Veronicah Rachiedo, 35, is an artisan who makes jewelry solely from cow horn, bones and brass. Her work is then sold to the international market through an e-commerce platform called Shop Soko.
Shop Soko was launched nearly four years ago. It is sponsored by Transformational Business Network, a non-profit organisation that focuses on existing businesses to eradicate poverty. On a good month, Rachiedo makes up to Sh150,000. On a bad month she sells only Sh50,000. She sells the jewelry to Soko and local customers as well as satisfy the demand from her two workshops.
“I do not only sell jewelry. People come to buy raw materials from us. For example, we make beads from bone and brass and sell them at Kenyatta Market or do the assembling ourselves,” she said.
She sources bones and horns from slaughter houses and pubs in Nairobi for Sh15 a piece.
To raise seed capital, the founders of Shop Soko took part in a number of competitions that helped them get funding for Soko. In a year, they were able to raise up to Sh12 million which helped to meet the demand that came through.
Marilyn Otieno, the finance director at Shop Soko says it was not hard to get recruits for the start-up as they had an incentive.
“We offered, and still do, a 25 per cent deposit when we made orders to help them source for the raw materials needed because we were aware they did not have starting capital,” she said.
The rest is paid to after the sale of the jewelry that takes up to eight weeks. Today, Soko has over 1,800 artisans in Kenya with another 300 based in Uganda and Ethiopia.
For an artisan to be recruited into Soko, they must show the capability to make the designs given to them. “We go to the field and share different designs with the people we meet through other projects. This gives them a chance to be added to our artisan platform,” Ms Otieno.
Soko also has an asset financing programme that assists artisans purchase tools they need. “We do not consider ourselves the middlemen for the artisans because we only represent about 60 per cent of their revenue,” said Ms Otieno.
An artisan earns between Sh200 and Sh1,000 per piece. During resale, the pieces are sold for about Sh5,000 in the international market.
Products are exported to 45 different countries, US being the largest consumer of their products. In Africa, Soko is based in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.
“We started working in Ethiopia recently and this is for the leather products. Ethiopia is known to have good leather and that is why we are there,” she said. One of the artisans in Kenya, Ms Rachiedo, has been working for Soko since inception in 2013 after she heard about it from a friend.
When Shop Soko was starting, they were offered loans to buy machines and smart phones. According to Ms Rachiedo, it has taken a number of loans to get to where she is plus the equipment she has.
“I took a loan of Sh40,000 to buy few machines then I took another loan of Sh20,000 to buy phones. The last loan was of about Sh100,000 to buy equipment,” she said.
At the time, she would make at least five pieces per day but today, she is able to make up to ten but this depends on the type of orders. Her speed is determined by the type of order she has.