What do you look for when shopping for a new pair of earrings or a new ring? Trends? Sure. Materials? Always. What about the designer who makes the pieces? Even better. Which brings us to SOKO jewelry, the eco-friendly collection of horn and brass necklaces, bangles and earrings handmade by artisans in Africa.
We know shopping for jewelry is more than personal, so we thought you might want to get even better acquainted with SOKO and the process behind their Kenyan-rooted designs. We chatted with co-founder Gwendolyn Floyd, who splits her time between Nairobi and SOKO’s San Francisco HQ below.
Tell us about your design process and how SOKO pieces are made.
Our design process is truly collaborative. We try to blend the best of international trends with heritage production techniques and materials to create pieces that women can wear every day and feel unique and contemporary while being tied to the culture and tradition of the artisans who made them.
Our original designs are almost always improved and contributed to by the artisans, resulting in pieces that feel authentically connected to both sides of our market.
How have the relationships with Kenyan artisans evolved since you started working with them?
When we first began developing SOKO, we recruited 15 artisans. Since then, we’ve grown the artisan network to over 1,300 artisans and helped them earn significant income, grow their businesses, and become leaders in their communities. The SOKO relationship is a true partnership. We’re committed to helping artisans grow as independent entrepreneurs, partnering to prove a new model of international trade where all stakeholders can benefit—from the artisans to the retailers we work with, to SOKO as a business.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in their communities?
Within two months of joining the platform, artisans increase their income on average by a factor of five! Within four months they have the capital and confidence to grow their businesses and hire employees (including women hiring men and even elders in the community!).
SOKO artisans can lift themselves out of poverty, send their children to school, and feed their families three times a day. They also have access to healthcare and are able to transform themselves from disenfranchised artisans living and working in one of Africa's largest slums into successful business people fulfilling orders for some of the world's best brands.
Women especially have benefitted from SOKO's focus on women's empowerment. We’ve discovered that when you have a woman working alongside men, they are two times more likely to deliver their production on time!
Describe the SOKO fall collection.
Minimal, modern aesthetic mixed with the warmth and heritage of tribal design.
What are some of your favorite materials?
We love working with brass (often recycled!) and ethically sourced ankole cattle horn. These materials are locally sourced in East Africa and are part of long tradition of brass and horn craft in Kenya. Brass develops a patina over time that becomes unique to the wearer based on their experiences—it truly has a story. Ankole cattle horn is reclaimed from butcheries and salvaged from the waste stream. lt has a gorgeous natural variation and pieces can range from a dark luscious black to natural striated tones.
Name three words that represent SOKO.
Innovation, style, and impact!
Which fall piece are you already calling dibs on?
The globe jacket earrings—we've yet to see anyone whose jaw doesn't drop when seeing how amazing these look.