold as the certification procedures and courses she needs to get it up and running have been stopped during the UK lockdown.
This was a setback, and like many of us, Dina turned to her passions and hobbies as to de-stress as lockdown set in.
‘For me drawing, gardening or listening to music is therapy. So I started drawing about the culture of my country, Sudan.
So I start drawing and posting sometimes Instagram posts or stories. So people started enjoying them, saying ‘you remind us of our culture, that’s good’. So I started to explore, because I always go shopping and I like to have my tote bag because I stopped using plastic bags. So I thought if I put my design on, I’ll be proud to do it – Just for myself!
Then I thought that people might enjoy it, so I asked my friends ‘What would you think if I did that?’. And showed them an example, and they quite enjoyed it they said ‘I want to have one of those! To celebrate our culture’ so the business started like that’
Celebrating Sudanese culture
Front and center to Dina’s designs is a desire to celebrate Sudanese culture, with the name From Kush referring to Kush, a kingdom in northern Africa in the region corresponding to modern-day Sudan from 1070 BC – 350 AD. For Dina:
'The Kingdom of Kush was an ancient kingdom in Sudan, and mainly ruled by Sudanese women such as Amanirenas and Amanishakheto. Who were called Kandakes which means warriors. They lead their kingdom to success and victory.'
Dina wants to share and celebrate Sudanese culture through design that starts a conversation.
‘I would like for people to know our culture. Many people don’t know Sudan is the most diverse country, we have more than 300 tribes and they speak more than 100 different languages. So I want people to see this culture, this diversity.
I would love to share it with everyone, to know about the country, because in the last 30 years it’s been affected by the government and now we have democracy for everyone to speak. For the future it may be that we can have tourism and things like that. So I would like for everyone to know about Sudan – not just people from my community.’
Testing the market
After Dina’s friends saw her tote bag design, their positive reaction encouraged her to start making more to sell. Testing products on friends and family is an important step that Dina took to the next level by organizing focus groups for friends and family.
‘I did a focus group with some of my friends and family. So I sent them a package and they told me their feedback – it was quite good to hear some feedback, hear what they want.
So some of the ladies, they asked for a tote bag for her kids because she’s Sudanese she would like her to celebrate her culture, so we thought of that. I did discuss it with other people, with friends, and they said they would love that – to have a PE bag that would have our culture, so we might do that in the future.’
As entrepreneurs face more and more challenges because of the lockdown, success often depends on testing the market, adaptability and the ability to respond to what your customers want.
So you’ve got a good idea, but how do you turn it into a product?
Finding a manufacturer to turn your ideas into reality can be daunting at the best of times, but finding suppliers during a global pandemic is even trickier!
Dina turned to her local knowledge and commitment to use local producers and environmentally friendly production methods to find a solution.
‘I made it [the tote bag] here in Bristol, so it also helped for local businesses to run. I contacted the company who produce the tote bag to produce my design, and I told him ‘I am not going anywhere, I would like to support people from my local community. I am happy also to collect it and I know you must be struggling with delivery during this time’ – and he was very nice also to give me a discount as well because I said that to him.
So the tote bag was easy, but producing the socks was difficult because of everything with China.
And I would like to be local – I am trying as much as I can to be environmentally friendly, so I’m trying mostly to use cotton – so to find the right supplier was difficult, and also to find the delivery during this time was a struggle, It took 2 months to deliver, but in the end I received the product.’
Dina’s commitment to the environment inspired her use of a tote bag to carry shopping, and it is also something she’s thinking about for her future products now in the ideas phase.
‘I’m excited about the idea of umbrellas, to start the conversation with umbrellas with all these Sudanese designs. It would start a conversation! But I’m trying to discover how we can make an umbrella sustainable, because umbrellas are mostly made of plastic and they always break! But I’m trying to teak it and see if we can make a product out of it.’
'Just go for it!'
We asked Dina to tell us what advice she would give to anyone with an idea, but who might be unsure of whether to take the next step.
‘Just go for it! You never know if you are going to succeed or fail if you don’t take the risk. You can do it!
So I’ve been inspired by Lydia and her story actually because I have always hesitated thinking about ‘what if I fail, what if don’t succeed, but you will never know. And looking at other people, successful people, they all went through failure before they succeed.
Just go for it!’
You can find From Kush products on Etsy
Read more about how to access business support during COVID-19