Tell us more about KEENTU - what inspired you to open the shop?
There is an incredible amount of high-quality jewelry and accessories made in Africa that haven’t found their way to the US yet! I lived in East Africa for 8 years and every time I came to the US with new jewelry, accessories or clothing my friends and family would always ask me to bring them the same pieces on my next trip. I realized that everyone liked these products as much as I did.
I love surprising people - it is a big part of what we do on our tours, too. We take our visitors to off-the-beaten-path places and show them a side of Rwanda they didn’t expect. The store does the same thing – a lot of people don’t know that there are so many beautiful, high-quality pieces made in that part of the world and I love sharing it with them!
You and Xavi opened the Go Kigali Boutique Pop Up last winter in New York City. Did this experience lend more insight into opening the more permanent KEENTU? Or did you already have an interest in opening up a shop prior?
Our customers in New York loved the merchandise. We were so thrilled with the response from the pop up that I felt comfortable opening a permanent store.
We have 3 boutiques in Rwanda – one in a hotel and two in luxury lodges so our clients are tourists visiting Rwanda. We wanted to do the pop up in the US as a test to see if people who weren’t visiting Africa were still interested in products from the region. And the answer was yes!
KEENTU’s Instagram shares that you sell items from more than 40 women-owned businesses across Africa. Can you describe the process for choosing what businesses and/or what items to sell at your shop?
I handpick each item we have in the store. I choose products that I love that are different from what is available elsewhere. We work directly with 40 different women-owned businesses: all of our purchases go directly to the producers – there are no middlemen!
And of course, all of our products are ethically and sustainably made.
What has been the best aspect of opening KEENTU? What has been your biggest challenge so far?
It is so wonderful to see our clients appreciate the work of the artisans and designers we work with as much as we do!
The biggest challenge so far has been finding staff who can convey the information about the products, designers and artisans in a natural way.
What are some of your favorite items currently in stock?
I love our contemporary cow horn jewelry with semi-precious stones – it’s such an interesting combination of materials. I also love our purses with hand beaded straps from Kenya.
Visit KEENTU at their brick & mortar location at 345 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10014.