Shee Art: What it takes to turn a hobby into a business

Wanjiru Ng'ethe, Shee Art founder.
“Good jewellery is like good make-up; it enhances what already exists,” says Wanjiru Ng’ethe, who discovered her love for accessories when she was in high school.  

Wanjiru started making jewellery for her own private collection because she couldn’t afford to buy the designs she liked. Today, the 25-year-old runs Shee Art, which specialises in African-inspired pieces, from earrings and necklaces to bracelets, anklets, head pieces and all things accessories.

She speaks to Hustle about how she turned a hobby into a steadily growing business.

How long have you run Shee Art?

I officially registered it in 2016 when I was still in university where I studied business management and procurement. But I have been selling jewellery since 2011. I used to make my own pieces using beads and copper. Whenever I wore something, I’d be asked where I bought it. When my friends realised I made my pieces myself, they asked me to do the same for them.

How much did you sell them for?

Initially, just Sh50 a piece. To be honest, I was doing it for fun more than anything else. I became serious about it in 2016 after I went for an internship at a telecommunications company. I was very unhappy there, not because of the company but because I realised I didn’t want to go into procurement and I definitely didn’t want to be employed.

When I got back to campus the following semester, I weighed my options and decided to give the jewellery business a real shot.

What was your capital?

The very first time I started selling jewellery, I spent Sh2,000 to buy tools and material. In 2016 when I registered the company, I spent about Sh20,000 on the same. This is mostly because my original pieces were made from copper and beads, but copper isn’t always a good material for jewellery because some people react to it. I now use brass, which costs more.

Wanjiru Ng'ethe, Shee Art founder, wearing her jewellery.
How easy was the transition from doing this as a hobby to doing it as a business?

In the beginning it was difficult because my product price changed, so I inevitably lost some customers. I had no idea if I would get new ones. What saved me was my determination to make it work. I was in campus in Narok, but I would travel to Nairobi to make deliveries, even if it was just one piece at Sh200. Inevitably, I often went at a loss.

When did you start breaking even?

A few months in, which I considered a blessing. Shee Art specialises in unique accessories modelled on merging traditional Africa and modernity. Nobody wants to wear something common; our unique selling point is that we offer originality. We’re so committed to this that we have new designs every single month. We phase out old pieces and modify popular ones so that there are not too many of the same thing in the market at any one time. As an added benefit, we also offer shopping services.

What falls under shopping services?

Finding good jewellery can be time consuming, especially for the working woman.

Shee Art basically does the walking and buying for that type of customer.

Think of it as a fashion stylist buying wardrobe items for a client. We get a sample of what they’d like and at what price point, and then we do the purchasing. We also shop for brides, people living abroad, people on holiday and so on. If you want jewellery and don’t have the time or eye to find what you need, we step in.

What are your charges?

For shopping, we charge a commission based on the scope of work. But our biggest revenue comes from the jewellery we make ourselves. Our pieces run from Sh100 to Sh600.

We also have another revenue stream, which is jewellery cleaning and repair. These services are charged on a case by case basis depending on the damage and the material of the piece in question.

There are many jewellery makers who’ve failed to sustain their business, what makes you different?

I think one of my strongest inspirations was my father, who died last year. He ran a business for most of his life and even though he initially didn’t want me to go into the jewellery industry, he eventually saw the passion I had for it and supported me.

He would post my designs on his Facebook page and help me market myself. I think he was my number one fan.

Business is also about knowledge. In 2016, I applied for a course with the Mbugua Rosemary Foundation. It was a six-month course that covered theoretical and practical lessons on how to run a business.

What I appreciated the most was the hands-on interaction with our mentors and industry gurus like Wandia Gichuru and Nana Gecaga. I’d recommend this course to anyone who has a business that’s up and running. It doesn’t matter if you’re making Sh1,000 or Sh500,000 a month, this course will uplift your company, guaranteed.

What’s your current turnover?

Right before I went for the business course with the foundation, we were turning over approximately Sh30,000 a month. Today, in a good month we turn over about Sh100,000 and in a low month Sh55,000. My challenge is that we are working from a relatively small space, so we can only serve one customer at a time. Sometimes we lose customers who don’t want to wait.

My goal is to build a large enough clientele to move into a bigger space where customers can walk in, pick what they like and proceed to the counter. I also want a shop front to attract people who were just going about their day; currently, we’re not on the ground floor.

Apart from walk-ins, how else can clients get to you?

We do most of our sales online, actually. My preferred platform is Instagram and Facebook. People call in to say what accessory they want and we either deliver or they come to the shop and collect it. Our delivery costs depend on the client’s location.

What’s the demographic of your clients?

Our clients mostly range from the ages of 25 to 45. The under 35s prefer lavish designs, the more dramatic the better.

The over 35s prefer subtle elegance. We cater to all tastes, including custom-made pieces. Shee Art is about enhancing a woman’s beauty to suit her personality, that’s what we pride in.  

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