Magic + Makers

An Uncommon Union: A California Girl and Her Ugandan Business Partner For Life

by | May 15, 2018

Business, I know, should be measured in profit and loss. Ours I measure in life lived.

I measure it in marriages, births, and deaths: in the years I’ve watched her become a wife, a mother and in the deaths of our parents.

There was the summer she had a tribal wedding ceremony in her childhood village: our first year. We were working out of a government sponsored incubator, and I remember losing my temper when she missed a meeting.

I barely knew her then. Later, I’d found out that a photographer had lost her only videos of her late mother. I wouldn’t understand the difficulty around that loss until I began to lose my own father. That was Q2, by my measurements: the second

Q3 came the night before her ceremony, when I was assaulted. In the months following, she tread the deep waters of the cultural, emotional and physical hell my assault had created, with a quiet rage that kept me from drowning.

That spring, our line, Olivia Knox, was accepted into Bloomingdales. I packed 27 boxes full of a horn bathroom line I’d designed myself without a single feeling of pride. Packing lists, stickers, and boxes all went out the door with a numb awareness that my father had stage four cancer.

When he died, she carried me. “I have you,” she said. “You hear me? I have you.”

His t-shirt stopped smelling like him the week we landed a Google contract.

We landed our first five-year partnership while she was pregnant with her firstborn. There was an election that year that affected her family – and us – and I remember our crackling calls from Nairobi, where I stayed until the unrest lifted and I could go set things in motion to begin fulfilling orders.

I discovered the old mattress factory that I knew, instinctively, was ours during my first trip back to Uganda after the assault. She worked to convert it the year her baby learned to walk.

During our first production run for Oscar De La Renta, I started showing symptoms of intense PTSD. She lost her father. And my Mom set foot in Uganda for the first time.

“Welcome to our family,” her sister in law said to my mother during her father’s wake. “Now, you are one of us, too.”

That week, my assailant, a former friend, asked for my forgiveness. The week I forgave him, he told my mother that I am a woman doing a thing nobody was doing in his country before. He said, “She is doing some ‘first’ things. And she has navigated them well.”

I cried in the bathroom that night, knowing that the shared attempt to overcome the evil he and I had unequally participated in, together, against my body, was a bigger ‘first’ thing for both of us than my business would ever be. Neither of us knew how to navigate it, let alone navigate it well. We could only reach as deep as we could for the love that we had held before it happened, and use it to build a bridge held together by our shared desire to heal what had broken in me.

When I told her, she quietly said, “I am so proud of you. This came from inside of you. You brought something dark into the light.”

When she said goodbye to her father, a week later, I wept while she read a letter to him. Her face was strong, and soft, in front of thousands of mourners when she said, “I have no regrets, because I have loved you with all of the love that I could muster.”

In a world of measurements pressuring us to be a certain kind of entrepreneurial team, she has loved me this way, too.

I have no regrets, because we have loved, together, with all the love that we could muster.

I have no regrets because I can measure what we have done in the life we have lived.

This is our story. Mine and Olivia’s. 

To learn more about Shanley Knox and Olivia Byanyima’s business, Olivia Knox, visit: