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As some of you know, I’ve moved to Nairobi. It’s been a little strange going from the one of the world’s most commercial cities to the opposite side of the world (in more ways than one) but there are two things I absolutely love: the people and the scenery. Kenyans are some of the most open-hearted, welcoming people I’ve ever met and it’s amazing being able to travel out of the city in any direction and see different landscapes.
Just after I touched down I had a message from a friend asking if I’d be interested in shooting a jewellery brand in Nairobi. Would I ever! Riri Jewellery is more than just a fashion brand. As founder Njuhi Chege (a mobile entrepreneur, ex-UN and for this article a model) puts it, “No one ever thinks jewellery is political. But it is.”
See part of the article below, or see the full story on MUKHA.
What does ‘Riri’ mean?
Riri means divine beauty. Intrinsic god-given beauty. Currently in Kenya and across the world, there is a huge discussion on what beauty is. Especially because there is a lot of skin lightening practices happening and misconstrued ideas of beauty garnered from the rising phenomena of socialites. I wanted to explore my own definitions of what it means to be African, what it means to be human and how the concept of beauty defines who I am, not only as an African lady, but as part of a community and society that has it’s own ideals.
I thought Riri would be a good place to bring the discussion back to intrinsic god-given beauty, because nobody can define that for you.
Tell us a bit more about the stories behind your designs.
To me, jewellery has always been what shoes are for many women. I remember years ago when I had my first job, I would spend a huge chunk of my meagre salary on jewellery.
When i’m wearing something unique and different, I feel very connected to my Kenyan culture or to nature. Anyone who has experienced the melting pot that is Kenya knows how multifaceted and colourful it is, coupled with rich histories and an intertwined heritage.
Haha! That sounds like an ancient version of a stoplight party – red (In a relationship), Yellow (Unsure/It’s Complicated) & Green Parties (Single/ Looking for a relationship)!
Really? That’s fancy!
“YOU CAN SEE WHY MY DESIGNS ARE A DIRECT RESULT OF STORIES AND EXPERIENCES SOAKED IN MY CULTURE”
Jewellery was also a central part of sacred occasions such as initiation ceremonies, drought, weddings, even funerals. During the drought season for instance, they would have special ceremonies to call on the rain using special ornaments on their feet. When they danced the jingle of the jewellery would call on the gods and sure enough the rains would come.
At that time, men were not only the heads of their homes but were also regarded as religious leaders and they wouldjoin a group of elders and go around a mugumo tree (fig tree) which was considered to be an altar, and again they would wear necklaces and bracelets that were only worn at specific times to get closer to god.
You can see why my designs are a direct result of stories and experiences soaked in from my culture.
I’ve been exploring crystals and the vibrations of the stones as they help heal the body. If you can incorporate that in jewellery, if it can help heal an individual, help them think better or ease their pain, that in itself is pretty amazing.