Veronica Gakio’s workshop on Kilome Road, Nairobi churns out cufflinks you would find hard to imagine are made in Kenya.

Founded two years, she has refined the workmanship techniques used in the making of her jewellery, fashioning the items from horn, brass and semi-precious stones.

At the workshop, I watch as she guides her brand partners on the alignment of a necklace they are crafting. Its centre must sit right under the hollow of the neck for its wearer to dazzle.

“Being keen on details is important to me,” she says.

Ms Gakio is the founder of Ankole Luxury, a sustainable Kenyan brand that creates bespoke jewellery and accessories that “tend to prompt conversations.”

She describes her pieces as investment buys and also versatile.

“Jewellery brings up a lot of emotions. I want Ankole’s pieces to draw out confidence and happiness every moment they’re worn,” says the 40-year-old, who is also the director.

“It brightens our days as it adds class, style, and oomph to an outfit.”

Whereas women’s bags are heavy with makeup, hers is weighted with the tools of her trade: a pair of small pliers, a tape measure, ring sizers, calipers, and of course, jewellery.

Ankole Luxury creative director Veronica Gakio shows bangles at the workshop in Nairobi.
Ankole Luxury creative director Veronica Gakio shows bangles at the workshop in Nairobi. Photo Credit: Diana Ngila/NMG

Though founded in 2020, Ankole Luxury’s story dates back to the 90s when Ms Gakio completed her first creative project while in high school – a set of success cards. However, her creator’s spark sank under life’s currents of school, love, and career pursuits, resurfacing again in 2014 in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Five months into her pregnancy, the doctor told her that her child would be born with complications. At the moment, she was living and working in Dubai as a human resources professional.

“I carried the baby to term, giving birth to my baby girl – Grace – who is mildly autistic. This led me to move back to Kenya since I felt that home would be the best place to raise my child,” she says.

It turned out to be the best decision yet. The environment stocked the creator’s fire than once burned inside her.

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“I would be uninspired by how jewellery was being mass-produced yet I wanted to wear unique pieces. This, in turn, rekindled my passion to create jewellery for myself and those who would enjoy owning distinct, statement pieces,” she says.

“Self-employment would also allow me to spend adequate time raising my daughter.”

Ankole Luxury draws its name from the horn used to make the pieces. This, together with brass and differently coloured natural and synthetic stones, are the building blocks from which the pieces are birthed. She makes earrings, cufflinks, bangles, necklaces, rings, and rosaries, among others. Ankole also makes household accessories such as earring organisers, candles, handbags, and phone holders. They also use silver and gold to make special occasion jewellery such as engagement and wedding rings.

She designs the items, then a team handcrafts them. She mostly works with women’s group.

“We use repurpose horn, brass and stones carefully selected for their colour and quality thus contributing to environmental sustainability by participating in the circular economy,” she says.

The horns come in different colours, which helps to add stripes, solid patterns, and sophistication to the jewellery.

The production process is a labour of love. Once they receive the horn, it is washed and boiled in oil to make it soft enough to press into a flat sheet. On this sheet, the curated designs are traced, after which they are cut out. Once this is complete, the horn is polished to add shine before the brass and stone elements are added to it.

“Most artisans shy away from using horn because the process is long and the production cost is quite expensive,” she says.

The horn is imported from Uganda. It is preferred because Uganda horns are more durable and sturdier than the local horn, which is also hard to find.

In refusing to take the well-trodden path, her lightweight and lasting pieces have found their way into jewellery boxes belonging to celebrities such as musicians, models, and government officials locally. She is in partnership with two designers, Liz Njoroge collection and Mubi Leather, who make clothes and bags that complement her jewellery.

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Ankole’s products have also found a market in countries such as Dubai and the US.

Pricing depends on the complexity of the design and materials chosen. For example, the ring she is wearing is made from horn, brass and an orange-coloured stone. It took two days to complete and costs Sh6,000.

The demand or growth of handmade jewellery is growing day by day like never before. And this has bolstered her business. Kenyans now want to buy items that are one-of-a-kind like a bold pink jewellery set or horn cufflink with a sense of history, and that has deep great stories.

“People are becoming more aware of their sense of style and what they want to invest in. This has grown my business. However, I still find people who don’t appreciate handcrafted, local work and expect it to be cheap.”

Recently, her unique and detailed workmanship won her an award for the “Best Product from Kenya” at the East Africa Community MSME’s Trade Fair beating 3,000 Kenyan products.

Above all, Ankole Luxury has allowed her to invest her time and resources into people living with autism. Currently, part of the team that makes the handcrafted masterpieces, three people living with autism making the rosaries.

“Beading helped improve my daughter’s hand-eye coordination. In two years, I want to be working with more adults with autism and their caregivers to enable them to acquire skills for self-reliance,” the mother, who’s also an autism advocate in various organisation says. “When I look at Grace, who’s nine now, this is the kind of life I would want her to live. Jewellery does brighten one’s life indeed.”

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