Beads on the Runway
Being a stylist is something I always admired, and I never thought of ever pursuing it career-wise, because of the perception we always had that one cannot make enough money to earn a living as a creative.
Furaha Neckpiece – Epica Jewellery
by Sharon Wendo
Never did she think she would one day be owning her very own successful business; but four years after taking up a beading course, our October cover feature, designer, stylist and entrepreneur, Miss Sharon Wendo, is now a household name who dresses and styles famous celebrities and models on Kenya’s fashion runways. Read on to find out how she started her now famous brand.
Tell us about your journey to becoming the Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Epica Jewellery (Epic African Jewellery). You only started jewellery and accessory making about four years ago, and decided to do it as an income generating venture almost two years ago now. What were you doing before that and what inspired your decision to start jewellery making? Were you always a creative person?
I was on a government program called Kenya Youth Empowerment Project, where we were essentially being taught about life skills, entrepreneurship and financial literacy; and at the end of the program we went for a 3 months’ internship in our respective sectors. I actually learned some beading skills during that internship. Initially when I started, it wasn’t something that I wanted to pursue, because after the internship I got a job as a school receptionist, and that is when I knew that that was not the direction I wanted for myself. I resigned after 3 months, and decided I was going to pursue jewellery designing, which is something I fell in love with in time. I have always been a creative person, and even when I was young I had always wanted to be a stylist. Being a stylist is something I always admired, and I never thought of ever pursuing it career-wise, because of the perception we always had that one cannot make enough money to earn a living as a creative.
Who is Epica Jewellery made for? Can you describe the type of client you had in mind when you started this brand?
My brand is for women who want unique statement pieces. They love fashion and they are looking to feel even more confident, with statement pieces that tell the African story.
Can you describe the growth process of the brand? Has it been easy and how have you managed to overcome the obstacles met along the way?
The growth process has not been easy at all. I have no formal business training so even when I started, I did it because of passion.I did not know anything about running a business, and my beading skills were quite basic at that time. What really helped me, is my hunger to learn business-wise, and working hard to improve my skills. I did make a lot of mistakes along the way as I was learning on the job, but I also got to make a lot of changes along the way and improve on the way i did things.
You work from your home in Nairobi. Did you start off as a one-woman team and as your business is growing steadily, do you still make the jewellery and accessories by yourself or do you now have people assisting you?
Yes, I did start the business by myself. I was alone for quite a while, but eventually, I added one more person to assist me. I am hoping that as the business continues to grow, I will be able to add more people to my team.
Every creative designer has a message or a statement behind the pieces that they make. What is your favourite piece from the ones you have made thus far, and what was the statement that you wanted it to make?
My favourite is the Furaha neckpiece with feathers. I love this piece because I got to incorporate feathers in my collection, which is something I had really wanted to do for a long time. The piece is also very trendy, yet contemporary at the same time.
Africa is filled with extraordinary talent and there are so many gifted jewellery and accessory makers out there. What makes your products ‘Epic’, and what sets them apart from the rest?
Just like my brand name suggests, my pieces are very bold and authentic. I am very inspired by different African cultures and our vibrant colours, so I merge both the African cultures and modern fashion to create authentic pieces.
What are your biggest achievements in the fashion industry thus far?
I’ve had the privilege to work with the biggest stylists in Kenya, which has been so great for my brand and I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with amazing fashion brands. I am mostly proud of recently becoming part of the British Council Creative DNA program. I also got to be part of a panel discussion for London Fashion Week, talking about my brand with UK based Fashion Scout, which is a leading international consultancy and platform for empowering and showcasing the future of fashion.
Your products are sold through your online store. How is that business model working for you in Africa? What are the pros and cons of running an online business in Africa that you have noted?
I am so grateful for the online platform and it has worked great for my business, mainly because I get to reach a lot of people from all over the world. Instagram has been great too, as I get many customers from that platform. I initially struggled to position myself in the online space, because I had not figured out who my customer was. So basically, I was marketing to the wrong people, and it was quite frustrating because I was not making any sales. With time though, and as I learned the business, I got to learn what worked and what didn’t work.
Being an entrepreneur is very demanding. How do you manage to balance your personal life and work, so that one does not encroach into the other?
Honestly speaking, this is a very big challenge, especially considering that we are a small brand which has a small team. I always try to designate some time for myself, because the last thing I want, is to burn out!
Beading is a time-intensive craft and it teaches one to be extremely meticulous when working. What other values has your craft and entrepreneurship in general taught you?
The one thing I have definitely learnt is patience. It takes about 3 – 5 days to finish only one body piece. I was not always a patient person, but beading takes a lot of time, and this is something I had to learn with time. Perfecting the craft takes a lot of time. I have also learnt the importance of consistency; as I run my business, I have realised that the main reason why clients trust us, is because our product quality is consistent, and so is our customer service.
Young Africans almost always have to work extra hard to achieve their goals. Do you have any words of encouragement for an upcoming creative who is also trying to build a successful brand?
My main advice is to never give up, even during those low times, because we all experienced some self-doubt at some point, but we kept on moving. You also have to be consistent and trustworthy; this is the best way for clients to trust you and to recommend you to other people, and that is mostly how small brands grow.
Connect with Sharon on Instagram and Facebook, @epicajewellery, and through her website epicajewellery.com
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu