Soko combines style and social impact to create refined products with a purpose. Every piece supports a community of talented entrepreneurs and helps reinvent the fashion industry for good. We are pioneers of Ethical Fast Fashion. Our mission is to make fashion work for the poor and environment, rather than against it. Our artisans use reclaimed, recycled, and locally-sourced materials whenever possible, and all our products are handcrafted in Africa.
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| TALK NAIROBI AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY WITH GWENDOLYN, ELLA & CATHERINE |
TJF: How did Soko come about?
S: Soko was born out of a love of design, a combination of global perspectives, the desire to connect and empower entrepreneurs via the use of the technology, and a belief that women can change the world. We were inspired to create technology solutions to change the lives of entrepreneurs in Africa. We recognized a global need, as well as global opportunity, to disrupt the systemic patterns of poverty found across Africa’s creative economy.
As we built and prototyped our original marketplace technology (more like an Etsy for Africa) we realized we had only scratched the surface of opportunity and the true impact, was an end to end vertically integrated brand and supply solution wherein ALL stakeholders could dramatically benefit - from the artisans to retailer to end consumers.
The market was ripe for disruption and predicated upon a false dichotomy between fast and slow (ethical) fashion that forced the global consumer to choose between their values and wallets. The industry currently relies on a broken production model of cheap labor and low quality, environmentally destructive inputs that are horrible for people and our planet. Handmade production and heritage materials provides immense value not just to artisans and local economies, but to customers as well. We believe that we can leverage smart innovation to enable artisans and handmade production to compete, at scale, on the international market and validate a future where artisan goods can compete with machine made for certain and significant segments of the market.
TJF: What is the inspiration behind the brand?
S: Soko was born as a means to create demand for, learn about, and optimize the supply chain technology platform we had developed. It then developed a life of its own. The brand and our supply chain innovation have a symbiotic relationship that when married together address our original inspiration for starting the company - to empower creative economies, and the artisans that drive them, across the developing world. We wanted to prove that you could indeed marry best in class aesthetics, price, and impact to pioneer ethical fast fashion by leveraging innovation and design.
TJF: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
S: The designs are inspired by traditional African styles and symbols, paired with a penchant for architecture and minimalism. We are extremely inspired by the varying landscapes of the continent and due to some of our positive constraints, such as material usage, the materials we can use truly guide the shapes and styles we can create and in turn, become uniquely ours.
TJF: What makes Soko jewelry unique and different from other brands?
S: We combine impact and design in ways no other brands are exploring.
TJF: What are your favourite pieces?
S: Season after season, it really only gets better. As we further understand the intricacies of our supply chain and our network of artisan entrepreneurs quickly scales the quality is unprecedented and the ability to interpret widespread trends in an inherently “Soko” way is so incredibly powerful. When you experience a Soko product, retracing the steps of how this product landed in your hands from an artisan’s hands, you understand how each piece and moment in the collection is unlike anything that has been previously explored.
TJF: How would you describe your customer?
S: She’s curious, conscious, and ever-evolving.
TJF: Who’s your muse?
S: It would be quite hard to answer this question fairly. We’ve really made a concerted effort to design for the woman who doesn’t want to compromise her ethics to look good. That woman is taking a stand in her personal life and possibly in her community. She sees every style decision she makes as a symbol of her beliefs.
TJF: What’s your favourite city in the world?
S: It would have to be Nairobi – even though we are partly bias. It is such a complex, innovative city with layers that are constantly being unearthed. There is a dynamic technology scene, fashion and culture permeate and it is truly an international development hub. You have all of that bustling surrounded by the most beautiful nature that could ever exist. You can quite literally go on Safari and see a giraffe passing by with the cityscape tucked in the background.
TJF: What’s your favourite flower?
S: Ranunculus have so many unique layers and colors. I’m especially attracted to the bright yellow ones (and am so glad yellow is making a comeback, in general!) They are also fascinating because they only grow naturally in two specific places, the Middle East and the United States. Each place has its own tales surrounding the flower, while different, both imply the healing power of the Ranunculus.
TJF: What’s the most challenging part of the business? And the most rewarding?
S: The most challenging part of the business are the positive constraints we have set for ourselves. At times, there are designs or partnerships that we simply can’t pursue because of our model and overall mission. In that, comes great learning, but also a true commitment to empowering our stakeholders with every decision made. In turn, this is what makes it so wildly rewarding. We are deeply impacting the lives of artisans through Nairobi along with creating a global team that is disrupting antiquated norms around manufacturing and production.
TJF: If you didn’t found Soko, what would you most likely be doing?
S: I would likely be pursuing a similar project at the intersection of design, innovation and international development.