University of Exeter student set to pitch Kenyan hat business at UK festivals this summer

University of Exeter student set to pitch Kenyan hat business at UK festivals this summer

Final year Biology student Ben Wedd has big plans for his business BensBuckets, having secured funding to sell his bucket hats at several UK festivals this summer. 

Ben took inspiration for the business following a trip home to Kenya over Christmas in 2021, where he came across a stall in Nairobi selling bucket hats made out of a traditional African material called Kitenge. He brought some back as gifts for housemates, and after seeing the positive reaction, commissioned the manufacture of 300 hats from the stall when he returned to Kenya in Easter. He sold the hats to friends, through online marketplace Depop, and at a stall on the University campus in May last year.

To date, Ben has sold approximately 1000 hats, which has included custom orders for University of Exeter sports teams and societies.

Ben works closely with tailor Nancy in Nairobi, who manufactures the hats and Ben pays her per unit for the final products. Ben returns to Kenya regularly to see her and they pick materials and patterns together for the hats at local textile markets.  If there is a larger order, there is a network of contract tailors available to support.

Ben recently completed the Pre-Incubator and Incubator programmes at the University delivered by the SETsquared Exeter Student Startups team.

He was recommended the programme by fellow student Sophie Witt, who has launched her own seaglass jewellery business, Bahari Blu.

Ben said: “The highlight of the programme for me is definitely the community I’ve gained. When you're setting up something like this, it's quite isolating because everyone around you is just doing normal things - they're not trying to start their own business. In the Pre-Incubator and the Incubator cohorts, we've all got something in common.”

On the programme, Ben successfully pitched for a £3,500 startup grant which he will spend on securing pitches at festivals this summer, getting a stall made, and business essentials like a card reader and label printer. He also secured a £500 market validation grant, which he will use to test a new product – Boonie hats – made out of the same material. All grant funding was made available through the generous support of philanthropic partner Santander Universities UK.

After graduating this summer, Ben hopes to get a part-time job in Exeter and spend more of his time working on BensBuckets. He would like to grow the e-commerce side of the business, and find a distributor in Exeter so he can put his focus into getting stock from Kenya to the UK.

In the future Ben would like to explore creating smart wear pieces using the Kitenge material, and has already made some samples.

Find out more about BensBuckets on the website

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