July 2, 2013
By Macharia Kamau, The Standard (Kenya)
If you happen to be in New York one of these days, you might see the residents donning the popular Maasai beaded belt or other ornaments associated with the Maasai market.
This follows a move by a local technology start-up to link Kenyan artisans with American consumer market. Soko – the tech start up – has built a platform that links Kenyan artisans making African themed ornaments with American buyers and said it was working to grow the reach to Europe, Asia and South America.
The platform works like a shop where the artisans upload their wares and consumers get to select, buy and pay online.
The ornaments like necklaces, bracelets and earrings made of beads, animal bones and wood are already finding a clientele in American cities, with New York so far being the city where the crafts are getting a huge customer base.
The firm is looking to tap into the African Opportunity Growth Act (Agoa) that lists items from select African countries. Most of the traditional crafts are on the list and get preferential treatment in the US market. Catherine Mahugu, co-founder and director of technology and innovation of shopsoko.com said the mobile and web based platform was meant to eliminate middlemen and enable artisans making African themed products using locally sourced materials access the high paying markets directly.
Soko is a mobile phone platform that enables vendors to upload photos of their products as well as the descriptions and prices.