This week I caught up with the Nairobi based designer, Ruthie Nyamu, a USIU second year student who makes her living by designing and selling jewelry to individuals and for corporate functions. She talks about her business, her inspiration and the challenges she has faced along the way.
Why did you decide to start a jewelry business?
I’m fascinated by the effort we all make to look nice and bringing out our individuality, and jewelry is a great way to express that because jewelry can only be replicated but not duplicated.
I’ve loved fashion since I was a child. There was a South African show I used to watch that had a lot of beading and I loved it so that inspired me to get into beading. I started when I was in class 7 and got better as the years went by. My mum eventually encouraged me to start selling, and after a while I turned it into a business.
My parents sponsored my first attempt, but that didn’t go too well because I didn’t take (the venture) that seriously so when I decided to try again, I had to do it on my own because I couldn’t ask them for money a second time. I used the few beads that I had to create pieces and raised money from them.
Who are your clients?
I cater to everyone’s needs from small kids to their mothers to their grandmothers. I try to also do unisex pieces because I don’t want my male clients to feel like what I do is only suitable for their girlfriends or mothers.
How do you land them?
First, I sell myself by wearing my jewelry. The way I dress is my marketing strategy. Second, I find people who can wear my stuff, people that I think have the same fashion sense as I do. I also attend fashion events and exhibitions to get the word out.
I want to be a fashion journalist but the fashion market in Kenya is still growing. It is not yet recognized on a large scale. Critical people are also a big challenge because they try to put you down and convince everyone else that your stuff isn’t good.
The money, definitely. At my age, I can’t complain (laughs). Also, the experience I’ve got so far, in terms of business and the exposure to the different designs and designers is invaluable because I get to learn more about jewelry making and selling. The most obvious reward is the fact that someone else can sell my pieces – to have someone love them and believe in them enough to tell not just their friends and family but also event organizers and major industry players that my stuff is amazing is a huge reward for me.
Have you ever thought about doing something else?
Jewelry is sort of a seasonal business. The people that buy my pieces won’t do so all the time, so sometimes I need something to fill in the gap between purchases. So yeah, I would opt for a part time job, but mainly in a related field.
Does it affect your schoolwork?
No, but only because there’s a strict schedule that I live by. The times that I do my business, like buying supplies or meeting clients is separate from the time I’ve dedicated to studying. I read during the day, because that’s the best time for me to really understand and I make my jewelry at night when I can tap into my inspiration and really get into it.
So what inspires you?
For the safety pin necklace, I saw a YouTube video and I thought it was a great idea. I learnt how to do it and put my own spin on the designs and stuff on it. My real inspiration though is the reaction I get from clients. Most of them come to me because they want to stand out. They say that when they walk into a room, people are always impressed with my jewelry and there is no risk of finding someone with the same design. It’s a pretty good feeling for them and for me. I also check out the market, to see what’s in and upcoming trends that can complement my pieces.
Advice to students who want to get into business?
Business is not easy, especially in the first few months. It requires sacrifice for it to grow and flourish, and the discipline needed to stop you from spending all the money you make. Initiative and creativity are also really important to starting a business, especially when you’re dealing with more established brands than yours. Competition is good for growth because it pushes you to differentiate your product from everyone else to attract customers.