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Meet Hanna Wagari and Regbe Surafel of Mombasa Jewelry in Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hanna Wagari and Regbe Surafel.

Mombasa was dreamed into life by business partners and longtime friends Regbe and Hanna, They could not find earrings that were bold and or had cultural significance, Regbe who is an artist started designing earrings for them to wear and pretty soon people started asking them where they bought it. So with her marketing/branding expertise and her design strength, the business was born. They are both Ethiopian-born and East and West African raised; so they were very passionate about collaborating with artisans in Africa to pay living wages and showcase African craftsmanship to the western clientele.

Perhaps it’s because when you’re from the continent but thriving in America, managing to design a luxury jewelry line with a message of cultural awareness AND get featured in Essence Magazine AND on A-list actress Angela Bassett in less than a year, it means you’re doing something right.

The Mombasa Collection isn’t just beautiful. It’s enriching. The partners turned their love for social fashion with international influences into a social business, using natural gemstones, lalibela crosses, leathers, horns and other organic materials sourced from the motherland to empower other designers, especially women. Instead of waiting to be invited into the sustainability conversation where mainstream ideals of a business rule, Mombasa, inspired by architectural shapes and natural materials, has made a space for itself. Mombasa is a celebration of womanhood and entrepreneurship engrained in African culture.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, not at all. Starting a business is not for the faint of heart as you know. Especially with our focus on sustainable entrepreneurship and collaborating with designers in Africa, it takes time and commitment. Time zones are different, infrastructure is limited. Simple things that we take for granted here such as email or conference call can be challenging at times, i.e the government shut down internet access in the midst of our production run in Ethiopia due to political unrest. That might be a deterrent for someone not from the continent but because we were raised there we were familiar with these challenges and worked around and through them with our partners. It has been a win-win for all.

The “Made in Ethiopia” leather bag collection is one such collaboration with a women-owned social enterprise in Ethiopia.  It is led by a dynamic woman who trained HIV-positive women in the trade of jewelry making and leather craftsmanship.  We pay fair-trade prices so that these women make a living wage to provide for their families and send their kids to school.  We are launching  the SS18 “Safari Collection” which is handcrafted in Kenya by Maasai artisans.  So again, it is consciously utilizing our platform to partner with artisans on the continent to highlight African excellence and craftsmanship.

We have to be flexible to turn on a dime to accommodate what the market is telling us. We love doing pop-up shops because for us it is market research where we get to meet our customers and get to ask questions and get answers. It has led us to where we are today.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
The Mombasa Collection isn’t just beautiful. It’s enriching. We have turned our love of fashion with international influences into a social business, using natural gemstones, lalibela crosses, leathers, horns and other organic materials sourced from the motherland to empower other designers in Africa, especially women. Instead of waiting to be invited into the sustainability conversation where mainstream ideals of a business rule, Mombasa, inspired by architectural shapes and natural materials, has made a space for itself. Mombasa is a celebration of womanhood and entrepreneurship engrained in African culture.

What were you like growing up?
My partner Regbe and I both grew up in Ethiopia. It was an idealic childhood in a tight-knit family. She loved drawing and painting. So she displayed her talent and passion very early like many artists, I suppose. While I was a very introverted and kept to myself. I read a lot and that was my escape. We both left Ethiopia very early in middle school, she went to Kenya and I to Ghana by way of Sudan. So we both grew up and travelled around many countries in Africa where we got to see different cultures and way of life.

Here is our bio from our website. I think it states it succinctly.

Meet The Founders
Creating beautiful designs is a passion for L.A.-based artist Regbe Surafel. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Kenya, Regbe has cultivated a contemporary style that references international influences and boasts a wide appeal. Fluent in a broad range of mediums, she creates unconventional, art jewelry, using an eclectic mix of natural materials. Regbe draws inspiration from her artistic background and extensive travels and her art works have been exhibited in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

A self-confessed coffee addict who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Ghana, Hanna Wagari brings over 20 years of experience as a marketing executive and brand strategist. Hanna’s business acumen and a sharp instinct for style have helped shape the marketing and creative vision for various international health, beauty and lifestyle brands. With her passion for social entrepreneurship, Hanna is excited to bring sustainable work to women and reinvest in Africa.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.shopmombasa.com
  • Email: info@shopmombasa.com
  • Instagram: @shopmombasa
  • Facebook: @shopmombasa


Image Credit:

@soulful Michaela Reed

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