It’s never too early to develop your personal sense of style. While we exist in an era that offers more variety and options than before, it’s also a time defined by mass production. Raise our hand if you’ve ever bought something and immediately saw five other people with the same item. Mildred Kunyanyi, a business management student at The Kenya Institute of Management, decided to do something about it; in her own way. She is the force behind the budding jewellery brand, Esmerize, and we caught up with the 23-year old to find out more:
What inspired you to start Esmerize?
I love jewellery! I used to shop online and at the stores in town but when you buy from these forums, you’ll always meet other people wearing the exact same pieces. I felt that I needed something unique for myself and decided to make some pieces for myself. Someone connected me to an artisan name Jared and I had a few pieces made for myself. Soon, people started to ask me who made them and where I bought them from. When I would mention that I was making them, my friends began asking me to make a piece or two for them as well and that’s how it all started. Through word of mouth others started asking me as well and that’s how I began to grow.
It’s not just about me now, it’s about other young people too…People my age who love jewellery but find most of the pieces in the market too expensive.
When did you think, ‘it’s time to make this official’ and launch your brand?
I made it official in mid-2016, when I started my social media pages. From the responses I was receiving, I could see that there was a need to design jewellery targeting my age group. People my age who love jewellery but find most of the pieces in the market too expensive. It’s not just about me now, it’s about other young people too. When designing the jewellery, I craft and price them in such a way that they can easily buy them. With that in mind, my price range is Ksh500 – 1000. The rings being Ksh500 and the necklaces can retail anywhere from Ksh850 to Ksh1,000. They are available through my social media, but we also stock at Ilkarashi at the Arbor in Lavington, as well as, at the Spinner’s web.
How did you transition from making pieces for yourself to making it for the brand?
At first I didn’t keep stock around, rather, I used to do on-order basis. Then I began to stock two to three pieces for each design. It started to pick up and the good thing is that Jared – yes I still work with the very same artisan – always delivers. If I needed five extra pieces in a week, he makes it happen.
And now you’re doing entire collections…tell us about the ones you have so far.
I have three official collections at the moment. However before those, I had an untitled collection that is used to test out the first designs I did for commercial purposes. I wanted to see if they would still sell if the pieces weren’t made specifically for me or if I wasn’t wearing them. I released my first official collection in 2016 called the Kisha Collection, which incorporated bone to beautify the brass. This was followed by the Marika Collection in 2017 that added wood instead. The 2018 collection is the Dawn Collection. I gave it that name because I’m trying to rebrand, so, it feels like a new dawn for me.
What aspects of your brand did you feel needed to change?
Apart from changing my logo, I felt that during 2016 and 2017, my brand was about selling a product to customers. I’m gravitating towards selling brand personality because I want to add personality to the experience. For instance I used to package because it was required but now I want to incorporate personal touches for regular clients with their purchases. I feel like that it will improve my brand and it will differentiate me from the rest of the brands.
Can someone still get pieces from the older collections?
Yes, you can. If you do want something from the previous collections and it’s not in stock we can have it made for you. In fact, my brand invites custom orders as well. Something that’s not part of my designs.
When it comes to customization, do you have a criteria for the things that you can and can’t make?
I don’t have many rules attached to custom orders because it’s about the client’s perceptive. It’s about their idea and what they want. Once a client brings us their design, we make a sample for the client; especially if it’s a complicated design. If you like it, we continue with the order. If not, we see what tweaks can be made tour execution process or the overall design. Nevertheless, we can’t do any design that doesn’t use the materials we work with. For example we can’t make something in silver when we work with brass. We also draw the line at replicating other designer’s designs. We want to create unique pieces.
You work largely with brass, as well as, bone, horn and wood. How do you stand out as a brand when quite a few Kenyan designers use these materials too?
True, there are a lot of brass designers in the industry. But it’s our design that separates us from the other brands. Although there is the challenge of people copying your designs – there’s a lot of that happening in the industry right now.
What have you put in place to protect yourself from copycats?
I’m still looking into protecting myself legally, such as acquiring a trademark and copyright. At the moment, I haven’t been able to set much in place because I work with a very small team. It’s just me, Jared and a rider that does delivers whenever I’m busy. I’m a student who is in school for eight hours, the designer, the marketing department, part-time delivery and I also have to manage the orders coming in.
How are you doing it all?
I function better in the morning so my day starts by 3am and when I’m really running late, its 4am. My passion for this keeps me going. If there’s a day that I don’t do something for my brand I feel like there’s something missing in me.
What have been some great moments for the brand?
The brand was just starting out and I reached out to Joy Kendi to see if she would like to pick some pieces and maybe do a shoot with them. I was so surprised and humbled that she accepted so easily. Then there have been the media features. This year we’ve had the opportunity to be featured on KTN’s Entrepreneur show and also in the Standard Magazine under a section on entrepreneurship. One of our biggest challenges Esmerize has face is breaking into the market. Getting people to realise that we exist has been an issue.
Any other challenges?
Finding people to work with that share the same passion and drive as you. It’s been really difficult and that’s why I have taken on most of the roles. I’ve found that people in my generation are working for money first and not really focusing on doing the task at hand to the best of their ability. Another challenge is having a consistent supply of materials. For example, we have to find different suppliers to bring because to get a specific supplier won’t always have stock.
Fresh from the Dawn Collection, do you have any work in the pipeline or goals for the future?
We are looking forward to a collaboration with another designer which we’ll share through social media soon. We’re open to working with bloggers and clothing designers in the industry. I really would like to work with Diana Opoti because her fashion style is on top and I love the way she promotes local designers. Other than that, I’m personally thinking about doing a limited Christmas collection that would be available between November and December.
Lastly, what does Esmerize’s future look like?
I am hoping that I’ll have workshop of my own. Maybe a physical shop with a showroom that shows where we came from and where we are going. And selling internationally of course!