Rose & Fitzgerald’s journey began when founders Courtney and Laren Poole relocated from San Diego, California to Kampala, Uganda. Laren was working on a peacekeeping and reconciliation project in East and Central Africa. It gave his wife Courtney a chance to discover what she wanted to do with her life.
“I constantly dreamed of doing something I was truly passionate about – work that gave me greater purpose and fulfillment,” she says.
Having always harbored ambitions about starting up a small craft and design business, Courtney was inspired by the local Kampalan artisans selling uniquely-made goods on craft stalls. She began designing products herself, specifically to decorate the new family home.
“That’s when the light bulb went off,” she says. “I realized that I wanted to share this beautiful part of the world with others who value handmade products from native, natural materials.”
So Rose & Fitzgerald info was born in Uganda in 2013 – a company with a mission to supply goods made in and influenced by Africa to those with a penchant for handmade crafts. They sell home goods (including furniture, ornaments, pillows and throws) and jewelry, each item uniquely designed and crafted by Courtney and her team of Ugandan artisans.
In addition to making a fulfilling livelihood for the pair, Rose & Fitzgerald also means that local artisans are offered a sustainable income and that traditional craft and design methods and materials are not only preserved but introduced to a new, wider audience.
The business ran from 2013 to 2015 in Kampala. Then, in 2015, Laren and Courtney returned to San Diego. Products are still created by Ugandan crafts makers back in Kampala, with Courtney working on marketing and growing the business in the US.
Unlike many companies that source goods overseas cheaply from factories and suppliers exploiting their workforce, Rose & Fitzgerald work closely with a specially selected team of workers. They employ 13 full-time staff who work out of a purpose-created studio in Kampala, hand-creating most of the products using techniques including carpentry, carving, hand chiseling, sculpting, casting, metal working, hand looming, sewing and weaving. Skills that have been passed down through generations.
All staff are paid a fair wage and efforts are made to make the work environment as pleasant and sustainable as possible. Workers receive a healthy lunch and the studio has a community workshop vibe to it. Rose & Fitzgerald also work closely with other ethical workshops across Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, only partnering with those who adhere to a strict set of standards. They also work with several small, independent artisans to help improve their skills, production capabilities and business potential.
All product materials are sourced locally. This makes the company more sustainable and also gives the products a luxurious, local feel. Materials include Ankole horn, palm leaf, pure brass, Mugavu and Teak wood, leather and organic cotton. These are used to create goods such as Ankole horn lamps, Teak wood safari chairs, cotton spun throws and bracelets.
According to Courtney, the motto of Rose & Fitzgerald is “Want better, not more”.
“I love supporting brands with an emphasis on handmade or with initiatives like sustainable job creation, empowerment and the environment,” she says.
There have been the inevitable rocky pathways on Rose & Fitzgerald’s journey, as you might expect would come with the challenging prospect of setting up your own business in a different country. Production delays, material shortages, working to time scales of local artisans with an emphasis on high quality rather than quickly mass-produced goods. But the company has succeeded by adopting a highly flexible approach, keeping costs low by doing things in-house, and Courtney and Laren involving themselves closely with every aspect of the business development – right down to designing their own website and making their own promo videos.
“It’s allowed us to create a genuinely authentic brand reflecting who we are and what we value,” says Courtney.
Rose & Fitzgerald are clearly striking a chord with bohemian shoppers who value the quality and uniqueness of hand-crafted goods. The company is building up a strong social media presence, with 17.5k followers on Instagram. With the couple now back in California having entrusted the Uganda-based operations to local managers, they can put more focus into networking and increasing sales. Looks like it will be exciting times ahead!