Stella has a heart of gold, she is a wanderluster, a founder and a #GirlBoss all round. Here is her story how she started international businesses 22Stars whilst traveling the world.
In our stories of #Wonderer series, we share with you snippets from the road. These are stories from the women in our community, they are powerful, bold and free-spirited #Wonderers who love to travel. Full of Wanderlust
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You know she does what she loves. Helping the women in Uganda not only fulfils her passion but lights the fire inside of her.
Where are you from? Three recommendations of things to do for our lady travellers visiting your hometown.
Hi there! I am not really from somewhere, but if I have to name a city I would say Amsterdam! I lived there for 1,5 years and during my 6 years of studies I visited Amsterdam often and that’s where most of my friends live.
What I would do in Amsterdam as a lady traveller:
1) Snap a man with a boat and ride through the canals
2) Picknick in the Vondelpark during summer or just go for walk in winter
3) Check out Amsterdam Noord, it’s a free ferry ride away from central station and I like to have a coffee at Noorderlicht and during summer there are usually festivals at the NDSM werf
Do you work online or remotely at all?While you travel?
Yes, I work online and remotely. I set up a fairtrade jewellery business in Uganda. Of course I have to be in Uganda every now and then to see how my designers are doing and how things are. Besides helping them in designing the jewellery I have a whole social/educational project around it. When I am not in Uganda I have a lot of things to do online and offline, such as taking product pictures and model pictures, drawing new designs, writing stories etc. I also put all content on the webshop. I do the marketing and sales. So sometimes I go to fairs to sell jewellery etc. I also sell through other webshops and have a lot of contact with the retailers. Doing basically a million things.
How long have you been doing this?
I have been doing this since the end of 2012.
How it started?
In 2009 I (Stella Romana Airoldi) visited Uganda for the first time to do research for my International Law thesis about Girl child soldiers within the LRA. I met women living in the Acholi Quarter of Kampala; a camp for internally displaced persons who fled from the war in Northern Uganda many years ago. I was touched by the stories of the Acholi women and very impressed by their artistic skills to make beautiful jewellery out of recycled paper. Every year I ordered some jewellery to give to my friends and family. Then a few years later all started with a fun photoshoot in the living room of my mother: 22STARS WAS BORN!
I decided to use my own creativity to help those ladies design, market and sell their products on the international market. By the end of 2012, I went back to Uganda and took my friend Lianne with me. I selected a few ladies to start working with and my Ugandan friends David and Moses decided to join the 22STARS team since they know the Acholi Quarters very well. In 2015 I started with a second group of women to make jewellery, they live in the Danida slum in Jinja, as they are not living in the Acholi Quarter and were not post war victim, they are not part of the project, but they are empowered to rise above poverty by giving them a market for their products.
How long did it take 22STARS to become sustainable?
About 2 years. 1.5-2 years
How long did the transition take from your old 9-5 to being a Digital Nomad full time?
Well not long, as for my studies and traineeships I already lived somewhere else every 6 months… After my master in international law, I did the European advanced master in human rights and democracy in 2010. This was 6 months in Venice, Italy and 6 months in Sevilla in Spain. After that I did two month Spanish course in Madrid. Then internship at a Dutch law firm in the Caribbean and then a traineeship with the European Union delegation in China!
So after China I travelled two months in Asia and came back to Europe end of 2012 looking for a job in the human rights field. While I was applying for several things, I started 22STARS. A dream of mine since 2009 when I was there for the first time. As I was jobless I had time to travel to Uganda. Then I got a scholarship offered in 2013 at the Erasmus University to learn how to set up a business. Voila, in summer 2013 I made my first sells for 22STARS. To gain a bit more insight in the fashion business I had a 9-5 job for Calvin Klein in Amsterdam in the summer of 2014. But that in combination with 22STARS was way too much. Plus they didn’t allow me that much holiday weeks and I really had to go back to Uganda. So in October 2014 I quit that job and since then I am on the road!!! In 2015 I spend almost 8 months in Africa and Tarifa kitesurfing and took the boat to Brazil to meet fellow nomads.
How do you get your work in front of people? How do you market 22stars?
I use a lot of Instagram, which really helps me.
Besides that I was almost every Sunday on a market in Amsterdam for a year, so there I let people sign up for newsletters, etc.
I also sell my products via partner webshops like www.discovered.eu and tothemarket.com
They are doing great marketing for all products on their webshop, including me, like sending products to bloggers, etc.
Best thing about running 22stars? And the toughest thing?
The internet in Uganda is horrible, I have to use my phone a lot of the times. For one gigabyte it costs €6!
The hardest thing is people died for terrible reasons here in Uganda.
I love Uganda, but I missed my friends and family so much.
The best thing about running 22starts?
The fact that I am helping people, these women are learning new skills, their lives are improving, they are sending their kids to school and become more confident. The education they receive will stay with them forever. Yes, I am making a small impact on a few people lives, people talk about wanting to make an impact for thousands of people.
I always think when I was a child, I was very grateful for my parents, I don’t think it is about helping thousands of people at once. Just because you can’t help everyone, that doesn’t mean you should stop helping the few people for whom you can make an impact.
I think it is just really cool to see people wear the jewellery I made! The flexibility of running my own business is great, I can live a nomadic life, meeting amazing and interesting people. Of course, I still have to be in Uganda for periods of time and work on marketing and sales in Europe but in between, I can do a lot of traveling. The freedom is simply an amazing thing.