Shanley Knox of Nakate Project

Shanley Knox is a young entrepreneur with a lot of spirit. Founder of Nakate Project — a jewelry line using post consumer waste from Ugnanda to create wearable art and bring aid and awareness to the local communities.

We got to chat with Shanley about stories she’s gathered, amazing people she has the opportunity to work with and why she considers herself a brilliant entrepreneur.


Juliette Donatelli: Coco Chanel found fashion in the skies; streets; the way we live. Where do you find your inspiration for the amazing work you do through Nakate?

Shanley Knox: My inspiration for Nakate comes from my ongoing experience working in Uganda. I pull from my memories from different trips, from the cultural lessons I learn as I go, from inside me, really. My experience of Africa has expanded into all of my work as an entrepreneur. When we look to launch a new collection, I’m thinking, “what did Africa teach me this quarter?” Sometimes I’ve learned bravery, others living out loud, others quiet perseverance or a cultural custom that affected not only our business but the way I view birth or death or other cycle of life events. Coupled with my stylist, Antonio’s, inspiration in design and color, all these lessons and growth periods turn into pieces.

JD: What was the biggest hurdle you are having to jump through as a newbie?

SK: Being new, really. It feels a little like learning to play dodge ball on the go. There’s a lot always coming at you, and when you go lax on something or don’t pay particular attention to it, the results hit hard a week or a month or six months later, and you realize you won’t ever make that mistake again.


JD: What is more important the product or the process?

SK: I’ve learned the product is the process. We say at Nakate that every product has a story. Aside from the ethical story of being made in a fair trade environment, there’s the story of achieving a unique, marketable design, or managing quality and consistency in production and design within East Africa. There’s timing and all those lessons you learn on the go that I just mentioned. Its all intrinsically connected to the product.

JD: Who are three designers that inspire you?

SK: I’m a big fan of of Kenyan designer KikoRomeo. She’s got this Kenyan-centric vibe and yet her dresses make me also feel I’ve stepped back into a dance in the 40’s. High collars, tailoring and all this vibrant, African print. Her work to hire most her staff out of Narobi and remain true to her roots while growing Kenya’s fashion industry as a whole is both inspiring and ground breaking.

Lisa Folawiyo, for the way she changed the face of Ankara – bringing it out of West Africa, and making it luxury, global, attainable. Not to mention, I want her entire J-Label line in my closet.

Loza Maleombho, because the way she’s structuring Kente is absolutely brilliant. She’s sourcing back to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and creating positive change there while portraying a dignified, inspired West Africa.

JD: What was the first piece of jewelry you designed?

SK: I really never design by myself, its more of an overseeing or curating the process. But the first necklace I developed alongside our Ugandan artisans and my stylist, Antonio, was our Songa


JD: Your project has a huge impact on the local communities you work with. Can you share a few positive effects you have seen first hand?

SK: I’ve seen inspiration sparked to do better. Which is, I think, what everyone needs – that spark lit up inside them that says, “hey, I can expand on my current work and do something even more impressive.” That’s happened through Nakate being the first platform to introduce new designs to most these women. I’m thrilled.

I’ve also seen confidence built up around business management, quality control and negotiations in both my manager and the artisans she’s working with. Particularly as women in a male dominated society, I think that shift into confidence that people will want to work and negotiate with you is a huge thing. I’ve seen a lot of women on the ground come at business from a place of control and fear. I love to see the shift toward confidence and collaboration.


JD: What would you tell the 20 year old version of yourself?

SK: Listen to yourself. You’re not wrong.

JD: Who would you dream of collaborating with live or dead?

SK: I’m doing it. This was my dream – collaborating with women in African communities to produce wearable design. I can think of dozens of people I hope to form partnerships with over the course of Nakate’s growth as a business, but the dream was always to work with women like this.


JD: Who do you look up to right now?

SK: Sophia Sunwoo of water collective is one of the women in my age group that I see as a leader in change and innovation. She’s disciplined and driven and she puts the work in. She’s also making huge waves in Cameroon, and she’s doing it entirely through local talent.

My ten year old sister – this beautiful, crazy Haitian kid making family work in Northern California with my Irish/Scottish parents and brothers. She’s loud and confident and not afraid to throw a punch or two. I try and think what she would do in most situations, and it would usually mean listening to her authentic voice, and acting on exactly that.

JD: What’s your personal mantra?

SK: I am a brilliant entrepreneur, deserving of prosperity and success. It is on its way.

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