1. Tell us a bit about you and your business and how it came about?
Our company, Matugga Distillers, produces a multi-award-winning range of artisanal Scottish rums from scratch (under the brands Matugga Rum and Liv Rum) at our distillery in Livingston, which are distributed across the UK and Europe. I lead the company with my husband Paul, who is Head Distiller. I am a mother with 2 daughters, they’re 9 and 6 and full of beans.
2. How did you get here? How did those experiences growing up shape your life today?
I’m part of a large African-Caribbean family and was born and raised in south London. My family hails from Jamaica and my grandparents were part of the so-called Windrush generation that emigrated from the Caribbean to the UK during the 1950s. Paul was born in Uganda. Our artisanal rums are directly linked to our proud African and Caribbean heritage.
- How did you come up with the name Matugga and what makes your business unique?
Matugga is actually the name of a town in Uganda where our family has a landholding – the land was lovingly toiled by Paul’s late mother who was a farmer and agricultural lecturer. It is the inspiration behind our company and brands.
Our artisanal distillery draws upon a rich and unique “rum triad” – rooted in Jamaica’s rum-making traditions, showcasing the culture and flavours of East Africa, blended with Scotland’s proud distilling heritage.
Where are you based and how did you end up in that location?
We relocated from London to Livingston in 2017, so that Paul could undertake the brewing and distilling course at Heriot-Watt University and help us master the craft of distillation. We then built a distillery from scratch in an empty industrial unit in Livingston.
Paul was originally a civil engineer so when we decided to get into distilling that was a big pivot. We love Scotland and our girls settles in so well. We love the slower pace of life here compared to London. We even have a stir recipe with our white rum and Irn Bru which goes down very well.
- What has been an unforeseen difficulty that you encountered with your business? A speed bump that you didn’t expect.
Our priority over the past year has been to expand our production from four 200-litre copper pot stills to a single 2,000-litre still. It was challenging to both raise the capital required to scale up and complete the installation programme. However, we succeeded on both fronts. Finding the right routes to funding, we had to get quite creative. We got support from banks but the biggest campaign for funding was through our crowd funding. We’ve now built this amazing community of over 300 investors.
- How do you achieve work-life balance? What does a typical day look like for you?
This is a myth! As a busy entrepreneur raising two young children, the competing roles can bring huge pressures. It’s important that we put sufficient energy into self-care and relaxation. I have to be deliberate about it. Making time for respite is so important - to mitigate physical and mental exhaustion. Moving to Scotland we lost our family support. Living in London we were so spoilt and had aunts, uncles, cousins to get help with the kids. So now it’s a lot of juggling family and work life.
I try to go for a short run around my neighbourhood most mornings – it’s energising and clears the brain fog. I am not a natural runner hut I’ve got into it and it really helps me to relax. I try to focus on self-care and taking breaks, as an entrepreneur it’s something you really have to fight for.
I’m an early bird so I get a lot of work done before the kids wake up so that time is really valuable for me. We drop our daughters to primary school and my working day starts after that.
I’ve got better at asking for help too! Paul and I manage the majority of distillery operations between us. I oversee a broad mix of activities across management, administration and business development including hosting rum tastings, bartender training or working our exhibitor stand at a trade show. I could be liaising with stockists, planning industry partnerships, overseeing bottling and quality control or getting involved in new product development at the distillery. Every day is different – I love that about our enterprise.
- How are you becoming more sustainable in life and in work?
We care about the social and environmental impact of our business activities in the communities that we operate. We really focus on our supply chain and are currently developing a sugarcane plantation in Uganda, where we will train local agricultural workers.
If we’re not busy enough we’re now going back to Matugga and planting a sugarcane development which will allow us to grow sugarcane and help to protect the livelihoods of Ugandan sugarcane farmers while addressing our supply chain to make it as sustainable as possible. The training provided for locals will show them how to transform sugar into molasses which creates a much better route to income for growers. Meaning we have complete control over our supply chain = cane to cask! While also creating a higher quality raw material and giving back to Matugga’s local communities.
- No Inspirational Woman is an island - tell us about your team/who supports you?
We are supported by a brilliant team across production, business development and marketing.
Team No.1 is Paul and I. Paul is head distiller and I’m more creative so we’re a good duo. Leaning on him is everything, for the business and home life, plus we’re quite good at problem solving together.
We have a very small team, we have Grahm and Quinn supporting Paul in production and I’m supported by a brilliant team of external consultants for marketing and business developments. That works for us at this stage of our growth.
- What is your favourite part of your job?
All of the touch points with our customers! We’ve tried every style of customer facing events from farmers markets to big trade shows, festivals in the UK and abroad - there’s nothing better than seeing their reaction to your craft and passion. That’s always going to be my favourite part and it reminds us of why we’re in this business.
I also love welcoming people into our distillery every month. We have basically kitted out an industrial warehouse, it’s very rustic, but once a month Paul and I lead a distillery tour and welcome about 25 people on a Saturday night. I love it, it’s very authentic, we’re very open about our processes and the guests always seem quite enchanted. They get fed lots and lots of rum and we also do a food pairing.
- Did you ever have a mentor or inspirational woman that helped you or you looked up to?
All of the women in my family – my mum, my grandmothers and my aunts are my biggest inspiration. My mum is our greatest cheerleader and our first investor as well. My late grandmothers who helped raise me and I still that culture and heritage. Having that support network was really important and I learnt a lot from them.
I’ve had some great mangers who have become my friends now. I also reach out to other women who are doing amazing things, even in the spirits industry. It’s quite a male dominated industry but there are some amazing women leaders in the sector who have been very generous with their advice. Everyone in Scotland has been so supportive.
What advise would you give to someone following in your footsteps?
The entrepreneurial life is not for everyone, it takes a certain appetite for the lifestyle, the drive and chaos. But if you have an amazing idea you’ve got to go for it because if you don’t someone else will.
I would say to build your network, find your mentors, don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t let any perceived barriers deter you / derail your plans. There will be lots of highs and lows so it’s just about learning to ride that rollercoaster. Celebrate the wins and rise up again when its not going as well.
As a woman, and a woman of colour, who owns a distillery and is founder of spirits brands, I’m a rarity in Scotland. However, it only takes one person to effect change and I won’t be the last.
- What’s next for you and Matugga Rum?
We recently scaled up so now we want to put Scottish rum on the global map. We’re looking at new territories like North America and slow market entry into the US. And the homecoming! Which is can we bring Matugga to East Africa. My in-laws have been on my case for a while about wanting to buy the rum locally – there has been so much pride in the family in Uganda.
We will continue to take our consumers on a journey of discovery in terms of understanding the possibilities for rum. We cannot wait to bring more exciting product development initiatives to the people of Scotland and further afield.
Where to find Matugga next?
Matugga will next be at the Scottish Rum Festival which is taking place on Saturday 2nd September at the beautiful new Patina venue in Edinburgh Park.
Scotland is best known for being the home of whisky, but it's the nation's emerging rum scene that is getting people excited.
The festival will consist of two sessions: an afternoon session from 12:00 to 16:00 and an evening session from 17:00 to 21:00.
Featuring a strong line up of Scottish rum producers
their rums to sip and mix, you'll enjoy delicious tastings, cocktails, masterclasses and more.
Jacine in one of our new chunky knit cardigans... available for pre-order soon!!