Women’s Jewelry Firm Meets Gold Standard For Smart Business

OPINION
By Caille Millner
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The founders of “Soko” spent 2 1/2 years building a technology platform before they sold a single piece of jewelry. Now that they’ve gotten it right, they could help shift the course of retail.

San Francisco Chronicle

Soko, the 4-year-old international business based in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, is usually described as a jewelry company. I got interested in it because that’s only partly true.

Soko does, indeed, sell jewelry. Since that jewelry is both affordable and high-quality, this description might be more than enough for the company’s clients, which include big companies like Nordstrom as well as local boutiques like San Francisco’s Azalea and Berkeley’s Erica Tanov.

Soko was launched by three women — two Americans, Gwendolyn Floyd and Ella Peinovich, and one Kenyan, Catherine Mahugu. It’s easy to imagine three women launching a successful international jewelry business.

If it’s a little less easy to imagine three women launching a successful international technology company, well, blame Silicon Valley.

Don’t blame Soko, which has developed a technological platform that is, in my opinion, even more important than what the company’s currently selling.

“We’d all been working in Kenya, doing international development, computer science, these totally different fields,” Floyd, who is 37, told me. “We would go to markets and talk to local artisans who had tremendous products but no way to access a bigger market. People think the Internet is everywhere, but it’s not.”

What is everywhere, even in countries with spotty Internet access, is the mobile phone. So the three women decided to gather a factory’s worth of small-scale artisans by using what they already had: mobile phones.

High-speed production from small artisans using only mobile phones, ethical practices, big international clients — Soko had a big dream. The founders spent 2 1/2 years building a technology platform before they sold a single piece of jewelry.

Now that they’ve gotten it right, they could help shift the course of retail.

“The artisans we met in Kenya are entrepreneurs; they didn’t want to be involved with a small-scale fair-trade business,” Floyd said. “So we knew from the beginning that we had to create something that would be big. Ethical fast fashion, if you will.”

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