How Fashion Fused with Tech is Enabling Thousands of Women in Africa

Over 85 percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa are self-employed in the informal economy—many produce crafts and handmade goods to make or supplement very small incomes. But their sales are limited to inconsistent local demand or other markets all too often via extortionate middlemen.

If you put money into the hands of a woman, she will invest it wisely into her family’s future Tweet This Quote

Soko uses mobile technology to empower and provide equal access to opportunity for woman artisans across Africa. With Soko’s mobile tools, these women, as well as male artisans who share this vision, have access to a whole world of consumers, expanding their business horizons and entrepreneurial prospects.

This post is part of a series profiling ventures in first accelerator program dedicated to impacting the lives of millions of girls in poverty. For more information on the program, check out the Girl Effect Accelerator website.

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  • SGustin

    This is an amazing idea. How inspiring to be able to help people like that. There is so much poverty in the world and to be able to provide the tools for someone to get themselves out of poverty is incredible. In many cases, people don’t want a hand out they want to make it on their own. That’s exactly what this company is doing. They are providing the resources for an entrepreneur to grow their business when they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. It’s like teaching them to fish rather than providing the fish already caught. I like it.

  • erinleigh28

    It’s one thing to make and sell things online, but what about shipping to those customers? Are services like that even available to these people?

  • Mallory Benham

    Wonderful that Soko has provided this access to women and men in Africa. Does Soko also help with the shipping process? That’s got to be hard work.

  • kt_ford

    I agree that Soko is an amazing idea and it is awesome that they are helping women sell products that they make and help get their name out. I was also wondering the same thing about shipping. How exactly does that work and who provides the materials and information to ship it across the world?

  • epmcinty

    Definitely an amazing, innovative network Soko has provided for artisans and other poor craftsmen (men and women) across Africa. I find it astonishing how not just does it raise profit for the entrepreneur and the economy but it even has deeper cultural effects like exposing Western culture to particular crafts and jewelry from other parts of the world (as they mentioned places like Forever 21 carries some of these artisans’ products). All positive results aside, the only thing I question and am more curious about is the financial logistics to Soko. How much profit do the artisans make, how much is commissioned back to the company (Soko)? What are the results of others besides the highly successful ones that are modeled in the presentation? I also am curious about the shipping services like many have mentioned; do they contribute to that process? All in all, this seems like it will bring many out of poverty and have quite a positive impact on the African economy!

  • James Sullivan

    How does shipping work? Also, what are they paying solo to use their service? I understand that Soko is used to help artisans connect to the international consumers which is awesome. This is will hopefully get many people out of poverty, however, how do they get paid directly? Does their money have to go from bank account to bank account? What if they don’t have one? Over all, I think this is going to be amazing to see how this generate revenue for artisans. It sounds like Soko is very empowering, for women, and I hope it does raise people out of pottery. The biggest thing Soko has done for people specially in Kenya is give them opportunity, which everyone deserves. Sounds like a fantastic start and can’t wait to follow it.

  • Gaby Perez

    Yes! i think it’s an awesome program that empowers women to get out of poverty by their own hard work. I too questioned how much Soko helps with shipping, because even here in the U.S. shipping is quite pricy. Also, I might have missed this but how much does Soko take from these women? Do they get to keep a certain percentage from what they make? Or how does a company like this stay afloat? I am excited that these products have entered the market with Forever 21 and Anthropology, the more people know about this program the more it will grow!

  • sadeakindele

    This is great, and an idea many other retail companies can adopt. It’s also cool that we can take part in this idea as well. I’ve already began browsing the site!!!

  • Garrett Nelson

    Great idea, great cause. Thanks for sharing! Not only does this give power to women for creation of new and unique products, but could potentially help develop a whole new trend/movement by teaching younger children how a business works and what it takes to be a part of one. This could also potentially help shift the market to developing countries that are in need of a movement such as this one. Once again, great idea and a good trend seems to be set in place for a new future.

  • Katie

    I think this is a great idea that will help women get out of poverty. This gives them the tools that they need, but cannot afford on their own. This transforms the lives of young women and I hope to see it prosper in the future.

  • Katie Larson

    This is a brilliant idea that leverages 21st century technology and the global market to help these women and men artisans participate in a formal economy.

  • LindsayDages

    Creating profitable business models that empower people that are not just in difficult economic
    positions but in places with little infrastructure to overcome their obstacles will truly transform the future. Imagine how many untapped creative people and ideas are out there waiting to be discovered. As a society we need to learn to address the root cause of problems instead of finding superficial temporary fixes for
    our modern day ailments.

    I am curious on the details of this business model. Do the artisans pay a fee to use Soko’s online
    platform? How does Soko find the craftswoman and what qualifications do they have to have? I am excited to learn more!

  • Halea McAteer

    I loved their idea of “ethical fast fashion”. Too much of the fashion industry operates under very poor ethical values when it comes to their workers, and it seems that a lot of us consumers have accepted that this is just the way things are in the fashion world. Businesses like Soko show that there is a better way of running a business in the fashion world. One that does not sweep the rights of others under the rug.

  • kbell003

    Along with helping with shipping, does Soko help them obtain the raw materials that they need to make the jewelry? I understand that shipping and raw materials are expensive, but will this business be able to sustain itself and have new designers that they want. I think that a revolutionary idea is great, but is also needs to be self sustaining.

  • rschneider2800

    I love that this gives financial freedom to artisans and I also love how it connects people around the world. You can buy a bracelet and know that a woman in Africa made this and I think that is a valuable connection. It makes what happens to this people personal instead of just another person suffering. I do worry about teaching these artisans ethical treatment of employees and equal pay for when they expand though.

  • Matthew Montoya

    I agree, I think there is an awesome theme of leveraging the mass mobile access and mobile media platforms to stimulate economic activity that greatly benefits the locals in the place where they already are! I think this is an amazing opportunity for women in Africa! I would also ask, does this activity encourage mothers to continue their daughters education, or does it encourage young girls to adopt the artisan practice instead? I’m not trying to be critical at all, I am merely wondering where education falls into this amazing venture! Awesome idea!

  • asprain

    Very cool idea that helps the people and supports culture and the arts.

  • fkrutsky

    I completely agree that the fashion industry operates under poor ethical values. In order to compete in the fashion market it would be nearly impossible to do while choosing a manufacturer that will pay and treat workers fairly. It has become a trend to support small local businesses because we are willing to pay more essentially for guilt-free shopping. With Soko they are cutting out that middle man so prices can still be reasonable. Knowing that you are contributing to growing a small business, in an economy that needs the help more than yours, I can understand how they are having trouble keeping up with the demand.

  • rntom

    I support this because here in Arizona I know artists that support their lives with their craft especially on the Navajo Reservation where there aren’t very many jobs available.

  • caro5039

    I think that this is such a great idea that brings individuals who are unable to access a steady market to a resource that allows them to be successful. Soko has done a great job globalizing parts of the world that are still developing. The presentation was very clear as to what their goal is, and how they have been successful so far. But I would like to know more about how artisans find out about Soko, and what the cost is for them to advertise their products through Soko.

  • l2yza

    The title of this page needs to be reworked. I almost didn’t visit this because the title sounded stupid and pointless. However, what this actually is doing is amazing.

  • Eric Strimple

    What would be truly interesting to find out 5 years down the line is how something like this will affect the local economies. My curiosity comes from the idea that if a local artisan that has been making jewelry for years finds Soko and begins selling through that channel, and discovers that their necklaces are highly sought after and can be sold for a very high amount, how does that sudden surge of funds affect the economy of the village around them? Would they begin marking up to the same price as Soko for local buyers? Not saying any of this is bad, it is just a thought

  • Mdraymore

    I am also very curious about their business model, and how Soko actually makes profit. Do the artisans pay, do the buyers pay, is it from advertising, or even something else? Anyhow, this company has created a great website to empower artisans in impoverished Africa with the power of a mobile phone!

  • Mdraymore

    Along with that, i wonder if a couple years later if there will be so many artisans that revenue for individuals falls. However, if the market for these goods is strong and keeps growing then this shouldn’t be a problem.

  • sking4air

    This is so interesting and such a great methodology. They are taking their local hand made product and thanks to SOKO they are selling it globally. This is truly the dream and goal of any entrepreneur. This will then give the individuals income to put into their economy. Great job Soko!

  • chadvallen

    I completely agree Katie! This has so many positive benefits, in my opinion, for women in poverty. Creativity should be valued in today’s world, and fashion has such a huge creative outlook. I really hope more news like this is shown, rather than the newest celebrity gossip.

  • eljefeboulder

    What I love about this idea is that they are utilizing a device that is so normal to many people. This is a very cheap way and seemingly effective way to help artisan crafters to reach far outside their local markets.

  • FalkinerRR23

    I think this is a great idea as long as the artisans are properly trained to use Soko and understand how to reach out globally.

  • Alexa A Dralle

    I agree. Technology can be extremely difficult, especially for people who haven’t had the opportunity to grow up with it. I do believe that this is a great idea and that the women involved will become more driven than ever to understand and learn technology so that they can create a better future for themselves and their loved ones.

  • Jessica Andrew

    Thank you for sharing this video. I like how they are incorporating what people like to do. As the video said, making crafts is one of the most popular things to do to gain a profit. I think it is awesome that this company is able to sell the crafts they make globally. They are able to reach out to other people and have them buy their products. This is a great way to get people out of poverty since it is an online purchase.

  • Ryan Broida

    I think that this is such an outstanding idea! Considering the fact that these women are enabling many small artisan communities to be able to keep up with their customers and actually use their cellular phone to grow their business. This company has given many women the chance to sell and distribute their products in many larger stores as well as online stores. It is amazing that they can take these socially and ethically produced products and actually show them to the world of fashion and in the process they are able to transform these women’s lives. they are empowering these women to not be afraid and to be able to feed their families which I believe is the most important aspect of this whole venture.

  • Chanaeva

    I wish I knew more about technology. I feel like it would be great to develop products that can help people so quickly. Empowerment for women is so important. I think that Soko will allow for these artisans to not be taken advantage of by large corporations. Although, I worry that their designs could be stolen like many young designers in the U.S have had happen. Urban Outfitters has stolen so many designs from small artist that it takes away from the value of the art being produced overall.

  • Matt48085

    That problem is not just in fashion unfortunately. I work in manufacturing and it’s very common to work hard on a new part just to have it knocked off within a few months. It’s sad but people don’t have respect for the work of others.

  • Lauren Schlicht

    I think ethical fast fashion is one of the most creative ideas I’ve heard in awhile! Soko has worked to empower women and its transforming the overall life of the African Economy. This is such a creative way to keep the world connected and change the lives of those in poverty.

  • jvlewis1

    Africa has many unique fashion things and I, for one, love the way the pattern look and some of their ideas. I also know a couple people who would be interested too. Not only is this good for their families, but they will have money to put back into the economy of their country

  • rewebster3

    I think that by educating people in Africa to obtain the resources and ideas needed to achieve their dreams and make way for what they actually want to do with their lives is just amazing. I would think that by creating a revenue stream for, not only the families creating the business, the country of Africa as well by creating a possible export to give way for more money to enter the country.

  • pach8453

    Soko is a very beneficial product because it helps to link people in impoverished countries to other countries where people can afford to buy new jewelry and other artisan products. This product is very original and will definitely play a large factor in contributing to the growth of places like Africa.

  • Morgan H

    What a beautiful idea and what beautiful products! It sounds like your business is reshaping women’s lives in Africa! I am a little confused how the mobile phone is the main source of their business and would like to know more about how that works. Sounds like you’ve turned these women’s talents into something that can improve their lives in many ways, great work!!

  • livnielsen

    This is a really exciting and innovative venture. As someone interested in working in the fashion industry and as a social entrepreneur, I often find the two conflict or detract from one another. I think often socially or environmentally conscious fashion brands are ignorant to current market trends, or cater to only those interested in their products for their social/environmental impact. Not only are the products Soko produces in line with modern trends, but they connect makers directly to the global market, which is truly pioneering.

  • Abby2017

    I think that it is great that such pretty and beautiful products can help other women. When the products help the women the entire city will thrive. Women have a great role in society that not many people notice especially in other countries. Glad that women are being noticed.

  • Spencer Rafii

    Unreasonable ISSS! Such a relevant platform. I a bit about myself, I just returned to America from a week exploring entrepreneurship in Chile. My favorite gift that I bought was a pair of hand crafted sandals that are quality. A product that would sell for more than 4 times the amount in United States than in Chile. I want to connect with “Explore Global Design” because THIS platform will improve the lives of the Artist and of the consumer by diversifying markets of boutiques.

  • Thumbs_up

    The vision of this two women to enable these poor women in Africa to work and deal with business for giving phones and jobs for them is a great way to impact their lives and to change their families lives too. It is a domino effect.

  • Cameron Morrell

    This is an interesting idea, and I’m curious how it could be applied to other markets. I’m sure that this concept could be used for many different products, and people love to buy unique products from other countries. It’s cool to see how social technology is connecting people and helping people around the globe. This doesn’t sound like a non-profit however.. I’m sure it could be, but I guess if it works to make money than more power to them.

  • Darby Ellen

    I think that it is amazing how technology can impact the lives of women so dramatically. I always try to buy unique pieces with a story for gift and myself. I will definitely be ordering gifts from here for the holiday season and share the story of this venture. I found it surprising how quickly income changed for the artisans, a factor of six within two months seems dramatic. Has this success continued at this rate, are their differences in success by product? I was wondering also how you track the equitable investments of women you work with? You say that they invest intelligently in their business, health, and education of their children. I don’t doubt it, but I am curious if this is an impression of strictly data. It seems like you are making quite an impact and would love to know the progress and success you have had. It would be interesting if you included more information about that on your site or maybe bios about the artisans. Your site is beautiful and seems aimed fro retail, but I think the story is great and should also have some more focus. On another note, for the mobile app do these women have to invest in a smart phone? I do not know how common these are in Africa, but it might be a good idea to work with companies to have them donated or loaned to artisans. This could empower them to start working right away, and with their income increasing so dramatically they could hopefully pay back the phone quickly. I just thought that was a complimentary effort. I hope the holiday season brings you lots of success and good luck!