Work Life | Yho!Yho! |

Work Life | Yho!Yho!


Kids walking through woods with elephant Yho!Yho! backpacks
Yho!Yho! is a company that makes elephant backpacks for children they are manufactured according to Fair Trade principles in South Africa, providing vital jobs and supporting their struggling textile industry. We speak to founder Gill Howard
‘Yho!Yho! is tricky to translate but it means something like ‘gosh!’ or ‘wow!’, which is how I’d like people to react when they see our products’

My passion for Africa was ignited by travel.
I had travelled to some African countries in the past and my husband is from South Africa. We lived in Cape Town for two years, where my eldest son was born. It is a beautiful city, but it has areas of poverty, too. My day job is a dietician, so I wanted to make a difference in one of the poorer communities, but it took more than a year to get a work visa. During this time I realised that many nutrition projects helping poorer families also had a craft outlet, allowing mothers to learn about nutrition as well as develop craft skills to increase their income. When I returned to the UK, I decided to establish an ethically- driven business selling lovely things created in South Africa.

I wanted a South African name for the business.
South Africa has 11 official languages, but Xhosa is one that is widely spoken around Cape Town. Yho!Yho! is tricky to translate but it means something like ‘gosh!’ or ‘wow!’, which is how I’d like people to react when they see our products.

We are really proud that our bags are made entirely in South Africa.
Our backpacks are made from lovely linen and cotton fabrics near the town of Paarl, about an hour from Cape Town. The fabric is woven north of Paarl, at a small, family-run mill which employs and trains local people. The stuffing for our elephants’ legs and faces is also made in South Africa from recycled fibres.

I hope our company has affected the lives of those who work for us in South Africa for the better.
Yho!Yho! is a member of the British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers, so although we’re a small company, we have big ambitions. Running a Fair Trade business means that you must ensure wages and working conditions are good, and that the people doing the work are involved in developing the business. Using only locally- woven fabrics from a small and ethically-run mill means that Yho!Yho! is helping to provide skilled, well-paid jobs in rural areas where employment opportunities are limited. 

Marianne Carolissen is the South African powerhouse behind Yho!Yho! backpacks.
She is involved in all the decision-making. Since working with us, she has managed to buy a new, reconditioned, sewing machine and a better phone. This has been essential since she has no landline, computer or regular internet access. Marianne designed the backpacks and now oversees the team that cuts and sews them. Her husband and daughter also work with her and our goal is to build the business further so that she can train more local women in sewing skills so they can have a source of income, too. 

We want to continue to grow our product range, allowing wider income generation in South African communities without compromising our ethical standards.
There is a fantastic awareness now of the need for sustainability in our buying choices, as well as an increasing interest in artisan products. Yho!Yho! backpacks fit these criteria perfectly. We also want to work on building our social media presence to raise awareness about our products and business ethos. 

We are looking to include some new colours next year as well as employ Marianne’s embroidery skills more.
My favourite is the TEMBA backpack, that has colours of muted blues, greens and orange. He reminds me of roads travelled in Africa with dirt track and bushland. Marianne’s favourite is AYANDE, with sky blue, pink and yellow, which makes me think of South African sunshine and beaches. We will also be revisiting our long-sleeved T-shirt and baby top range which are ethically sourced and feature gorgeous animal appliqué done by Marianne.

I feel very lucky to have lived in the Borders for the past 16 years.
I live near Melrose, and like most places in the rural North-East, it’s the ideal place for children to be outdoors as much as possible. My weekdays are very busy juggling my job as a dietician and Yho!Yho!, plus dog-walking, school pickups, and making something for tea. Weekends are for Yho!Yho! as we sometimes exhibit at events and markets, and then more sport and family activities, not to mention a huge amount of washing! Melrose is a Fair Trade town so I’m also involved in promoting awareness of local Fair Trade products such as tea and coffee.

I have a few favourite local places for coffee and cake.
The Woodside Plant Centre Birdhouse Tearoom near Jedburgh serves fabulous cake in a lovely walled garden setting. The Old Melrose Tearoom off the A68 north of St Boswells is also lovely and peaceful – a courtyard setting with rooms of antiques to explore and great cakes.

Published in: November 2018

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