BY VICTOR ADAR
When Grace Mwende settled for an MA in project planning and management after a BSc in Geology, it did not seem like the right course to run with. Geology is the study of chemicals and physical properties of earth materials such as minerals, natural gases and water. It also touches on earth hazards, which include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and even floods. It is a field largely dominated by men thus only focused lady graduates end up benefiting.
Interestingly, Ms Mwende did not step back. It is common for people to overlook such courses but to her, what was important is how she would create formal job opportunities in the less understood gem and jewellery business. She is going in the right direction for now, running a premium custom making jewellery company that seeks to inform and create awareness on a variety of gemstone.
Ms Mwende started Vavani Jewels in 2016 as a business and has seen a linear growth since, despite the obvious challenges every entrepreneur faces. In engagement ceremonies, tying the knot, birthdays and anniversaries, she finds a growing market.
“I would say I started out without much capital. At first it was trying everything that would make it work with limited resources,” she said. “You have to fit in a rather masculine field. But once you get used to it, you blend in very well. They (the men) are also very accommodating.”
The love and passion in gemstones coupled up by the fact that it was her educational background is what led her to pursue this as a business. She is majorly targeting engaging and marrying couples, jewellery enthusiasts and collectors, people who view jewellery as an investment, and ‘gifters’. Further, most of her end products are custom made, a model that is not only sustainable but also significantly swaying her company’s prospects.
“Most of our products are custom pieces and it works very well for us. We identified a gap in the industry and it was the need for personalised pieces. Once I realised that, I made it my niche and it’s been our work model since 2018,” she says.
To Ms Mwende, at a time when unemployment rate is continuously rising, it is not only the agriculture, finance, manufacturing or tourism ventures that will quickly cushion Kenyans, but also the precious gemstones business.
Last year, a survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that 7 million people, about 7.4% of Kenyans, are unemployed. This spells doom to those who are not cut for entrepreneurship. But the good thing, individuals like Mwende are hot over heels, making things happen one jewellery at a time. So far she has employed one person with the reason for her lean staff being an unlikely fact that Vavani has no physical shop. “We contain our staff to two permanent employees. One is a young lady who is very eager to learn,” she said.
Although the best part of her day is interacting with beautiful coloured gemstones (like ruby, tsavorite, sapphire, tanzanite and even diamonds), one of her favourite gemstone is sapphire. But how is she marketing her products?
Vavani is big on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Those platforms, she says, are paying off – social media creates the awareness that she wanted. Her aim is basically to help people to learn about precious stones even if they are not clients.
“Knowledge is important and we are happy that more people are embracing it,” she explains. “Our customers are more than happy that their dream designs can actually be made into a real item. The uptake has been pretty awesome and we have seen an upward trend in embracing jewellery and more so, custom jewellery.”
Challenges are inevitable. But over time, you learn how to remain calm in tense situations and handle them as they come.
“Choose a niche and run with it. Identify the gap you want to address and make it your everyday goal. Perseverance and persistence will also take you places only your imagination has gone,” she said.