Grace Mwende, a Nairobi-based entrepreneur, embarked on her entrepreneurial journey after completing her degree at the University of Nairobi.
However, her path to success wasn’t a straightforward one.
She initially enrolled at the university with dreams of studying architecture, but her lower-than-expected marks led her to geology instead.
Uncertain about her future in this unfamiliar field, Mwende found herself questioning the relevance of her studies during her first and second years.
“In my first and second year we did general geology and I kept wondering what I am going to do with this course. And then I was made the Nairobi University Geology Student Association magazine editor which gave me the opportunity to interact with lecturers in various geology specialties like hydrology,” she recalled.
One day, while working on an edition of the magazine, she asked a gemstone specialist if she could photograph some precious stones for the publication.
The way these gems sparkled under the light captured her imagination and sparked her interest in the world of gemstones.
Encouraged by her lecturer, Mwende decided to specialize in gemstones during her final two years of study.
This decision required her to go the extra mile, conducting research and networking extensively to understand the local gemstone market’s dynamics.
Her dedication soon caught the attention of Majala Mlagui, a partner of the UoN’s department of physical sciences and an industry veteran.
Mlagui became Mwende’s mentor, guiding her deeper into the gemstone sector and sharing her wealth of experience.
One eye-opening moment for Mwende was her visit to the Arusha international gem fair in April 2016.
“The things I saw at the fair amazed me. It was a whole big building full of gemstones in display — diamonds, tsavorites and sapphires name it. Even stones I didn’t know existed were there.”
This experience marked the beginning of Vavani’s future and set Mwende on a path filled with challenges, fulfillment, and joy.
Vavani, Mwende’s venture, primarily focuses on crafting jewelry, including rings, necklaces, and pendants.
She started her business with limited capital, facing numerous obstacles along the way.
“I didn’t start my business with a million shilling. I was running it from my pocket. I was still learning and made a number of mistakes that did not help the business,” Ms Mwende says
Despite months of struggling and disappointments, Mwende’s determination kept her moving forward.
Mwende’s breakthrough came when she joined The Association of Women in Energy and Extractives in Kenya (AWEIK).
An invitation to a local gem fair through the association proved to be a game-changer.
Although she had nothing to display at her booth initially, this occasion marked the turning point for her business.
She connected with a gem cutter and a businessman in the sector, Kennedy Kamwathi, who played a crucial role in her business’s transformation.
With Kamwathi’s guidance, Mwende built a strong network, found reliable suppliers, and improved her gemstone cutting.
Her business began to flourish, and she decided to open a shop on Ngong Road in 2017.
However, the shop’s location and her limited experience in the sector led to its closure after just six months. Despite these setbacks, Mwende pressed on, determined to make her mark.
To turn her business around, Mwende made strategic changes.
She outsourced various services, focusing on selling her jewelry through social media, particularly Instagram.
Sponsored ads on Instagram helped her gain followers and attract customers, including renowned clients.
This shift in strategy became a turning point, and her business started to thrive.
Today, Vavani is a flourishing jewelry brand known for its quality and craftsmanship.
Mwende’s perseverance, adaptability, and passion for gemstones have paid off, and she continues to educate people on the significance of investing in precious metals and gemstones.
“People are not spending on jewelry because they don’t understand the market. Gold, for instance, is a form of currency, you can resell later and make a profit because time has proven that gold keeps appreciating especially with the rise in inflation. It is a store of wealth,” she says.