For centuries Ankole cattle have played a vital role in the Ugandan economy, with bold sculptural horns up to 6 feet long. Tribe + Glory uses these meat industry byproducts to empower female entrepreneurs. Based in the Town of Kamuli, the company hires women to create sustainable jewelry and homegoods. The employees earn a living wage, save debt-free capital and participate in business training. Co-founder Caragh Bennet says, "True agency was at the heart of the model from the very beginning. Instead of a traditional charity narrative with a beneficiary/benefactor power dynamic, we asked ourselves, ‘How can we empower women and put this in their hands?'"
Caragh and co-founder Loren Thomas met during a gap year while volunteering in Uganda for a non-profit. Loren was working on a women's empowerment program for that organization. After their gap year, Loren returned to the University of Texas in Austin where she graduated with a degree in Youth and Community. Caragh went back to Oxford, where she wrote about her experiences in Uganda in her dissertation on Post-Colonial Feminist Development. In fall 2017, Tribe + Glory was born. Caragh handles marketing, planning and budgets from the UK. Loren handles design, splitting her time between Uganda, the UK and Texas.
The brand started with jewelry and expanded to home goods, all created from Ankole cow horns, a waste product of the local meat industry. The gradations in the horns lend themselves to clean, bold forms like cuffs studded with recycled brass, linked necklaces and bowls. Loren says, "We adore the medium and we want our designs to show the natural beauty of the horn."
Caragh remembers, "We were really new to the design game. We knew we wanted to focus on excellence, brilliant artisanship and price points that reflected the value of the women's labor." Today, Tribe + Glory sells their collections online with shipping to the US and UK.
To comply with the legal complexities of trading as a nonprofit organization, Tribe + Glory consists of five enterprises overseen by three boards: One in the US, one in the UK and an overarching advisory board in Uganda that includes women from the entrepreneurship program.
When the Black Lives Matter movement received increasing attention from white communities, Tribe + Glory gained followers and support on social media. Loren says, "We were very transparent that we are not a black-owned company. We try to be very aware of how we use our privilege."
Women come to Tribe + Glory with a business dream, from selling garlic to dressmaking. As production employees, the women receive 40% of their salary as a living wage that enables them to bring their families out of poverty. The other 60% goes into a fund that will provide the capital for them to launch their own businesses. The women also participate in rigorous entrepreneurship training that covers topics like leadership, budgeting and marketing." Loren says, "The training and production staff is fully Ugandan. It's inspiring for the women to learn from teachers who look like them."
Relative to men, a higher percentage of women under the age of 18 drop out of school in Uganda. And if they're not in school, they often can't access peer-to-peer relationships. Loren says, "Several women have said that they've never had friendships like this before."
Many of the women who graduate from the program go on to become benefactors themselves. Caragh says, "They have amazing vision for their communities." For example, some graduates hire women without educations, because they can empathize with the stigma. Others work with the local government and advocate for children with special needs.
A particularly memorable symbol of the women's increased mobility emerged during the COVID-19 shutdown, when public transportation wasn't available. In Uganda, bicycles are usually ridden by men. During the shutdown, many women purchased their own bicycles so they'd be able to work. Caragh says, "It was wonderful to see them riding around the community, on their way to the jobs that support their families."