We sat down with Ivy Chege, one of the founders of Riri Jewellery, an accessories and jewelry designer brand in Kenya. Ivy Chege is the lead designer and Njuhi Chege, the co-founder, is the business manager. If you haven’t figured it out already by their names, they are not only business partners but also sisters with a love for fashion and design.
“Riri” means divine beauty in Kikuyu, which represents their brand essence. Riri Jewellery was launched in 2012 and at the time, Ivy Chege was attending university studying product design which entails jewelry, ceramics, sculpture and leather work. Njuhi Chege studied peace studies, had an interest in fashion and at the time was working with the Festival for Fashion and Arts (FAFA). Together, they brought their expertise and their love to create the Riri Jewellery brand.
Riri Jewelry, the brand, is a platform for young creative jewelers to express themselves. “Having to work with many people”, says Ivy, creates unity, which was a reaction to what is happening right now; especially in 2012 after the post-election violence. They therefore looked into how they could work together and be united. Riri Jewellery not only creates stunning pieces of work but also strives to educate and train others in the jewelry making business. “It gives other young people a platform to showcase their creativity.”
Riri Jewellery creates statement pieces for any wardrobe. “We want you to be noticed,” says Ivy. They also strive to use recycled materials to create their pieces. “I am bit of hoarder so I recycle quite a bit,” laughing shyly, showing a necklace piece created from recycled bra straps.
When Riri Jewellery was started in 2012, Ivy recalls that the industry was then starting to grow. “As a start-up, getting the word out is the hardest hurdle because in the beginning, only your friends and family know about you.” Building the network was also difficult, she states, which necessitated quite a bit of research about the market and suppliers of tools and materials, which was not easily accessible. At the time, Njuhi Chege was working with Kiko Romeo and is a member of the FAFA Board, which was a huge advantage to getting Riri Jewellery out there, she adds on. Njuhi Chege was connected with other fashion designers and was able to learn the trade from the inside, which contributed to Riri Jewellery growing as a fashion brand.
“We still think that think the west is better than Africa”
As time has gone by, the fashion events and craft fairs have increased, she remarks. “I think it is growing and most people are opening up. Thinking back four years ago, there was not much about jewelry designers.” One of the hurdles, a common one it would seem, is the mentality of the Kenyan people embracing local brands or their hesitation to do so. “I feel that maybe they view that western things are more superior. When you come up with these designs, they are handmade so the cost to make them is high. So when someone asks for the price, they don’t understand the cost. The leaf necklace, for example, is completely handmade and as a result costs 4000. Once people appreciate that, they will buy more into Kenyan products.” However, she states, that most of the people she knows appreciate Kenyan products. Those who do not, she further adds, unfortunately compare prices and would rather purchase cheap Chinese products than spend a little more on local products.
“We also need to change the mentality because you are trying to sell to Kenyans, so they should be targeted.”
“We still think that think the west is better than Africa and once we stop thinking that way and realize that we are superior, people will start appreciating Kenyan made products.” Njuhi Chege, who we later spoke with, concurred with the production costs contributing to the overall price of a product and further added that Kenyans will rather purchase second hand clothing, which has more variety, cheaper and more accessible.
Ivy’s top Kenyan designers are Adele Dejak, Kiko Romeo (where she worked as an intern), Kooroo and Le Collane di Betta. She also added jua kali. Jua kali means “hot sun” in Kiswahili by the nature of their work (out in the sun) and are small-scale craft and/or artisanal workers. “They are also designers in their own right,” Ivy states, and “when you walk around in the streets and see what they are doing, it truly is inspiring.” In her opinion, people need to start working together more and supporting each other with experience. “We also need to change the mentality because you are trying to sell to Kenyans, so they should be targeted.”
“I promote Kenya as much as possible especially in Maasai Market.”
At the moment, Ivy states, they are looking to create smaller wearable pieces inspired by the Armour of Love Collection showcased at FAFA this year. Njuhi Chege explains the Collection thus. “Armour of love is an irony. We wear Armour in preparation of an attack, while love demands the opposite- that we take off our defenses and receive positivity. It is in this irony that we exist nowadays, fearing war, terrorism, gang attacks and much more yet, still needing to be loved and to love others. Armour of love was inspired by the notion that the most powerful defense in protecting ourselves is in fact, by loving yourself and others.”
Ivy’s Advice for upcoming designers: “don’t give up, have a vision and don’t waiver from where you want to be. Just think of the goal and the prize even though you will obviously go through quite a bit of hardship.
They are now stocking their pieces in the Kiko Romeo store in Yaya Centre, River Café and in an online boutique in London called Sapelle. Their products can also be purchased online on the Riri Jewellery Website. For more information on Riri Jewellery, check out their Facebook and Twitter Pages.
Check out their Armour of Love Collection below. Photos Courtesy of Riri Jewellery, photography by Abraham Ali – all rights reserved.