Ethical | Managing Supplier Relationships

This past week I received a message from a friend about how one of her suppliers wanted to share her bag prototypes on his social media. She was asking a group of us for advice and was not sure the best way to go about the situation. To be honest, everyone had slightly this truly depends on you and where you want to go with your brand and how you want to manage the supplier relationship.

Everyone who was in this group gave wonderful advice from contracts, to exclusive rights, to various levels of agreements terms. Overall, the common theme was there needing to be an agreement, of some sort, in place.

Promise me now, if you are in the beginning stages of working with an ethical supplier especially overseas, that you set your terms from the beginning because these relationships can get messy fast if expectations are not put forth in the beginning.

When picking a new supplier or even managing an existing one, I always want to check in on four main things:

1. Understanding the Nature of the Relationship
2. Shared Values
3. Reducing Complexity and Risk
4. Staying in Control of the Relationship

Understanding the Nature of the Relationship
This is where I make many “gut decisions”. If from the beginning I see or feel uneasy then I do not move forward with the supplier, but my biggest takeaway here is to start the relationship on the same terms. Understand what you are receiving for your purchase and establish an understanding of how you work as well as how they work. When you are partnering among various cultures, you need to make sure you are on the same page with pricing, deadlines and regulations. You do not want to over promise and at the same time, you do not want them telling you they will meet a deadline because they do not want to lose your business, when in reality they need two more extra months to reach the quantity you are requesting for. Have a clear understanding of the relationship and how you might define it. Keep boundaries, have mutual respect and create expectations for one another. The clearer you are in the beginning then the better off you will be in the long run. Do the hard work on the front end – you will thank yourself.

Shared Value
The bottom line is do not partner with someone who does not share your values. This is more than just sharing ethical standards. If you feel there is underlying corruption or unexplained transactions happening or again, red flag “gut check” occurring then walk away. They might do beautiful work and it even may be connecting to an amazing cause, but understand your values and stand firm in them. Do not sway. Be authentic and find another supplier who walks with you in those values and standards that best represent you and your brand.

Reducing Complexity and Risk
There will always be risk involved when creating an ethical business and working with suppliers from all over the world. I am a bit lucky because all my suppliers are in Kenya or within the East African region. Considering my home is Kenya, my suppliers are in my backyard compared to what many of you are working with. I know a majority of you manage relationships solely through email and have to navigate cultural language barriers, time differences and other complex situations. My biggest advice is to try to make it as simple of a process as you can. If you see that your supplier just needs a bit of direction or systems protocol development and you want to aid them in that, then go for it! But also, know how to navigate that because you do not want to step over any boundaries of the ‘nature of your relationship’. If from the beginning, you feel what they need is a bit out of line of your relationship you established or something above your “paygrade” or knowledge, then maybe you pursue another supplier option.

Building an ethical brand and teaching others about social consumerism is a lot of work and there will be plenty of moments that you have to step out of your comfort zone. In the end, you just need to know your boundaries to avoid burnout and create a path for yourself that will allow for you to be successful. You will only succeed in being a part of the ethical movement and educating others if your brand is successful, so do not let a supplier relationship take you away from a larger movement at hand. Overall, this road is not easy, but you can reduce the complexity and risk by finding out what works for you.

My phrase of 2020 is ‘you do you’, so you do just that. Find your groove.

Staying in Control of the Relationship
You have to stay in control of the supplier relationship and the easiest way to do this is by setting up contracts or a service agreement from the very beginning. Everybody has  different agreements that involve ethics, rights to designs, deadlines, site visits, etc. You cater your agreement to your needs and establish something you are comfortable with. An official agreement will make sure you are aligned as a buyer-supplier relationship and cut
out any ambiguous jargon.

Along with a formal agreement, you can create quarterly surveys or reports to be conducted, so you are keeping up with ethical standards and value propositions being met. Again, this is your relationship and you want to make sure you set clear and precise expectations from the beginning. It will allow for less headaches in the future and create more ease of transactions or any transitions that might have to take place if there is a formal document to refer to. Once you have some systems in place, I promise this will create a smoother process for both you and your supplier.

From one ethical buyer to another – ‘you do you’,

Being a Global Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur already has its challenges then adding another culture that is not of your own, always adds another dynamic. If you have started a business overseas or are thinking of doing so then here is some quick advice on what I have learned over the years.

  •  Know the Culture

You have to know the culture you will be stepping into. You will learn a lot on the ground that cannot be taught ahead of time but educate yourself on where you are about to transition to. Even if you are not living there full time, you need to know the country you will be working in and the people you will soon get really close to.
You need to know religions, tribes, cultural traditions that will affect your business. You do not want to come in naive, ignorant and as if you know it all – because, you do not. So, get off that high horse and begin to humble our heart. Learn about your people because they will become YOUR PEOPLE. You will need to know how to love, respect them, build trust and wonderful relationships.

Start becoming teachable now because if you have not already, you are about to step into a new global classroom.

  •  Learn the Environment

This is similar to culture, but in more detail. KNOW YOUR ENVIRONMENT. Know the people, how they think, work, pace of life, how they conduct meetings, etc. Know the demographic you will be working with specifically, know their average income, and financial stability, know facts. Start to learn about the politics, economic
situation of the country, the challenges the people face and more.

These challenges are not going to change overnight, so you need to prepare yourself to step into this and ask if this is a country you want to be in?

What is your motive?
What is your why?

Those two questions are very important because on the hard days – you are going to want to be grounded in those answers. Know your WHY.

  •  Find a Mentor

I would not only find a business mentor that has international business experiences, but I would also find someone on the ground that can walk you through legal advice. Legalities of any country are confusing, and you need someone who can help you with this from the beginning. You want to make sure you are doing it correctly from the start or having to pay penalties later or get in unnecessary trouble will be a headache and a waste of time. Find your person, register your business correctly, follow labor laws and ethics, etc.

Just do it right from day one. Save yourself the heartache.

  • Embrace the Locals, become one.

You will get nowhere if you put a clear line between yourself and the locals. You are not better than them nor that much different either. Stop acting like the foreigner and embrace the awkwardness and throw yourself into the mix. Let the locals educate you on their culture and you educate them on yours. Find a mutual understanding and instead of putting a big wall between one another, slowly mesh together and become one. The more you immerse yourself, the easier the journey becomes. You will also start to make amazing friends in the process. Create your community and thrive in it.

  •  Find a Partner on the Ground

Find someone you trust who wants to walk this business journey with you. This is key to the success of what you do in any country. You need to find someone that understands you and has the passion for this business like you do. Someone who will run as fast as you and embrace changes as they come. You need someone on the ground who can help with communication, clarity and diffusion of the cultures. They can help simple logistics run smoothly and be a person to vision with. Find your person. When you know – you know.

My biggest advice is to just enjoy the process. Every day comes with a different challenge or celebration, but in the midst of building something you love – do not forget to look up and enjoy the community and culture. Not many people can say they are a global entrepreneur, so embrace the journey and the unforgettable moment.


Close that computer every now and then and go have some fun.

From your global, third world living, entrepreneur – keep your head high,