I love birthdays. Especially other people’s. I love that they make me stop and think about that person, and how great it is that they were born and that I get to have them in my life.
We’ve had a run of birthdays in my house recently. In the last few months I’ve made a 1st birthday cake for my second child, and a 2nd birthday cake for my first. In classic British fashion, I masked all the pride and emotion involved in watching them emerge from baby to toddler and toddler to child by scoffing a lot of fondant icing.
Today is Kalinko’s 5th birthday, and I’m going to need a whole packet of fondant icing for this one. You see, 50% of businesses fail within the first 5 years, and truth be told, we should have been in that 50%. We should have failed four and a half years ago when the contents of our second ever container (and bank account…) arrived completely covered in mould. We should have failed three years ago when we were told that we no longer had an export licence from Burma, unless we completed the Burmese bureaucratic olympics by that afternoon. We definitely should have failed 18 months ago when covid left our warehouse completely empty and our customers hanging. And we categorically should have failed this year after February’s military coup in Burma closed all banks, transport links, haulage, export, offices and workshops, and took the country back to a place it thought it would never have to return to.
But we didn’t. Here we are, high on E-numbers, looking at a warehouse piled high with stock, about to shoot our favourite collection to date, and looking at a calendar of collaborations, events and product launches for 2022 which have us twitching in our teak chairs with excitement.
This is down to a number of things. Firstly, a group of exceptionally loyal customers who have stuck with us through thick and very, very thin. Secondly, a team of people who should probably take up heavyweight boxing given the punches they’ve had to throw this year to get us to this point (but will no doubt stick to running the Kalinko warehouse/marketing/PR/customer services like the ninjas that they are). But mostly, it’s down to the extraordinary resilience of the Burmese people.
Now that sounds like a rather sweeping and dramatic statement. But for everyone in Burma, this has been an unimaginably traumatic year. Anybody over 30 has had an old wound opened, and anybody under 30 has felt that fire rage properly for the first time. The impact has varied depending on the social, economic and geographical situation of each person, but regardless, it has been felt deeply and irreversibly. But despite all of the heartache, despite some of them not having left their home for weeks, existing on rice and the vegetables they grow in their gardens, our makers have carried on making. And in the face of the fear that sits below the daily hum, our Yangon team have carried on managing production, sorting stock, fighting for a space on containers and cutting through the endless spider webs of red tape. They are truly heroic.
The political landscape remains very confusing in Burma, and what happens next is anybody’s guess. But thanks to hearts and minds made of the toughest marble, we are able to carry on bringing you beautiful, sustainably made homeware, directly from the people who made it. The impact of the orders we place with them has never been bigger, or more important.
So while we may be some way off where we thought we’d be by this stage in the business, today we are mostly astonished to be still standing, and frankly flabbergasted to be growing, despite the best efforts of a series of cankers.
The warehouse was restocked over the weekend, so head over to Kalinko and kick off your Christmas shopping. If you buy from us, we will send cash straight to the people who made whatever you’ve bought, so that they can make us another one. Surely that's the best present you could give?