Showcasing Africa through statement Jewelry
Crowned Miss Scuba Kenya, Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge is a young east African visionary on a mission. She aims to create and sustain social impact in sub-Saharan Africa through her enterprise Kaleidoscope Beauty (KB). Supporting her along the way is her little sister, Teta Thuku-Benzinge, who acts as company director.
Kaleidoscope Beauty is a brand showcasing the beauty of Africa through contemporary, hand-crafted, statement jewellery. These come in the form of chokers, necklaces, bracelets, cuffs, earrings and occasionally some seasonal specials. The e-commerce business, launched online in December 2018, offers a range of eye-catching designs available globally, with free shipping offered to UK customers.
“KB pieces are original, and where possible we strive for sustainability, starting with our products. There is no use of plastic as the core materials used are brass, glass beads, leather and wire.”
From the age of 15, I knew I wanted to own a business and that it would be beauty related. As a teenager, I used to sell Kenyan jewellery to friends, family members, and at various events. It was successful and I remember making £100 profit from sales in one day which was very exciting. However, at the time, my teen priorities had me put my teen social life ahead of any business development. Being British born and of both Kenyan and Rwandan heritage, I’ve always had a very strong affinity with my East African roots. In turn, this created a desire to amalgamate all my worlds while giving back in a sustainable way. Eventually, I found I could no longer ignore my inner calling.
The persistence of poverty
It recently dawned on me, that there is still a strong demand for African inspired fashion; a trend that is especially prominent amongst young professionals in their early 20’s – 30’s. In addition, I observed that now more than ever, creative industries take their inspiration from the African continent. Examples span from high fashion runways, such as Ozwald Boateng’s Africanism line, to Hollywood costume designs in films such as Black Panther.
Despite increased interest in African culture, statistics published by the World Bank reflect the persistence of poverty on the continent. Sub-Saharan Africa now accounts for half the world’s extreme poor living below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. The average poverty rate for sub-Saharan Africa stands at about 41 percent, and of the world’s 28 poorest countries, 27 are in sub-Saharan Africa, all with a poverty rate above 30 percent.
I’ve always been a believer in the phrase, ‘Beauty with a purpose’. Being crowned Miss Scuba Kenya in 2013 further opened my eyes to possibilities. I realised that the fashion and beauty industry can be used to inspire societal change. Miss Scuba Kenya is part of the International beauty pageant Miss Scuba International, that aims to promote the importance of marine conservation globally. Similarly, the societal challenge I am addressing with Kaleidoscope Beauty is multi-generational poverty. Starting with Kenya, I want to make a change amongst youth across Sub-Saharan Africa.
The societal challenge Kaleidoscope Beauty is addressing and the positive social outcome it will create
I realised that I am well equipped to be a part of the global movement cantered around African design. In all, Kaleidoscope Beauty reflects my expertise in jewellery, my love for African culture, and my desire to make a difference. KB aims to inspire a young generation of Africans to use their creativity to make a change. By being resourceful, they can create a ripple that also changes the destinies of their families, and their communities. I have always wanted to give back to my continent of origin in a creative, sustainable way. Through observation and research, I’ve come to understand that there is a wealth of talent amongst the youth. It is a community with a strong desire to work and a high aptitude to learn.
To achieve my goals, I partnered with my head artisan, David, whose career spans over 20 years. As a creative himself, he has learned the skills needed in the trade of jewellery design. As a member of the Baba Dogo community, his understanding of the slums is extensive. David offers employment to members of the youth who are willing to work, by teaching them how to create jewellery pieces. Therefore, job creation is the primary positive social outcome of the enterprise. However, it also provides opportunities for young men and women to develop skills. It is our hope that, by applying these skills they can keep earning a legitimate income.
Outside of Kaleidoscope Beauty, life is a delicate balancing act. With my full-time job in the IT industry, I aim to build transferable skills that I can apply to various areas of my life. One recent example was my role as a moderator for the Rwanda Youth Connekt Convention in Milan, Italy. There we focused on the role of technology in connecting the next generation of leaders. Important topics included the participation of youth in Rwanda’s socioeconomic development and civic life.
Having spoken to and interviewed some of the artisans trained by David myself, there has been a tangible impact. One example is Dennis, the young man featured in the company mission video. Dennis has left a life of crime behind because of this opportunity. His newfound income has enabled him to start a business of his own and contributed to him pursuing his dreams of a career in acting.
Since launching the online store in December 2018, our instagram page has page has gained upwards of 2000 followers, and continues to grow. Our online store has generated orders worldwide including orders from the United States, France, Switzerland and of course the UK. I’ve also been able to secure a few wholesale orders from a store in London and a wholesale partnership with a sustainable fashion website who will be listing our pieces on their website, and a store in Switzerland therefore expanding our reach.
The aim for Kaleidoscope Beauty over the next year will be sharing our story as the philanthropic mission is key to the brand. That said, we will not stop creating new designs, and empowering more members of the youth community.
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