Meeting Mvoo Wanje was an absolute pleasure. At 24, he is passionate, a visionary, a dreamer, a go-getter, a jeweller and extremely zen.
He started his business in 2012, as a result of his frustrations in the design world. Trained as a graphic designer but was not getting fulfillment in that field, he transitioned over to jewelry design and accessories (Bags pictured below). “I didn’t see why my creativity had to be limited by a software or by how good I can operate a software. I had the idea but had difficulty in applying that creativity.” The initial idea was to design t-shirts but in the midst of his “soul-searching” he narrowed down his passion to jewelry as a means to do something different. Here is an example of his t-shirts.
“If I am going to do something with my life, I don’t want to be bored. That’s not the life I am looking to live.”
He has always been fond of jewelry and was primarily influenced by the hip hop culture he was immersed in as he grew up. Bonkerz the Bear was the brainchild of him and a friend of his called Kora, a musician, who designed the piece. He then began to make a neck pieces, which was an instant success. He got into the jewelry industry as a designer not as a businessman. In making strategic decisions about his brand, he needed to ensure an element of growth and longevity. He might say that he is not a businessman but he sure is thinking along those lines. One of those decisions was not to pursue a t-shirt line which in retrospect he is happy about.
When he began doing jewelry and accessories, his mind was opened up to new possibilities. The jewelry was initially made with a form of acrylic plastic. Initially, his clients would have the power to select every element of a piece, the color and beads and the arrangement, which made every piece unique to the client. Everything was very personal and hand delivered. As much as Bonkerz is as big as it is, it became difficult to introduce new pieces into the brand because people started referring to him as Bonkerz the Jeweler whereas his brand is in fact Mvoo the Jeweller.
He created another piece called the Beaver which became difficult to introduce as a result of the Bonkerz fame. As much as it’s the reason he is here today, he has been working on breaking that label to allow the Mvoo the Jeweller brand to grow in itself without being limited by one piece. His desire for longetivity of his brand is seen in his passion to create something for his future children to carry on.
“My kids have to run that company. I am not about to conform to the norm in society. There is more to life than waiting for a salary at the end of the month.”
There is too much unemployment in the country and its simply because people don’t want to look beyond the norm. “You do your clean 16 years of school to be in a job your unhappy about. You are not willing to take the risk and suffer for this thing to be what you want it to be. To follow up the dream with action.”
“The fashion market does not need to be this boring.” Unfortunately, there is a lack of creativity in the industry by virtue of using the same fabric, the same patterns, the same cut and the same concepts. There is a need for creativity and a purpose to each person’s role in the industry.
In the industry, there is a need to accept ignorance and learn constantly. Nobody knows everything. “Everything has a process and you have to go through it to the end.” There is a lot of work and research required in the industry. “The reason fashion in Kenya is getting boring is because people are not looking out there and expanding knowledge and innovate.” When you become a designer, there is need to grow and compete internationally and not only within Kenyan borders. There is also a need to share knowledge and bring up and encourage those who are trying to get in. There is nothing new under the sun and by not sharing, no one is gaining.
Although Mvoo is still young in the industry, his vision for the industry and his motivation to find a way to grow the industry is remarkable. He recognizes that the market in Kenya is growing and wants to be part of the change. He also recognizes the talent that is out there that just needs a push in the right direction; a means to overcome the temporary challenges for a greater future. This of course will only take place when there is courage in the mix to step out and do something different. “We have the equal opportunity to be as big as any industry.” But he also recognizes that there is quite a bit of work still needed for the Kenyan fashion industry to reach its potential.
From the time he started Bonkers, he worked on several collections. His first collection began with black plastic, grew into white, grew into silver, grew into clear then finally into wood. Wood was the chosen material for its association of Africa. He didn’t want to necessarily have the African map so the wood was the decided element. Despite the earrings below, which have the African map, this was not his intention as it was pointed out to him only after. His association of wood and Africa truly permeated in his creations even though subconsciously.
“What defines me as a jeweler when you can go to Masaii Market and buy the same? I cannot create a brand that can easily be mass produced.” He is looking to do custom pieces. The one pictured below is for Muthoni the Drama Queen. [picture below] He has also done pieces for Octopizzo among others. A custom made piece goes for about 3000 Kenya Shillings.
As a designer, regardless of doing it for the Kenyan market, we are fundamentally competing with designers who have been doing this for generations such as Versace. These type of designers have provided the benchmark for designers to look up to and be challenged. “You see as far you allow your eyes to see.”
Here are a few of his pieces.
Getting into the secular industry when your Father is a pastor is incredibly difficult he explained. There is always some speculation and unreasonable expectations. “The moment I choose to pave my way, there is an assumption of rebellion.” Its really difficult to break through but having asked whether this is a price he is willing to pay, he downright proclaimed “absolutely ,yes!”
There is quite a bit left to be seen from Mvoo the Jeweller and we will be keeping a close eye.