Thursday, March 31, 2016

Kipato Unbranded: Bringing Ethical Fashion to Kenya

I remember being at the Sankalp Forum a few weeks ago, when Sonia Iraguha walked into the room. I was awestruck by her earrings, and had to ask where she got them from. That’s when I learnt about Kipato Unbranded…

Some of Kipato Unbranded's pieces


Kipato Unbranded is a social enterprise that works with local artists from informal settlements like Kibera and Dagoretti Market who make jewellery, promoting their skills and allowing them access to markets.




Independent jewellery makers (like Elijah and Ojiko who work with Kipato) in lower-income neighbourhoods like these rely on employers to give them access to larger markets. While the industry thrives on work from artists like these two, their salary is entirely dependent on their employers, and often they only receive a small proportion of the profits their work generates, despite the fact that their pieces are mostly aimed at high-end luxury stores, selling at prices that are often out of reach for many Kenyans.

Out of the need for enterprises that offered fair wages to artists, and to make their work accessible to more Kenyans, Kipato Unbranded was born. It was founded by Marta Krajnik in August 2015. Emphasising on ethical fashion and practices, Kipato Unbranded creates jewellery that is inspired by everyday people for everyday people, and all their pieces are made from local materials, including brass, recycled bone and beads. Their shareholders are a group of five young women from different cultures and backgrounds who are committed to seeing this vision and mission exceed in every possible way by contributing their skills.

Marta Krajnik, The Founder, and one of the artists, Ojiko

Kipato means ‘income’ in Swahili. The name itself conveys the company’s mission to empower its artists: 50% of all profits, whether the pieces are sold locally or internationally, go directly to the artists who create the jewellery. The second word in the name, ‘unbranded’, emphasises the fact that Kipato Unbranded is not trying to be a typical ‘brand’, but rather, is focusing on creating accessible jewellery for ordinary people.

A model wearing Kipato Unbranded

Kipato Unbranded definitely embodies simplicity, accessibility and empowerment. Their collections are versatile- able to be worn at high fashion events as much as they are for low key coffee dates with friends. An environmentally responsible enterprise, Kipato ensures that their products are created from recycled materials, and that their packaging is ecofriendly too.

Alisha Garufi wearing Kipato Unbranded 
I sat down with Marta recently to ask her more about Kipato Unbranded:

What is your favourite Kipato Unbranded piece, and why?

I have many favourites, but from this collection, the Savanna Collection, my favourite is the Clover Necklace. I really like it because it was created when I visited Elijah at Dagoretti Market and we started playing around with brass wires. Most of the products are created collaboratively between the shareholders and the artists, and this one is a prime example of that. I began putting together rings of wires and voila! It actually comes as a set, so the necklace and earrings were created that same very day. I love this set because it is super simple, but also very elegant. It looks especially remarkable when worn with an evening dress, and the shape is symbolic – giving you that extra luck you may need that particular night out. :)

What is the best compliment you’ve received about Kipato Unbranded’s pieces?

The best compliment is when customers return to get more jewellery! We had done some custom-made brass belts for a couple of journalists for CNN for The African Journalism Awards back in October 2015. The ladies really rocked them, and we made the red carpet! 

What sorts of events does Kipato Unbranded host in & around Nairobi, and are there any coming up?

Kipato Unbranded hosts pop-up events; we had one Christmas Rooftop special in December 2015, and we recently have partnered up with Marula Mercantile in Karen to do a monthly Boozy Brunch Pop-Up that has gone extremely well! We catered for the live music of the event and also got other exhibitors to come and showcase their artwork and products, such as ProkraftAfrica, Love Tess, Linda’s Nut Butters and Masungula Krafts.

Why do you think there has been more of a shift toward ethical fashion in recent times?

I think more and more people want to know where their products are coming from and want to promote fair trade. Large retailers are getting a lot of criticism for subjecting their workers to dangerous working conditions, such as some of the textile producers in Bangladesh. The more this is published in the media, the more people are aware of unfair conditions and want to ensure they are investing their earnings into a product that gives a fair wage to its maker. 

If you could choose to dress any celebrity in pieces from Kipato Unbranded, who would it be and why, and which pieces would you want them to wear?

Hmm not sure, but I love Jess Glyne the singer! Her style and jewelry pieces, (she wears a lot of brass) were definitely the inspiration behind the midi-rings….we have thick and thin ones….she loves to wear them and mix them up with other metals such as aluminum and copper. We have the plain brass ones and I love how they look! You can stack them any which way and dress your fingers up to your hearts’ desire. 

If you could go back and give yourself some advice as you were starting out, what would it be?  

I think I would definitely have done more strategic planning; I am very much an action-oriented person so my instinct is to do something and then learn from it – trial and error. However, some more analytical thinking is required to ensure your business is a success and I think we can do a lot more of that, especially at this stage when we are growing so fast. 

Where does one go in Nairobi if they want to buy jewellery from Kipato Unbranded offline?

We are now available in various outlets – we have our products at The Arbor off of James Gichuru in Lavington, in Marula Studios in Karen, and also opening in Wasp and Sprout in Loresho. We have two outlets in Mombasa, as well as one in Nakuru. We are also on Jumia and Rupu. 

Where do you hope Kipato Unbranded will be in five years?

I'd love to employ more artists and design new creations! I would also like Kipato Unbranded to become a household name and eventually partner with a clothing line to complement our jewelry. We are constantly improving our ways of working and interacting with our customers, so we hope to launch a solely Kenyan website soon- I’m really looking forward to that. All in all, success in 5 years and even more success in 10 years! 

Interested in learning more about Kipato Unbranded, and buying some of their gorgeous jewellery? Check out their website and Facebook page!

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