Soko’s gorgeous baubles go beyond fair trade.
The fashion world is increasingly driven by the lightening fast consumption of seasonal trends. Ponchos are back in full swing this fall and jewelry is all about geometric designs. Soko, an “ethical fast fashion” company on a mission to revolutionize international trade, is here to meet consumer demand for fast-paced fashion trends while creating a sustainable livelihood for the maker.
Is there a place for fast fashion trends in the ethical fashion world? Can we really stay current and conscious with our clothes? We met up with Soko co-founder and industrial designer to talk about the unique business model behind the “ethical fast fashion” jewelry brand and the future of conscious consumerism.
What is Soko?
Soko is a global fashion company with a calling. The word “soko” means “marketplace” in Swahili, the language of Soko’s birthplace, Kenya. Gwen and her business partners Ella and Catherine originally conceived of their business as a platform, like an “Etsy for Africa.” But building and scaling their own brand became the most viable option to accomplish their goal.
“We were inspired to build something that could revolutionize international trade.”
Prior to Soko, Gwen spent many years working in international development and witnessed first-hand the incredible advancements in global development that were made possible by simple cell phone technology. The business plan for Soko was born out of the existing mobile phone infrastructure in Kenya, and a desire to connect Kenyan makers with consumers all over the world.
“Soko’s business model is built around a distributed workforce. By leveraging the existing technology of mobile phones, we were able to connect our makers and create a virtual factory.”
Unlike the factories and sweatshops of the traditional fast fashion world, Soko’s network of makers are distributed around Nairobi. These artisans are able to work safely from their homes, avoiding the harsh conditions and toxic chemicals of factories, and stay connected to their work with Soko via mobile phones.
The Business Model
Soko’s network of artisans are totally independent; they can use a micro loan to get started with the appropriate tools and supplies and even apply for a loan to get a smart phone. This is Soko’s supply chain – a virtual factory that aggregates more than 1,000 artisans distributed in slums throughout Nairobi.
This model also allows for up to 30% of Soko’s revenue to return to the community. By contrast, Fair Trade products only give about 2-4% of revenue back to the maker community.
Soko is providing global consumers quality, stylish jewelry that is handmade. “We are an ethical fast fashion company. We are very trend responsive, are able to produce at a quality that meets international standards with artisan practices and materials that can compete with global fast fashion. Suddenly, we’re directly engaged with consumers around the world.”
No longer will an on-trend piece of bling have to come at the human and environmental cost of grueling labor conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals. Soko is taking “the best practices of disrupted technology innovation and applying it here.”
Soko’s collection is beautiful, fashionable, and fair trade; three words that don’t often go together.
Soko is revolutionizing more than just supply chains and international trade. Soko’s unique business model is helping shape the future of the fashion industry by finding a perfect balance between handmade and mass-produced. “We want luxury that is also consistent.” Soko’s collection of jewelry is balance; it is clean lines and geometric designs and also, wonderfully, made by hand. Soko is “redefining the aesthetics of ethical fashion.”
On Kenya & Community
“There is a lack of opportunity, not a lack of talent in Kenya.” Kenya is also referred to as the “Silicon Valley of the Sahara. It is a hub for social innovation and buzzing with possibility. Soko is connecting Kenyan makers talent onto the global stage. “There is a dignity that comes with economic stability and consistent work.”
To further their commitment to innovation, Soko has partnered with Pencils of Promise to help build a new school in Ghana. Soko’s innovative business model is empowering a community of makers in Kenya, and giving back to other need-based communities across Africa.
The future is bright for this ethical fast fashion brand. Next on the horizon for Soko is bags, and possibly (well, hopefully for us) clothes! Keep Soko’s one-of-kind piece jewelry on your wish list and you will be the belle of the ball!