Kenyan jewellery designer sets eyes on world stage
What you need to know:
- Sharon Wendo learnt beading skills through the Kenyan Youth Empowerment Project, a five-year World Bank funded initiative.
- Three years after learning a course in beading, Sharon is now dressing and styling celebrities and models on Kenya’s fashion runways.
After working briefly as a receptionist, Sharon Wendo, 30, resigned and established a jewellery business in 2018, Epica Jewellery, her eye on the global stage.
Her company makes jewellery in vibrant colours, inspired by different African cultures and modern fashion to create masterpieces.
Sharon learnt beading skills through the Kenyan Youth Empowerment Project, a five-year World Bank-funded initiative that aimed to ensure that at least 50 percent of youth completing the internship programme secured employment six months after completion of the internship. The programme ended in 2016.
Three years after learning a course in beading, Sharon is now dressing and styling celebrities and models on Kenya’s fashion runways.
The Nairobi based jeweller, content creator and designer is passionate about fashion and celebrating diverse African cultures through her designs.
“I studied up to high school then joined the Kenya Youth Empowerment Project where we were taught entrepreneurship, financial literacy and life skills,” she explains, adding that at the end of the program, she practiced her skills in a three months’ internship, sharpening her know-how.
After the internship, she would go on to get a job as a receptionist at a school, however, three months into the job, she realised that designing was where her true passion lay and decided to pursue it.
“I have had the privilege to work with big stylists in Kenya and collaborated with amazing fashion brands. I am most proud of recently becoming part of the British Council Creative DNA program," she says.
Sharon also got to be part of an online panel discussion For London Fashion Week in September 2020, where she talked about her brand with the UK based fashion scout, a leading international consultancy and platform for showcasing the future of fashion.
“Last year, I showcased my collection at London Fashion Week. I made a film of my collection and I showcased it virtually due to Covid-19 as the event could not be held physically,” she says.
Sourcing her materials from local markets, Epica Jewellery produces bracelets, earrings, necklaces and body jewellery retailing from Sh300 to Sh20,000.
“I started my business with Sh500. I had no seed capital so I had to find a way to start. I used to buy small packets of beads and practice my skills, and when I sold one piece, I would buy another packet.”
She says that she had to reach out to several influencers to do collaborative projects with so that more people could see her work. This helped with her brand awareness. Sharon has been a lover of fashion from childhood, although she says it was not something she thought she could monetise back then.
Her brand is for women who want unique statement pieces, love fashion and who want to feel even more confident wearing pieces that tell the African story.
She notes that beading is a time-intensive craft that teaches one to be extremely meticulous. Every creative design, she explains, has a message or a statement behind the piece.
“I have learnt to be patient. It takes about three to eight days to finish only one body piece. Beading and perfecting the craft takes a lot of time. I have also learnt the importance of consistency, and as I run my business, I have realised that the main reason why clients trust us, is because our product quality is consistent - my designs are new, special, and in most cases bigger than usual,an achievement I get from constant research,” she explains, adding that this has played a big role in helping her establish and maintain special clients.
She intends to continue growing her business locally, regionally and internationally.
Most recently, she has been working on a collection of body pieces and skirts. In regard to the body pieces, her target is the red carpet. She says that it is a great opportunity when people wear local designers when they go to events, and her pieces are just perfect for such occasions.
“Nigerian artist, Yemi Alade, wore my Jameela body piece in the Earthshot London 2021 Awards, Pinky Ghelani, Kambua, among other celebrities have purchased different pieces from us, and I could not be more elated.”
But Sharon has had her fair share of challenges as she grows her company. She admits that running a creative business can be quite challenging and has learnt that talent is not everything if you do not put in the work.
“My biggest challenge is digital marketing because you have to do in-depth research on your customer profile to be able to target them, and this takes time.”
Also, being creative and having no formal business education, she has been learning on the job and says that it is quite a challenge being a small brand juggling business and designing.
“I want to get to a place where I can teach fellow young women not only about beading skills and design, but also about business so that they can be empowered and go after their dreams.”