Wisconsin Woman Impacts Women’s Lives Globally
Ella Peinovich-Griffith, grew up in rural Arkansaw, WI, the daughter of Yata Peinovich and Jean Accola, professional musician and artist/owner of the Accola Gallery. Ella has gone on to make a positive impact in the world as she grows SOKO, the for-profit social enterprise, through the creation and sale of handmade fashion jewelry originating in Kenya.
A 2002 graduate of Durand High School, Peinovich-Griffith received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is a 2011 Masters of Architecture graduate of MIT. She also attended MIT's Founders Skills Accelerator program, an entrepreneur’s training.
While working on her thesis project in the Kibera slum within Nairobi, Kenya, she came to believe that the artisans could improve their livelihood if only they could be connected with consumers globally. Teaming up with co-founders Gwendolyn Floyd and Catherine Mahugu, they transformed their idea into an international success, capturing demand from companies such as Nordstroms and Anthropologie as well as from online customers from more than 35 countries globally.
SOKO (www.shopsoko.com) – which means marketplace in Swahili -- is an ethical brand that leverages design and mobile phone innovation to provide consumers with fashion accessories while developing a virtual factory comprised of independent artisans. This business model provides consumers choices with a positive impact, working with artisans in Kenya to create modern jewelry that is handmade from natural and up-cycled materials.
Due to the widespread use of mobile phones, SOKO's technology enables African artisans to sell their handcrafted jewelry around the world. It works even if artisans lack access to the internet, a computer, or a bank account in a system that bypasses the brick-and-mortar factory model. Supported by this technology, the company offers market access and training to expand economic opportunity for artisans, the majority of whom are women in under served communities. With these tools, any artisan can participate in the global marketplace, becoming a driver of social and economic development in their own community.
SOKO's ethical supply chain is more efficient than traditional models of production and ensures that consumers pay less and artisans earn more, retaining more than 30 percent of revenue. Within months of joining SOKO, many artisans increase their income by four times. SOKO has worked with nearly 1,000 artisans in and around Nairobi, Kenya, having contributed over $650,000 USD in artisan revenue in the past 12 months.
SOKO has gone on to partner with other purpose-driven organizations, including Pencils of Promise (PoP) which has built more than 300 schools for children in Ghana, and 20% of sales from the SOKO x POP collection is dedicated to building children's schools in Africa. SOKO has partnered with the United Nations Trust Fund to raise funds for their campaign to End Violence Against Women. Sales of the bracelets specially designed for the collaboration helped raise awareness and funds toward womens programs addressing gender violence. To date, SOKO has raised more than $150,000 toward this partnership while employing women from marginalized communities in Kenya in the process.
Those who knew Ella in her youth are not surprised to see that she is making a positive impact in our world. Her high school forensics coach, Barbara Kallstrom, says, “ She always had a lot of drive, was kind to others and thankful for what she had”.