by Suzanne Wentley
This article includes affiliate links.
I used to have so many earrings that I stretched pieces of burlap in embroidery frames for a big, home display. My collection of colorful beads and charms of all shapes and sizes was fun, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it ethical jewelry. Who knows who made many of those pieces.
That was years ago. You could say my jewelry style grew up. I didn’t just modernize; I minimalized. Today, I look for fair trade jewelry that is handcrafted by artisans who will directly benefit from my purchase. This is just one reason why I love the brand SOKO.
When I divested my belongings down to a 65L backpack to travel the world (almost a decade ago now!), I had to do away with all those pretty bobbles and trinkets. I needed simple statement pieces that could help me elevate my look, no matter where I was.
The natural materials and metals that SOKO artisans use create simple yet chic jewelry designs that display both craftsmanship and style. And it’s more than just fashion: This brand uses a clever infrastructure that allows local artists from Kenya to expand their network on a global level and rise from poverty.
Now that’s beautiful.
As a female, I love the idea of supporting businesses that are run by fellow women—and beautiful Black women at that. The concept behind the brand is to lift up artisans in Kenya who are super-talented but, due to the realities of global markets, are stuck selling locally.
For years, I lived throughout Asia and South America. I know the power of making U.S. dollars in a community where the local currency has a fraction of that value. I can only imagine how connecting artisans in Kenya with a global market could so dramatically change lives.
To make this happen, the women of SOKO disrupted the market with new technology they call a “virtual factory.” Traditionally, there’s a centralized place where artisans sell their pieces (usually at a ridiculously small fraction of the worth), and then a middle person connects the supply chain with Western stores that specialize in supporting the developing world. That’s not how the virtual factory works.
Thanks to modern technology, Kenyan artisans can use a mobile application to connect directly to the team at SOKO and customers throughout the globe. They get the orders, and they get the payments. In fact, they get five times the average payment that the average artisan workshops receives.
With time, the idea is that artisans can use this steady and strong means of income to build their businesses in a sustainable and independent way. SOKO helps these entrepreneurs in developing countries to invest in their families, their businesses, and their communities. They become stronger through fair trade jewelry, and in time, the world becomes a better place.
An Ethical Jewelry Collection
That’s all well and good, but we are talking fashion here. If the pieces SOKO sells weren’t modern classics, I would nod my head and keep on walking. But I love simple, beautiful jewelry that you don’t even have to take off. I love how you can wear all these pieces with comfy weekend wear or to a job interview or out on a date. They can become a part of who you are.
Start with your preferred material. They offer ethical jewelry designs in the following looks.
The SOKO headquarters in Nairobi now has a gold-plating lab, which creates a premium product with a shine that lasts a long time. What’s special about the 24-karat gold-plated brass is they use is that there’s less of a need to polish your pieces, so you’ll always look good.
More affordable and still stunning, their brass pieces are a nod back to the beautiful statement pieces worn in ancient Rome. But that’s not all: Brass is also sustainable. It’s almost always recycled.
For people who prefer a silver look (like me), they also offer pieces made of recycled brass that are chrome plated. It’s extra-shiny and resists tarnish. Plus, during the electroplating process, the jewelers reuse the water to reduce waste.
Beyond the classic metals, SOKO also has natural materials in its collections. I especially love the pieces with ceramic beads made by the Kazuri fair trade jewelry collective in Kenya. These beads come in a rainbow of colors and are made from hand-digging clay from Mount Kenya.
They also have beautiful pieces made from reclaimed horn and bone from Ankole Longhorn cattle and teak wood from trees grown in South Sudan and harvested ecologically every 50 years.
Fair Trade Jewelry Gifts for Loved Ones
It’s fun to browse the collections on the SOKO site because there are so many different looks to inspire you. For example, I love the idea of stackable jewelry. You can wear a really simple look or get creative with mixing and matching necklaces, rings, and bracelets.
For the ultimate minimalist, check out the delicate and dainty pieces. There’s something just perfect about simple hoops that offer a slight pop of shine that frames your smile.
The zodiac necklaces are super-special birthday gifts (cough, cough I’m a Libra), and the chain-link bracelets and necklaces give Tiffany’s a run for the money — except these pieces are more affordable and fair trade jewelry. It’s possible to personalize these pieces with your loved one’s initials. My favorite pieces are the ear cuffs. They’re just so cool.
With SOKO pieces, you can pick one or create a look by stacking these designs in your own style. No matter how you wear them, you’ll know the beauty speaks for itself. There’s no reason to have a huge collection of earrings like I once did when you have the perfect piece of jewelry for every occasion. You’ll also feel great, knowing that you’re making a difference in communities in Kenya with every purchase.
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