While working at the UN headquarters in New York City developing a programme for African youth, Njuhi Chege found herself researching more on blogs, mobile phone apps, world-class art, music and fashion events—things that were changing the face of Africa.
“I wanted to be a part of this wave of creativity. So when my contract came to an end, I got on a flight and headed back home to embark on my entrepreneurial journey. Riri Jewellery was my first baby and have since continued to learn as much as I can about the business,” she says.
Ms Chege says her passion is jewellery and cannot think of anyone in her circles who does not own at least one piece of jewellery with sentimental value.
“Jewellery is a part of people’s lives and the events that are significant to them; engagements, baptisms, birthdays and so on. Kenya has a rich mix of cultures and colours that jewellery felt like the natural avenue for me to celebrate and showcase the work of my people,” she says.
Ms Chege says her inspiration comes from what she learnt while studying political science and peace building. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Nairobi and a Masters in International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame, US.
“Riri Jewellery is about economic empowerment, agency, independence, proactivity and beauty. It’s about the Kenya they do not always show on television,” she says.
Started in 2012, Riri Jewellery has grown from just being a favourite brand among friends and family, to one that is sold in the UK through Sapelle.com, an online storefor African Fashion, in Ireland, the USA and in Tanzanian boutiques.
“We are edgier than ever before, and setting trends for brands all over the world. The world looks to Africa for inspiration—the colours, the shapes, the diversity… the textures are intriguing and everybody wants a piece of it,” says Ms Chege.
She says she is proud of Riri Jewellery as it has created jobs for local artisans and promoted interaction of different people in different levels of society. Her customers are called Riri ambassadors.
“Riri is not everyone. Those who chose Riri jewellery understand that we are much more than a fashion brand and that we place high priority on supporting and developing our communities. As such, our ambassadors are also representatives as they too make important contributions wherever they are in the world,” she says.
Some include Hon Martha Karua, who wore Riri jewellery at last year’s presidential debates and Donisha Prendergast (Bob Marley’s granddaughter) who bought the pieces during her trip to Kenya last year.
Ms Chege is looking to diversify her product range as well as introduce modern handcrafted African bridal jewellery for the elegant bride who wants to stand out.
“Jewellery is all about feeling, you will wear different earrings based on how you feel. If you want to feel toned down, official or if you want to stand out. Jewellery is like magic and can give the wearer the desired emotion,” she says.
Ms Chege says she owes her eye for good design and quality to watching and learning from those in the Kenyan fashion industry.
She has interacted with fashion icons like Ann McCreath, Hebret Lakew, Gladys Sakaja, Ajuma.
At the Festival for African Fashion and Arts (Fafa), she offers her expertise as a member of the board.
She has also worked with leading fashion brands like KikoRomeo, Kipusa, Kidosho, Katungulu Mwendwa, Naledi Fashions (Tanzania) and the Soko, a Kenyan clothing production workshop.
So what has made her succeed?
“At Riri Jewellery, we define challenges as opportunities to do things differently. As any start-up business, the finances to purchase materials, put up a website, printmarketing materials or travel to fashion shows and trade exhibitions have been a tricky affair. But we have not let that stop us,” she says.
Another challenge she faces is the rising cost of primary materials such as metals and semi-precious stones with the fluctuating prices sometimes dictating the materials she uses. Although she has used silver in her latest collection, she works more with brass.- Business Daily