Startup Stories: Soko, Connecting Online Consumers to Global Artisans

Gwendolyn Floyd, Soko Founder

Tell us about your entrepreneurial product or service.
Soko is the online destination for shoppers to discover stunning handcrafted accessories from all over the world and purchase them directly from their designers. We’re revolutionizing international trade by providing artisans with mobile tools to access global markets, without the need for a computer or a bank account.

What inspired you to launch your business idea?
I co-founded Soko with Ella Peinovich and Catherine Mahugu in 2011 after recognizing a global need, as well as a global opportunity, to disrupt the systemic patterns of poverty found across the developing world’s creative economy. Working in bottom of the pyramid communities around the world, we were inspired to develop a solution to the disconnect between the incredible cultural value of the goods artisans make and the disproportionality small amount of money they can earn from these goods. We realized that by leveraging pervasive technology and existing infrastructure in an innovative way, we could create a platform to enable any talented artisan to participate in international trade.

What problem does your business or organization solve?
Soko provides solutions that can be summarized in three words – Innovation, Style, and Impact.

Innovation: Soko developed a unique, new technology platform whereby, using just a simple mobile phone, artisans from around the world can post and sell their products online, even if they do not have access to a computer, or a bank account. We’re continuing to build mobile tools to help artisans manage their businesses.

Style: Soko helps fashion a better world by bringing you the opportunity to dazzle your wardrobe with stylish, ethically produced accessories. All of the jewelry on Soko is made by hand out of locally sourced, regional, and oftentimes upcycled materials. Not only are the creations unique and exquisite, they demonstrate the resourcefulness of our artisans and encourage a sustainable future.

Impact: Soko provides a way for artisans to improve their livelihoods by accessing a global consumer base and removing the middlemen. We work directly with the artisans, via initiatives such as technical training and sponsoring of microfinance loans, to empower them to grow their businesses and ensuring a majority of the profits stay with the artisans and in the local community.

What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur and how are you working to overcome it?
One of our biggest challenges, but also a great opportunity, has been the need for capacity building in working with our artisans. We have to build the ladder in order to reach the height of our goals. We are climbing from the bottom rungs, but it’s exciting to have our business grow alongside our artisans’, many of whom now have the mobile technology to create and manage personal online storefronts.

Give us one word that people might use to describe you.

How has Project Eve helped you and/or your business?
Startup Stories inspire me while reminding me of the incredible community of female entrepreneurs that I am a part of!

Give us an insider tip that relates to your industry or startup story.
Forming strong relationships in all aspects of our business has been key to making Soko a sustainable success. The close partnerships we have with our artisans, banks, telecommunications companies, and marketing channels are invaluable.

Company: Soko


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