Meet Soho Works’ Future 50 winner Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge

Meet Soho Works’ Future 50 winner Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge | Soho House

The Soho Works member and founder of jewellery brand Umutoni talks entrepreneurship and the importance of making a product that’s both timeless and sustainable

Friday 5 January 2024   By Sagal Mohammed

In November 2023, London-based fashion entrepreneur Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge was among the special honourees at the inaugural Soho Works Future 50 awards in partnership with Gather. The intimate event, which took place in London, brought together a room full of talented entrepreneurs such as Thuku-Benzinge, who took home the award for Most Innovative Brand – five years after the launch of her namesake luxury jewellery company, Umutoni.

Meet Soho Works’ Future 50 winner Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge | Soho House
Meet Soho Works’ Future 50 winner Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge | Soho House

Since its launch, Umutoni has gained a cult following for its authentic pieces handcrafted by artisans in Kenya, with the brand making efforts towards social change in the local community. This has always been a driving force for Thuku-Benzinge, who is of Kenyan and Rwandan descent. The idea for the business came to her organically. Growing up, she spent summer holidays visiting family in Nairobi, where trips to Maasai Market – a giant open-air marketplace full of vibrant vendors selling handmade jewellery, textiles and beaded bowls – quickly became a pre-departure tradition. 

‘My sister and I would always go there to buy gifts to bring back for friends in the UK,’ she says. ‘Year after year, more and more people at school would ask me to get them some bracelets, earrings and necklaces from Kenya whenever I went there. And, all of a sudden, I was making some pocket money from it.’ 

Thuku-Benzinge was around 15 or 16 at the time, with an entrepreneurial spirit that led to her expanding the newfound playground business into her church community. ‘I’d ask the aunties and uncles there to buy the jewellery from me, and they would. At the time, I remember making £100 in one day and thinking, wow, I can buy all the lip gloss flavours I want,’ she says.

Fast forward to the present day and Thuku-Benzinge is an award-winning luxury jewellery brand owner, creating gold-plated pieces with a commitment to ethical and sustainable practices. She launched the business in December 2018 under its original name, Kaleidoscope Beauty, before rebranding with its current name – Umutoni – and a new collection in 2020.

Meet Soho Works’ Future 50 winner Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge | Soho House
Meet Soho Works’ Future 50 winner Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge | Soho House

As a graduate from the University of Leicester with a degree in economics, Thuku-Benzinge saw the brand as an opportunity to utilise her skills to not only build something of her own through her nostalgia for jewellery, but also empower local artisans. ‘My goal was to create something that celebrated the rich tapestry of home craftsmanship through the lens of culture, skill and community,’ she explains. It was equally important to her to support that community by providing income opportunities for the local artisans. 

‘When I was at university, I wanted to support a young girl in Kenya through school, so I asked my grandmother to connect me with someone because she was involved in that space,’ she says. ‘She put me in touch with a 13 year old, who I ended up helping through her education.’ However, as Thuku-Benzinge grew closer to the girl’s family, becoming more exposed to their needs, she realised that what she could offer them financially wouldn’t be enough; nor would that model of support be sustainable for others in need. 

Instead, she thought launching a business that sells jewellery pieces produced authentically by these local communities would create a timeless and sustainable product, while generating a consistent income for those behind it, cultivating a culture of equitable exchange. ‘Each jewellery piece is a manifestation of meticulous craftsmanship, lovingly handcrafted by skilled artisans from the heart of Kenya, situated in Kibera, the largest urban slum on the African continent,’ she states on the brand’s website. 

This innovative approach to business and creativity is what made Umutoni one of our Soho Works Future 50 winners. While Thuku-Benzinge admits that entrepreneurship isn’t for the weak, her drive is rooted in the purpose and values of her brand. ‘Winning the Future 50 award was amazing. I’m happy that our mission and the brand is resonating with others, especially at Soho Works, which is such an inspiring space to be,’ she says. ‘I’ve met so many empowering business owners and freelancers while making a coffee in the kitchen or sharing a table with someone. I love the organic way people can connect.’ 

As for the future of Umutoni, Thuku-Benzinge plans to drop a new collection to add to her classic pieces. ‘We haven’t released any new products in a couple of years now, so I’m excited to share what we’ve been working on soon.’ 

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Meet Soho Works’ Future 50 winner Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge | Soho House