Weaving the threads of a sustainable business

The first of our Vibrant Voices podcast sees Fiona Phillips talk to Nancy Johnston, CEO and founder of Tengri, a luxury lifestyle and fashion brand. Nancy talks about working with 4,500 nomadic Mongolian families to import high quality fibres from yaks into the UK to be used in clothing and accessories.

In these excerpts from the podcast Nancy explains how she made her idea into a reality, the challenges she met on the way, and how the business is now making a real difference.

It starts with inspiration

Fiona: “What inspired you to start Tengri?”

Nancy: “I saw a picture of Mongolia when I was a child and this picture just fascinated me…… And there was a brochure at that time recruiting for doctors, teachers, social workers and that inspired me for a life time really and I ended up getting into the profession of social work. I got made redundant in 2013 and I remembered that picture and hopped on a plane on my last day and ended up living with nomadic herders families.

I set up the company as a joint venture with a nomadic herder family so we pay them above market rate and then when the business is profit making we share the profits fairly and squarely. In the very short time that we've been in existence we started trading with 298 families and then within the first two years the number of families who signed up to trade grew to 4,500.”

Turning ideas into business reality

Fiona: “How did you go about it in the first place, because we all have ideas and think “hey that would make a good business” or maybe I should do that but that's where we stop?”

Nancy: “It's funny I'm not paid to endorse Grant Thornton in any way but I knew my biggest weakness was business and so in setting up Tengri I knew I had to get business help and so I ended up signing up to a programme with Grant Thornton who supported me since day one with mentoring and I've been on this amazing journey because of that support.”

Social impact matters to customers

Fiona: “Do today's customers value the social impact of a business like yours more now than perhaps they did in the past? “

Nancy: “I think, compared to the past we weren’t truly aware of the true environmental, social impact and now we're aware we have no choice but to choose to make a difference and consumers have that power. And there's a real frustrated consumer market place out there so I think businesses do have to act.”

How do you know it’s working?

Fiona:  “Have you had a standout moment with the business when you thought yes, I'm on my way now, this is it and I'm going upwards rather than in a straight line?”

Nancy: “I've had so many stand out moments because starting a business and not having any business background is a very scary venture. So the first stand out moment was when my co-founder Winnie designed our logo and she said do you mind if I submit this? We didn't have a website, nothing yet and we won International Brand Award and I'm like wow! This is a cracking start we have a brand! “

Listen to the whole of Nancy’s story or catch other inspirational business leaders talking about how they make an impact. 

Find out more about how we are shaping a vibrant economy or subscribe to CEO insights.

Read the transcript Download
Growth Vibrant voices Listen to our other podcasts
Research report Planning for growth: Don't let uncertainty hold your business back Discover the barriers and accelerators to private sector growth

Planning for growth

Read – uncover the barriers and accelerators to private sector growth in Planning for growth: don't let uncertainty hold you back

Visit - our growth hub for insight into taking your next growth step

Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and join the conversation using #PlanningForGrowth