The world’s discerning consumers have become so much more conscious about the provenance and sustainability of the products they buy, particularly in the luxury market. By creating new luxury markets for products crafted from East Africa’s unique Ankole horn, Olivia Byanyima and Shanley Knox through their company, Olivia Knox, are improving the economic value of this culturally significant breed, providing incentive for Ugandan ranchers to continue their ancient practice of raising the Ankole.
We spoke to Olivia Byanyima to learn more about the venture, Olivia Knox, and its wonderful mission and vision to put Uganda’s Ankole cow horn luxury products on the global map.
What does your company do?
Olivia Knox Collective is the brainchild of two women, Olivia Byanyima and Shanley Knox – one from California and the other from Uganda. It is a manufacturing collective that is focused on promoting the use of Ankole cow horn in the creation of beautiful products for the luxury markets in Europe and US. We work with design partners in three distinct business segments – Eyewear, Accessories and Home Goods
What inspired you to start your company?
In the days before western religion and European colonization arrived in East Africa, the Bahima relied on a magnificent breed of long horned Ankole cattle for sustenance and social status. Their language, art and culture are filled with cattle references. Recently, however, this sacred breed has become endangered as the practice of promoting milk production through crossbreeding with high milk yielding breeds has become more predominant. A prominent development professional was recently quoted in the New York Times as saying, “We should be able to do farming as a business, not sentimentally. Making money means you have to crossbreed. And crossbreeding means that you are doing away with the genetics of [the Ankole], which I also encourage.” At Olivia Knox, we believe in doing it differently. Through equally valuing conservation, ethical sourcing and economic development, we believe in combining profit, ethics and culture to preserve the beautiful Ankole. We are an ardent supporter of the Ankole Cow Conservation Association (ACCA) which showcases the Ankole Long Horn as a tourist attraction in Lake Mburo National Park.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Our product is the horn material and we promote its use to designers, retailers and manufacturers. The material is beautiful and rare (these cows are only found in the great lakes region). No two pieces are ever the same, which makes every piece unique.
Tell us a little about your team
Shanley Knox and Olivia Byanyima are the co-founders of the business.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I come from a business background. My mother was a serial social entrepreneur before the term was coined.