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Meet Nkatha Gitonga of Yakutti in Jamaica Plain

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nkatha Gitonga.

Nkatha, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in Kenya with my parents supporting my aspirations to become a doctor – like most Kenyan parents, and I imagine parents everywhere. Then I changed my mind and wanted a plush corporate job. And then everything changed once again after I’d spent a year as a peer teacher at a high school in rural Kenya and later enrolled into college.

I had thought it incredibly unfair that most of my high school students would not afford to join college after graduation. Yet, we prepared them inadequately for further vocational training or work. So I competed in the President’s Innovation Challenge at Harvard with an idea to build a vocational foundation that would support high school graduates to develop vocational skills and build related scalable businesses. It was a good idea, or so the judges thought, but it lacked a fundraising and sustainability plan.

I’d loved the solutions-driven approach to venture ideation though, so I took entrepreneurship-focused courses at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (now Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences) and applied for related summer travel fellowships.

The idea of Yakutti was borne from my travels. Nairobi, Cape Town, Addis Ababa and many other African cities had growing and beautifully vibrant art and design ecosystems that had such little renown that one had to stumble into them. Yes, there existed businesses selling crafts by unemployed and unnamed African artisans and there were a handful of internationally-recognized African artists on display in exhibitions all over the world. Still, a lot of the storytelling was skewed and the narratives uncontrolled by their owners.

What if people from over the world could access unskewed and diverse stories about creativity and impact from the very designers, artisans, creatives and scholars that were working to advance design in Africa and to complicate interpretations about what an African identity, African art, African fashion and African-inspired design meant? What if this storytelling went beyond a platform to include experiences and travel?

Over my junior summer, I set out to talk my computer science friends into partnering with me to build a platform. I failed. Neither the idea, nor the dinners I made to cajole worked the wonders I’d hoped for. So over the following Thanksgiving Break, I sat on my college bed, and with tools that required minimal coding, built a website.

It was only a blog to give my idea concrete form, but over the following months, I would incorporate Yakutti, learn PHP, and this time, sell a better value proposition to pre-seed investors, to my co-founder, Mbula, and to our first partner designers and customers.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The first hurdle was finding justification for convincing my Kenyan parents, who had believed me destined to be a doctor or to live in comfort and security in the very least that sitting at a computer to launch what was then an obscure internet business was a good idea. I am so grateful to have had, and to still have, their unrelenting support.

Then came the bootstrapping. I didn’t have to eat ramen noodles for days on end because I had in Boston amazing friends that loved to cook, thankfully. And in retrospect, most of my bootstrapping challenges had their upsides. I got to develop diverse skills since we could not hire additional staff. I made fond memories with my students when I tutored on the side to help stretch our funds – eating Pakistani naan with my middle school math students in Nahant, enjoying Turkish desserts with my adult English student in Waltham, and discussing the proximity (or lack thereof) to African realities of Beasts of No Nation with my precalculus student in Beacon Hill.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Yakutti – what should we know?
We are a storytelling marketplace. On our platform, you get to discover chic jewelry from impact-driven brands and to personalize bespoke pieces with independent designers that share your values.

We curate our jewelry boutiques for unique, elegant and well-made jewelry, compelling heritage and brand stories, and ethical and impactful design and business practices.

When you visit our platform, you will find collections from brands that are working to improve artisans’ skills and livelihoods in Nairobi, training unemployed at-risk women to make high-end jewelry in Durban, planting trees with conservation organizations in Dar es Salaam, and exploring design at the intersection of centuries-old artistic traditions and cutting-edge technologies in Cape Town.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
We are defined by our commitment to preserve and nurture our relationships with our partner designers and our customers, and to remain authentic and value-driven.

We are in the business of fashion, of course we value the beautifully captivating. But we also are convinced that all that is beautiful becomes even more beautiful paired with meaning.

We derive such meaning from doing our best to advance designers and brands that share our commitment to impactful businesses, and from giving our customers access to designers, jewelry collections, stories and experiences that align with their values.

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Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.


  1. Claudia Adams

    September 30, 2017 at 6:18 am

    Thanks for sharing, Nkatha! I especially like the bootstrapping part where you tutored on the side. The jewelry is beautiful too but you should probably consider adding geography-based search since your vendors/brands are from all over the place.

  2. Eliud Mutwiri

    October 6, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Thanks Nkatha for your true story. You are a real dynamo in our family. I envy your dream.I believe one can rebrand himself or herself at any age, time and place. Count on me for any support. Bravoooo!

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