I started my company to create a financial opportunity for talented artisans in Kenya and give them access to a global marketplace. I wanted to challenge the common misconceptions about Africa and its people through beautiful design, entrepreneurship, and creative talent. The brand is named after the town in Kenya where my grandmother lives.
I am passionate about ensuring true transparency across the production process, and forging a genuine connection between the people who created Yala jewellery and our customers. Yala works with over 150 artisans in Kenya, ensuring that they receive fair wages, safe and healthy work environments, and real recognition for their talent. Their stories and photos are prominently featured on our website, as we want customers to put names and faces to the people who made the jewellery they enjoy.
My inspiration comes from the traditional adornments worn by various tribes in Kenya and East Africa such as the Luo (which is the tribe I’m from) but also the Maasai and the Turkana. I’m also inspired by the organic shapes found in the flora and fauna of the region; seed pods, birds’ nests and shells. Whenever I’m back in Kenya, I’m always looking at random things and thinking “that would make a great necklace!” My heritage and upbringing definitely influence my work because I’ve always had one foot in each country (Kenya where I’m from and the UK where I live), so any exposure to new concepts and designs is viewed through the lens of where I’ve come from. As such, each piece in the Yala collection is named after places in Kenya which have personal significance to me.
The first iteration of my brand was all over the place in terms of identity, but I was lucky enough to be accepted onto an accelerator program. This really helped me to focus my thinking on how I wanted Yala to be presented and perceived by others. I tore everything down and started again with the “why” behind the brand, and built everything else from there. Once you’ve identified the reason your brand exists, making decisions about how you want to present that becomes much easier. So, there was no question that I needed eco-friendly packaging, diversity in my selection of models, payment well above average for the artisans I worked with, a focus on women’s financial empowerment and so on. Every element of Yala needs to connect back to the “why”, or it won’t be considered.
Top tip: Coming up with a brand story that makes you unique can feel like a difficult task. But if you focus on what inspires you and what your values are as a business, as Audrey has done, you will develop a brand identity that is authentic and engaging. You can read more about this on our blog in our guide on brand storytelling.
My Mum is my hero and a big reason I’ve made it this far at all. In the process of relaunching the brand I needed to find new suppliers, do a photoshoot, source components and a million other things. At some point in this process, it had been a long day of photography and we’d experienced fainting models and exploding car engines! We didn’t get all the shots we wanted, but the light was gone by then and I was in floods of tears at the side of the road. My mum started laughing and said “Come on Audrey, it’s not that bad. If nobody died, it’s just a bad day - we’ll fix it tomorrow”. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that nothing ever goes exactly the way you plan it, but I’m a control freak so I take setbacks really badly even though they’re inevitable. I’ve adopted my Mum’s “nobody died” mantra to maintain perspective when it seems like the world is falling apart. I also remind myself that one day I’ll laugh about it!
At its core, Yala is built on social values; to improve the lives of others by creating financial opportunities for skilled artisans, demonstrating their talent, all the while maintaining a low environmental impact. Sustainability for Yala means that everything we make and do needs to support these values, to allow the company to endure and continue benefitting all those we work with. We ensure all our raw materials are sourced ethically, with a focus on recycled and reclaimed elements. We’re lucky that the manufacturing techniques used by the artisans who make Yala products are low-waste already, and the informal sector in Kenya has a general “want not, waste not” mentality too.
The biggest challenge comes after we’ve achieved the “last mile” of delivering the product to the customer. I include a note with each order encouraging the recipient to recycle everything except the jewellery box, but I wish there was a way I could guarantee this. Lastly, we make jewellery that's designed to last. We don’t want our customers to wear it once and throw it away – it’s not “fast fashion” jewellery. The collections are all handmade and produced in small batches, both to reduce environmental impact but also to ensure their quality and longevity. Each order is sent with a care card so the recipient can keep their piece in the best condition and wear it for many years to come.
Top Tip: As Audrey says, packaging disposal ultimately falls on your customer. So, you can’t 100% guarantee that it will be disposed of responsibly. But you can massively increase the odds by including information in your packages about your eco-friendly tissue and how to dispose of it through recycling. As well as educating your customers, this also helps to spread awareness about your brand’s sustainable ethos!
Back in October 2017, I received a lovely email from noissue co-founder Josh telling me about his just-launched company with eco-friendly custom tissue paper. Unfortunately, I had just ordered from someone else, but I kept Josh’s email. When the time came to restock, I got back in touch and the rest is history. I’ve worked with the same graphic designer on the branding for Yala since the beginning, so I understood the impact of custom packaging.
We created a unique repeating version of the logo design specifically for the tissue paper, and it came out perfectly! We wanted to give our customers a great “unboxing” experience, and also do something totally different than my competitors in terms of packaging. When a customer receives their Yala piece, every step of the unboxing adds another layer of delight, but most importantly, the jewellery is completely protected. We want our customers to understand the care and attention that we put into every order, and to feel special when it lands on their doorstep.