Dezeen Magazine

New website helps African craftswomen become entrepreneurs

News: designer and entrepreneur Gwendolyn Floyd has launched an e-commerce platform that allows female artisans from developing countries to overcome "economic discrimination" and sell jewellery using just a mobile phone (+ movies).

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries

Named Soko, the platform is aimed at turning women in places like Africa into entrepreneurs, selling their creations directly to customers rather than through traditional supply chains that leave them with little profit.

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries

"Women in Africa produce 60 to 80 percent of the continent's goods, yet they earn only 10 percent of the incomes," said Floyd. "Soko empowers craftswomen to become global entrepreneurs by transforming the ubiquitous mobile phone into a tool that expands access to economic opportunity for women, giving them a greater share of the profits of the global craft industry."

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries

By using Soko, makers are able to upload a vendor profile, product images and descriptions to the website using SMS, allowing them to trade even in areas without internet services.

Consumers can then browse, order and pay for the designs on the website. The credit card payments are transferred into mobile money, which is sent via text message to the retailers on purchase of their goods.

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries

They then claim the cash at designated kiosks where they also deliver the goods to be posted anywhere in the world. This means the retailers receive the maximum amount of profit for their wares.

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries

"Soko disrupts the traditional export supply chain, removing the middlemen to enable direct peer-to-peer exchange of goods and money between global artisans and online consumers," said Floyd, who graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2005 and co-founded Soko with MIT graduate Ella Peinovich and ICT developer Catherine Mahugu.

The service is open to men as well as women, Floyd explained, but added: "Women face economic discrimination that leads to disproportionate representation in the informal economy, leaving them unable to access financial services such as banks, loans, or credit, and vulnerable to the dangers and limitations of the cash economy."

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries

The lack of economic opportunities for women is one of the greatest barriers to sustainable development, Floyd added. "When women are able to overcome the institutional discrimination they face in the workforce and earn incomes, they make more equitable decisions about sons and daughters' diet, education and health, they favour sustainable environmental practices, and domestic violence rates go down."

A video promoting Soko (above) explains further how the site can help women. "Although these women are poor economically, they are rich in cultural capital," it says. "Millions of women across Africa attempt to earn a living by supplementing meagre incomes by making and selling crafts - a skill that roots them deeply in culture and community. However, due to a costly export supply chain, their crafts are limited to the local economy with inconsistent demand.

Earlier this month design strategist Tim Kobe told Dezeen that women are the world's "fastest emerging market" and will transform the design of everything from products to interiors.

Mobile phones have also been used in Africa to redesign to bus routes in Ivory CoastSee more stories about mobile phones »

Floyd sent us the following information:

Introducing Soko: A Global Platform for Innovation, Style, and Impact

Soko is the online destination for shoppers to discover stunning handcrafted accessories from around the world and purchase directly from the makers. Using Soko on a simple mobile phone, designers and artisans in the developing world can upload and sell their jewelry pieces online, with no need for a computer or a bank account.

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries


Soko's unique technology platform allows artisans in the developing world to create online storefronts, sell to global shoppers and get paid, all using their mobile phone, even if they do not have access to a computer or bank account. This innovation, and our drive to continue building innovative solutions to promote the work of artisans, is at the heart of Soko.

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries


With Soko, you can discover incredible design and creative ingenuity made in communities that lay outside of the digital economy. Soko brings you exceptional style in the stunning handcrafted jewelry designs created by artisans the world over, directly to your door.

E-commerce platform launches for developing countries


This unprecedented direct access, created by transforming the mobile phone into a tool, expands access to economic opportunity for women in underserved communities creating real, immediate impact and disrupting the traditional export supply chain.