Catherine Mahugu: Taking Local Jewelry International

There was a time when local jewelers in Kenya would struggle to find a market for their creations.

At the time, they relied on markets such as the Massai market in Nairobi, where they would spread out their products, and make little to no sales each day, while still being required to pay the city council fees.

All that was before Catherine Mahugu came on the scene with a revolutionary new marketplace.

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Catherine Mahugu is a Kenyan social entrepreneur and the woman behind the e-commerce site, Soko which is wholly dedicated to connecting local jewelers to international markets.

The idea for the e-commerce market actually came to her on a visit to the Massai market mentioned above. Upon observing that some of the craftsmen would spend the whole day without making any sales, she decided to do something about it.

This led to her teaming up with Ella Peinovich, an MIT graduate who has experience in social enterprise, and Gwendolyn Floyd, an expert in the use of mobile technology for development, while she was studying computer science at the University of Nairobi in 2012, to launch Soko.

Soko which is the Swahili word for market, allows shoppers discover handcrafted jewelry and accessories and purchase them directly from the designers and artisans.

The jewelry pieces which are displayed on the website are handcrafted and made from recycled or organic materials. Artisans can take advantage of the platform pretty easily as they simply have to; first off, register with the company and then upload photos of their products on the platform.

Then when an order for a particular product is placed, the company collects said product from the jeweler and delivers it to the customer. The delivery process usually takes 10 to 15 days.

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Currently, Soko has over 20 staff with offices in Kenya and the U.S, and works with over 200 jewelers in Nairobi alone. It is also starting up similar projects in Latin America and India through a grant from the USAID Development Innovation Venture and has also received $800,000 from the Rio Technology Partners.

Catherine Mahugu on her part has been named one of Forbes’ Africa Most Promising Entrepreneur of 2015 and also the BBC’s top 30 under 30 Women of 2015. In 2016, Forbes again named her on its global list of 30 Under 30 and with all these, Catherine Mahugu serves as a reminder to us all on the opportunities that still exist in technology.