Irene Bacchus-Holder is a woman in a male-dominated sector – the wood products industry in Guyana. As owner-manager of Amazon Authentics, Irene had her share of battles in the early years, beginning on the forest floor: “I had to fight with the cutters to get the species I ordered,” she says, “so I found new suppliers. I got log ends from Chinese and Malaysian loggers and I was able to work with a group of women loggers who gathered the pieces for me.”
Another battle was supervising male employees. “As soon as the young men feel they can handle the tools, they start making demands and they become rude when told to meet targets,” she says. These workers are no longer with her. “My response was to learn all aspects of my business and now I can do everything, including turning the hardest species.”
Today, Amazon Authentics has six permanent employees and ten contractors fashioning a wide range of pieces, from vases to bowls to jewelry, using waste wood left behind by the logging companies. Irene began exporting in 2007 to customers in Trinidad, Barbados and Antigua; however, potential for growth in the region was limited, so she began to look north to grow her business.
With the assistance of TFO Canada, Irene participated in the Canadian Gift and Tableware Association (CGTA) gift show in Toronto in August of 2013. While the show did not generate immediate sales, the participants made numerous new contacts and learned some valuable lessons about reducing costs and creating designs more reflective of Guyana’s culture and ecology.
Since the show, Irene has developed a new line of products, grown her networks and updated her marketing materials, such as her corporate video and website. She has used her experience with the project to ship goods to customers in Canada and she hopes to expand on those sales so she can invest in new machinery. The economy may be slowing, but that’s just one more challenge to a woman used to going against the grain.
For Irene, being a successful woman entrepreneur in a man’s world is a realistic goal. “I would advise women to stick with what you want to do,” she says. “Don’t be caught up with what you feel is ‘man’s work’; there is always a way around the hurdles. Do your research, find out what help is offered and go after it!”
Click here to view a video of Amazon Authentics