Kipato Unbranded: Creating a Story of Beauty and Empowerment.

Why they chose the name Kipato Unbranded:

  1. Kipato: Kiswahili word for income. This underscores the social justice core of the enterprise. We ensure that our artists are empowered by their work and receive fair wages for their creativity. From its beginnings, 50% of any of the profits from the artist’s’ work, whether sold in international or local markets, goes directly to the artist, creating a model that is sustainable and fair to them.
  2. We are “unbranded” because we are focused on creating jewelry by everyday people, for everyday people. We believe that beautiful Kenyan jewelry should not be out of reach for Kenyans and Africans on the continent, and therefore we are striving to create an enterprise that is accessible and approachable.
From left: Elijah Omadau, Marta Krajnik and Kennedy ‘Ojiko’ Odundo [Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
From left: Elijah Omadau, Marta Krajnik and Kennedy ‘Ojiko’ Odundo [Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
With such a novel concept, TDS had to sit down with Marta, and her Operations Manager, Sonia Iraguha, to learn just how ethical fashion IS sustainable.

What inspired you to tackle the dual problem?

M: I’ve been in the development world for over 10 years based in East Africa. For me it was really important to do something with social impact that created sustainable change as well as allowed me to tap into my creativity. I used to paint and write, but I wasn’t using my creativity as I was focused on the development world. So this gave me a channel to combine the two.

We’re mainly supply driven than demand driven. Many luxury jewellery companies are demand driven because they’re focus is profits. Our two main artisans come from lower income areas, so my aim was to give them 50 per cent of the profits. And that is our main mission and vision. Everything is handmade so for us we want to have ethical sustainable growth. We want our artists to be partners within our company model.

[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
But how do you meet the overheads and operations costs?

M: Obviously, in terms of sustainability it doesn’t work if I’m not making income that sustains the business. The artisans reinvest between 15 and 30 percent. Say our overheads are low one month, then they reinvest their own profits to make the business grow. If we have high overheads then they reinvest about 15 per cent.

You work closely with Elijah and Kennedy… why is it important to share their stories?

M: They are the focus of our mission, it important that their stories are heard and that our customers and supporters know that our jewellery supports their lively hood. That’s something that is core to our mission. We work with these two who work within other networks in the areas they work in. Take for example in Kibera. There is a bone makers association that Ojiko works with. And I know that Elijah works with artisans in Rongai and Karen. So if you look at one piece of jewelry, it just doesn’t support them, but it definitely supports a network of people who contributed to some part of production.

[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
The Kipato Unbranded website also brings consumer’s attention to contributer’s… who are they?

M: While I am the main shareholder and only investor in the group, these four women, all under 35, came on board to bring certain skills that they invest into the business as their contribution. For example there is graphic designer, Elwira Gentowt, is in charge of all the logos and branding. Zipo Akinyi is the designer who concentrates on the jewellery. Laureta Madegwa is the legal expert of the group while Malgorzata ‘Gosia’ Suraj is the photojournalist and photographer that deals with documentation of Kipato Unbranded.

You’ve mentioned that you create jewelry that is inspired by everyday people and for everyday people. What makes your pieces unique especially since you work with popular local materials?

M: Generally we focus on minimalistic designs so that in itself makes the unique. Our creativity comes in through their versatility. They easily transition from day to night. It’s stuff that you can throw on with a t-shirt and jeans that would work with a dress. It’s all about finding your niche. If you would go to Maasai market you wouldn’t find some of these pieces.

[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
Zippo mentioned that she wants to start a men’s line… is there really a demand for men’s jewellery in Kenya?

M: There is! We find that half of our customers are men. A lot of the time they want to buy for themselves and we actually don’t have a lot on offer for them. We’ve gotten a lot of inquiry on when there will be a men’s line. We’re planning to have a ‘his and hers’ collections. Some of our artisans are making the prototypes and we already have around 10 items. However I would want a few more prototypes before we can launch.

Why is youth unemployment a cause you feel strongly about? Tell us a little bit about your six young brand activators…

M: It’s definitely an issue in Kenya and if you look at the statistics, about 35 percent of youth are unemployed in this country. It’s something we definitely want to support. Our seven ambassador’s team are all under 25 and Sonia our operations Manager is in charge of that… then we have 12 other people who promote our events and help sell our products.

S: We started doing events and we saw that we needed a team that would be energetic and interested in both the jewellery and the social aspect as well. We also envisioned that the sales person wouldn’t be limited to sales. The brand activators would go out of their way to showcase our jewelry in different ways, including using their passions to market it.

S: Apart from working our events, they also decide what they can do on top of that. It’s is based on their skills, interests or what they want to improve in. For example, we have brand activators that are amazing at sales and want a little extra responsibility so we give them product and they make a commission off of what they sell. And then there are those who are strong at media and we give them tasks aligned with that.

[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
Why?

S: We want to be able to give these young individuals different skills and experience because based on the job market right now… it helps to have these skills to set you apart. When I was in university, I wish had this opportunity to work on weekends and earn not just a little extra cash but also earn the experience. We’re open to anyone who is motivated enough, willing to learn and wants to make the world a better place.

Is that how you joined the Kipato Unbranded family?

S: I was buying a ring from Marta and she was an amazing sales person. I am the kind of person who sees something, thinks about it and then I’ll make the purchase later but she managed to convince me to buy it on the spot. She started asking me what I do and that is how I joined as marketing and then graduated to overseeing all the operations at Kipato.

I’d say I’m one of the first grow-ins because I came knowing very little and the knowledge I’ve gotten now is amazing. It gives you a different view of your career too. Most people want the huge corporate jobs immediately but you realise you learn more from social enterprises that have a cause and work to better someone else’s lives. I work hand in hand with Marta. Who knew a ring would lead to this!

I like sharing this story because it was an organic process where we grow slowly and that’s why we started the brand activators.

[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
Why do pop ups et al work for your brand?

M: We have 5 stores that we share with other brands. One at Marula Mercantile – Marula Studios, the Hub Karen – the Urban African Lifestyle Company, one at the Arbor, the Alchemist with One Hundred Years and Wasp and Strap in Loresho.

For us, it didn’t make sense to have our own store because it’s not affordable. Instead, we do deals on consignment where we only get profit after we sell. Three out of the five stores we don’t pay rent. The two charge a low rent fee since it’s a cost sharing arrangement. The reason why we do pop ups, especially in the stores that we do pay rent, we want to make the most out of that rent. So we gear traffic to get more sales and get higher profits. Another thing that we do is that we partner with restaurants because we don’t get charged to use their locations and it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement because the restaurant gets more clients.

A lot of the events that go on in Nairobi are not real value for money. Because you get charged between KShs7,000 to KShs35,000 just for the day and you may not even make that back; especially if it’s a rainy day. So we decided to think outside the box.

[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
 What is the latest or newest collection?

M: We actually have three collections. There is the inverted collection which is a twist on some of the pieces we already have, just different variations. So some chains we’d incorporate leather or colour in different styles. The other collection, while it has been in the local market, hasn’t been promoted externally and that is a lot of the stackable designs such as the midi-rings and the bangles. Then of course we have the ‘his and hers’ collection.

Price range?

M: It’s very affordable… so it’s about KShs800 to around KShs4, 000 depending on the product. It’s quite a middle range.

[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
Which comes back to the question of how the company makes money?

M: You’re looking at this from the wrong perspective. If your prices are lower they are that way for a reason. Lower prices make the item more accessible meaning you will make more sales. So even if another company with sell the same ring for $30 they may only sell one piece. Whereas I will sell five rings at $15 so my profit margins will be greater.

We are not struggling to make profit, we are making a really good profit. But we are making it in a responsible way. We’ve though it through. We want to have a niche in the market, there is no point of working like everybody else. We make exponential sales but we wanted to be fair and support the artists behind the craft.

We also don’t pay for our recycling materials so that is not a cost to us. If you look at it holistically, we sell much more because it is at a more affordable price.

[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
[Image: Courtesy of Kipato Unbranded]
You’re an environmentally responsible enterprise as well.

M: Some of the recycled products we use are recycled bone that is a by-product from butchers to make jewellery.  We’re using a material that is already considered a waste product. In terms of our displays, we use a lot of by-product wood material left over from fundis that make chairs and furniture. Packaging wise, even our bags are made from recycled cloth which are by-products from tailors which we then convert into the bags.

I think it should be important to everyone with climate change, factories in Bangladesh collapsing because no one is paying attention to fair wages. Everyone should have ethical morals at the forefront of their company. From fair wags, basic human rights to conserving the environment. We’re investing in the future generations to come and every little action counts.

 

To meet this extraordinary team keep posted for the next pop up through

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PS: they also have an online store that comes with free delivery in case you need that emergency gift to you or yours!

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