A Q&A with Kenyan Jewelry Designer, Sylvia Omina Otsieno

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Sylvia Omina Otsieno is the proud founder of sustainable Made in Africa jewelry brand Omina Ostieno. Sylvia graduated from SITA’s Mitreeki Incubator Program for fashionpreneurs in 2019; SITA caught up with her two years on to understand what she has done with all her newfound knowledge, skills and confidence.

Thanks for talking with us Sylvia. Tell us, what does participation in San Francisco Sustainable Fashion Week mean to you and your brand?

Participating in San Francisco Sustainable Fashion Week exposed me to a global sustainability network, to whom we showcased our products. Our jewelry is natural, innovative, promote culture and safe for the environment.

Not only this, I myself also got a better understanding of the space, more knowledge on niche areas, and we shared ideas on environmental pollution and sustainability.

Tell us about your jewellery brand – who your target market?

In Busia County in Kenya, where I am from, most of the women work very hard but don’t earn enough to be able to fend for themselves and their families. My company is called Omina Otsieno. We are working with these amazing women, as well as local farmers, to create a unique opportunity to change their lives. Banana fiber is a locally produced material, which can be used to make jewelry, but which hasn’t been used enough.

Omina Otsieno is a sustainable fashion brand that specializes in jewelry made from this banana fiber. Every piece of our jewelry is unique and has a story: the weaves and twists of each piece are inspired by the culture and lifestyle of the Marachi people in Busia, their farm tools and what they were inspired by that day.

The process of production starts right from harvesting of the stem to extraction of the fiber. Then we weave the fiber and finish of the jewelry with brass accessories. We buy banana stems from the farmers and train women in making the jewelry; we also work with artisans in Nairobi to co-create brass accessories to finish our jewelry.

How did Mitreeki help you develop your sustainable business model?

Sustainability is becoming the entry ticket to doing business in the Textile and Apparel sector. I am one of the many beneficiaries of SITA’s Mitreeki Fashion Incubation Program in 2019, when Sustainability and environmental pollution discussions and campaigns were at their height. Mitreeki helped me integrate Sustainability principles into my business model, rather than seeing Sustainability be an obstacle that holds me back. I also learnt a lot through the Mitreeki webinars and courses, which have helped me design all the other key features of a great business model.   

How did you come to see sustainability as an opportunity rather than a constraint?

Environmental pollution is the most pressing problem today in the world, including in my country, Kenya. There’s a huge need to make the air cleaner, conserve natural resources and promote a toxic-free environment in order to have healthy communities. Initially, I was making jewelry from yarn by crocheting. During the Mitreeki incubation process, my mentor Ann McCreath challenged me to replace the acrylic yarn with a natural resource – since the fashion world is shifting focus to Sustainability – and that’s how my banana fiber idea developed.

Using banana fiber ended up opening up other opportunities too: I am happy to be bringing women in my rural home on board my journey, training them on the making process for their own economic empowerment.

How did Mitreeki help you yourself develop as a businesswoman?

Mitreeki has provided a platform for me to get knowledge; the courses that have really helped me as a person. It’s also helped my business profoundly: I used to treat my business as a hobby, but thanks to Mitreeki it is now a professionally run company.

What are the next steps for you and your business?

I launched Emisanga – my first banana fiber jewelry collection – early in 2021. Now that I’m in the piloting stage, I am focused on boosting my visibility. We are looking to collaborate with retail stores both physical and online to get to our customers.

Through the work of our brand, we are focused on four main areas of Sustainable Development – we contribute to building sustainable cities and communities, alleviating rural poverty, and strengthening Kenya’s industry, innovation, and infrastructure. Additionally, the brand aims to invest back into local communities by collaborating in different art-related projects – pottery, tailoring, furniture making and mat weaving – and building skills. In doing so, we are directly tackling the economic inequality that plagues people who are impoverished, even though resources and potential opportunities surround them in abundance.

Our product also benefits consumers in the city who want to live a sustainable lifestyle. We reach our consumer through friends, family, social media, trade shows, craft shows, pop-up markets, stockists and E-commerce. We hope that Omina Otsieno will become a sustainable fashion and arts brand of choice in Africa, and that we’ll gain international recognition.

Also, I received exciting news yesterday informing me that my brand was selected to participate in the International Trade Fair’s She Trades Global in October; I am looking forward to it and hoping to get buyers for my jewelry.

For regular updates on the progress of Mitreeki graduates, follow SITA on Twitter: @ITC_SITA

Voices of SITA
Voices of SITA
This blog provides a window into the SITA project. Through stories from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, this blog showcases the project’s progress and impact.