Good Glass: Tapping into Local Creativity, Cross-Cultural Staff Management

Written by Erica Shelley

When you first enter the Good Glass shop nestled on Bukoto Street in Kampala, you are greeted by the sound of glass windchimes. Trendy cubed shelving is filled with shining displays of glasses, candle holders, cheese plates, and various household decor. It’s hard to believe that the products in the store were once discarded bottles collected in a restaurant garbage bin — or half-buried in the dirt.

Good Glass is a social enterprise owned and managed by Angela Inglish and a team of eight Ugandan staff. The company strives to improve environmental awareness and provide employment opportunities, all the while designing and producing unique glass products made from recycled bottles.

“The original idea came from an American-Japanese woman named Yuka. She had this idea to make the drinking glasses from old bottles. . . She moved, but she gave the idea to me,” Inglish explained.

A winding career path had led Inglish to Uganda, and to the moment when she would receive Yuka’s idea and run with it. From working at a charity hospital to working for a microfinance organization, Inglish had become increasingly disillusioned on her quest for sustainable development programs.

“The charity hospital was really good work, but it’s not sustainable. Most of the doctors were expats, and the funds were coming in from elsewhere . . . When I was in microfinance I thought it was the way forward for Africa, but it wasn’t,” Inglish said.

“In America, ten percent of people are entrepreneurs. The microfinance model expects 100 percent of the population to be entrepreneurs. It’s not fair to expect that of people just because you’re giving them a loan, and it doesn’t make for a balanced society. People need to be employees.

Yuka’s idea to design products made from recycled glass bottles also appealed to one of Inglish’s earlier pursuits and passions of becoming an interior designer. That career path was “too shallow,” she believed. Jokingly, Inglish “didn’t want to stay in America and help people replace perfectly good couches.”

The idea of designing glass products and creating a new company tapped into Inglish’s artistic creativity, her desire to create employment opportunities, and her drive to take on new challenges. Yuka handed Good Glass over to Inglish in January 2012.

At first, Good Glass was focused on supplying products for other stores. However, Inglish quickly discovered the difficulties of being a producer in Kampala.

“I never thought I would open a shop because the rent in Kampala is so crazy…What we were working towards was being in as many venues as we could, but that’s also a nightmare because no one buys your stuff,” she said.

“They sell it on commission, so they’re not invested in your product. That’s really a problem in Kampala, I think, and a barrier for small companies that want to sell in other people’s shops As a producer, it’s really difficult.”

While Good Glass products are still found in various stores around the city, in September 2013 Inglish opened her own shop.

“The shop has increased our sales more than double of what we were doing before. There’s challenges to owning a shop, but it’s so much easier,” Inglish stated.