Social entrepreneurs are driven to make a difference in the world, and in the case of Goeun Bae, her inspiration came from working with unemployed women in South Africa. Her social enterprise, Little Pine Tree, is giving new economic opportunities and skills to Johannesburg’s unemployed women, making their lives better through economic independence.
LoA found out more about this children’s toy company with a difference this month.
What does your company do?
Little Pine Tree is a social enterprise which aims to empower local women by teaching them to knit amigurumi children’s toys. In May 2015, we started a toy making workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, hoping to create a space where unemployed women from different backgrounds could meet and learn a new skill. The idea was that it would allow them to generate an income so they could support themselves and their families by doing something they enjoy. Since then, our project has gone from strength to strength. Our toys are sold in stores across South Africa and all the profits are directed back into the project and into supporting our team of creators.
"I started Little Pine Tree because I wanted to improve the lives of unemployed South Africans."
What inspired you to start your company?
I started Little Pine Tree because I wanted to improve the lives of unemployed South Africans. Before Little Pine Tree, I worked as a social anthropologist in some of Cape Town’s most disadvantaged areas. I was shocked to see how people struggled and how few opportunities there were. I had been making toys for my son and thought that crocheting could be a useful skill for local women to learn. When I moved to Johannesburg, I set up a workshop teaching them how to make the amigurumi toys I had been knitting for my son. My first idea was that we would donate the toys to a children’s home but I soon realised that the women desperately needed to earn an income. Many of the women couldn’t afford the transport to the workshop and were unsure how to begin negotiating a fair price for the toys themselves. I set up the Little Pine Tree Facebook page to begin selling our toys and the rest is history!
Why should anyone use your service or product?
When people buy Little Pine Tree toys, they are not only buying a beautiful handmade toy but also supporting our team of creators and helping them earn a stable income for themselves and their families. The effects of this really can’t be overstated, our creators can use their income to expand their opportunities, build a better life for their family and help their children attend university. On our website, customers also have the option of purchasing a Little Pine Tree toy to donate to an organisation working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This year, we raised and donated 17 toys for the girls of Residencia Laurita Vicuña in Chile.
"We started a toy making workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, hoping to create a space where unemployed women from different backgrounds could meet and learn a new skill."
Tell us a little about your team
We currently have a team of five creators and are in the process of hiring more women to join the Little Pine Tree family. The women meet once a week to exchange design ideas and plan for the week ahead. They then take the materials home where they do most of their work. This gives them the freedom to manage their working hours and allows them to spend time with their families. Working at home can also bring many challenges, for example, cultural and family practices which do not see work done from home as ‘real work.’ Despite these difficulties, our creators have managed to fit their work around their routines and family lives. This makes each toy unique as it tells the story of its makers daily struggles and dreams for a better life.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I don’t really have an entrepreneurial background but my parents moved from South Korea to Chile when I was a baby and owned a small clothing factory and store there. My mother is a fashion designer but they had no prior experience of running a business. Watching them navigate running their business showed me the challenges of having a small business so I didn’t necessarily think that I would choose to become an entrepreneur myself. As I mentioned earlier, Little Pine Tree grew very organically. I started the toy making workshops as a means of teaching unemployed women in Johannesburg a practical skill and intended to donate the toys to a local children’s home but when I realised how much these women need to generate an income for their families, Little Pine Tree evolved into a social enterprise.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I hope Little Pine Tree can continue to grow and to help more women earn a stable income for themselves and their families. We are beginning to introduce our toys into the European market and are currently hiring more women to join the Little Pine Tree family.
"When people buy Little Pine Tree toys, they are not only buying a beautiful handmade toy but also supporting our team of creators and helping them earn a stable income for themselves and their families."
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
It’s really amazing to help the local community, even if it’s just in a small way. Teaching unemployed women a practical skill helps them to earn an income for themselves and their families in a dignified way, which has a massive impact on their lives. It’s also a really great way of bringing people from different backgrounds together.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
I think the biggest piece of advice I could give would be find something you’re passionate about and find your niche. Little Pine Tree started because I wanted to make a difference and teach a practical skill. Once I saw how much the women at the workshop needed to earn a stable income for themselves and their families, I knew I had found my niche and everything evolved very organically from that point on.
Contact or follow Little Pine Tree
Why LoA loves it….
Where others see challenges, social entrepreneurs see the opportunity to find solutions through innovative business ideas and impact. Goeun Bae is one such social entrepreneur, seeing a need to create employment opportunities for local women who had no access to jobs but who were willing to learn new skills to become economically independent. Today, her social enterprise, Little Pine Tree, is making a real difference and at the same time creating a sustainable, high impact business model that is set to grow. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa