When Trisha Williamson started her company Bambusa Jamaica in 2019 she had every intention of carving out as much of that global bamboo market as she could, and for a while she was able to reap significant rewards by simply focusing on manufacturing and selling bamboo straws.
She was encouraged by data which estimated that the global bamboo market is valued at US$53.28 billion and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 5.7 per cent from 2021 to 2028.
But her momentum was cut short in 2020 when the novel coronavirus pandemic threw her a curve ball.
"When we started in 2019 my first thought was around bamboo straws, then COVID hit and like everybody else we had to pivot, and so where we started in our first year, having one collection, we had to move forward our plans and really expand, so we grew from one to over 30," Williamson told the Jamaica Observer.
Bambusa's current collections includes signature photo boards, picnic baskets, coconut bowls, candles, cutting boards, photo wood gift boxes, wood journals, key chains, bamboo straws, and other natural creations.
She said while the company was forced to pivot, Bambusa's mission to advance environmental sustainability did not die.
"We have a wide range of gifts that we do mainly for corporate clients but also individuals. Our sustainable focus, mission, and vision has not changed. We still don't deal with anything plastic so everything is natural, handcrafted by our team. We try to keep that local employment as much as possible; 95 per cent of what we do is done here or at least finished here," she stated, emphasising Bambusa's commitment to growing Jamaica's economy.
So how did Bambusa expand in the middle of a pandemic? Williamson told Sunday Finance that it took a lot of willpower and sheer determination.
"We've really grown significantly and we had to because, with the pandemic, the straws were really a travel essential and it stopped for two years so we branched out and really brought in new revenue," she explained.
"For any business that made it through the past two years, kudus to you, it's been a rough two years. I'm not going to sugar-coat it, but I will say that we've continued to grow every year by 20 per cent and our goal in the next five years is to be able to be on the Junior Stock Exchange, that is still a plan that we have, it's the place to be, it's so exciting," she continued.
But that's not all, Williamson disclosed that Bambusa is now operating out of the United States as well and will be seeking further expansion soon.
"We've just registered our company in the United States so that's where our focus is. So, for the next year and coming out of all that we've learnt in the Scotiabank Vision Achiever programme, we're really amplifying our plan to make that expansion broad," she informed.
Continuing, she noted "There are some strategic events, large corporate gifts supplier events that we're going to tap into to really break into that market and utilise the advantages that North America has with fulfilment centres and e-commerce, to really expand. So you'll find now, where we're making stuff for local companies, we're going to be having a new avenue where we're producing and exporting."
In the meantime, she emphasised that Bambusa hasn't abandoned its core business, highlighting that the company is simply diversifying and growing.
"We do the straws but now it's really for corporate clients, like when they have food events and festivals, that's what we tailor to now rather than the individuals. The reason is, we achieved our mission, we brought in the straws as an alternative to plastic straws, and working on national campaigns to have that change we replaced over five million plastic straws within the first year in sales of our bamboo straws. In addition to that, people then found other alternatives, like steel, glass, and paper. So you found the market shifting and we adjusted to it, so there's no ill-feeling. We're happy that when we go to restaurants there's no plastic straws," she added.
At the same time, she said a physical location may be on the horizon, "We've been getting a lot of requests to have a physical presence. We've mostly been digital so that's definitely an option we're considering in the next two years. It's the type of product that people love to see and touch, and their reaction is just very natural," the Bambusa CEO explained.