EFOC 2024: Power Partnerships: Milano Di Rouge And SOKO Jewelry  – Essence

Founders Shamika Lee of SOKO Jewelry, a luxury jewelry brand made by hand by African artisans, and Milan Harris of Milano Di Rouge, a luxury streetwear brand, spoke on the ESSENCE Festival of Culture SOKO MRKT stage to discuss their collaboration and all they’ve learned from it. Moderated by Ensa Huger, accountant, speaker, consultant, and author, the conversation touches on the strategies they’ve implemented along the way, and how partnership has created a lasting impact on their businesses. 

This session was suited for entrepreneurs, creatives, and brand enthusiasts alike to learn from. Both women had different skills that they brought to the table and utilized each from social media marketing to storytelling. Learn more about the ways they’ve been able to create a power partnership, below. 

Make Sure The Relationship Is Authentic 

“It’s so important when you are partnering with someone to make sure that the relationship is authentic. Make sure that you guys have a mutual interest. When me and SOKO [Jewelry] partnered, the first thing that I heard was that SOKO was all about the journey, and so was Milano di Rouge,” Harris explained. “It’s important to align with people that [are] authentic to you and [who are] authentic to your brand as well.” Being part of a partnership that has mutual benefits such as messaging, processes, manufacturing ethics, and so on is an integral part of a power partnership.

Be Honest With Your Partner

At times, being vulnerable about what you can and can’t do on your end can be daunting, but Lee says that is an imperative part of moving forward in your partnerships. “I often feel there are not a lot of partnerships where I can be vulnerable, and where I can say, ‘You know what, girl, I don’t know how to do that, but can we figure it out together?’” Lee recounted an obstacle about products being pulled from customs to be randomly selected for inspection. At first, she was nervous to share with Harris the difficult news as the products were to be featured at the festival, but once she shared the news, the pair was able to pivot and encourage each other to keep moving forward.

Tell A Bigger Story 

Both women are dedicated to showing that luxury pieces can come from Africa. One other main storytelling factor and mutual interest both women have is to better the lives of the African artisans making each piece. By paying them fairly, and getting them the resources they need to have a better likelihood, the pair is creating a partnership with an intentional narrative. “It’s also important for us to show the world that Nairobi is an incredibly beautiful place, and there are so many aspects to Nairobi and Kenya that you don’t see,” said Lee. “There’s nothing like being able to have a piece of jewelry that was completely made by someone’s hand. The time that goes into that craftsmanship is impeccable,” she added.

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