It was her childhood dream to own a big jewelry store; she would pore over countless jewelry catalogues and fantasize away in dreamland. Thanks to an entrepreneurial spirit and a deep passion that tided her over rocky beginnings, today she owns a company popularly reputed to be Africa’s largest and most prestigious jewelry depot. She
It was her childhood dream to own a big jewelry store; she would pore over countless jewelry catalogues and fantasize away in dreamland. Thanks to an entrepreneurial spirit and a deep passion that tided her over rocky beginnings, today she owns a company popularly reputed to be Africa’s largest and most prestigious jewelry depot. She has successfully launched a Nigerian brand of jewelry into the global market, a first in that stead. Enterprise54 takes a look at a brand that is empowering more than a hundred people all over the country today and the brain behind it all, RG Talatu Olulana as she is popularly called.
Not only does the Rare Gems brand offer elegant jewelry backed with a money-back guarantee for the contemporary African woman, they also engage in the trading of precious stones on the global market, acting as brokers for investors that wish to maintain a gold and silver reserve or trade at spot prices. The business boasts of partners and distributors covering almost all 36 Nigerian states, and even in other countries like Ghana, Zimbabwe, and India.
The jewelry line comes in four categories: Fashion(RGF), Economy (RGE), Standard (RGS), and Premium (RGP). Prices and guaranty periods vary from one category to another, and each piece comes with a distinct code for easy identification. They are all however covered by the Rare Gems promise – ‘Every time you buy our jewelry, you get our assurance that if it tarnishes within the guaranteed period, you’ll get a replacement or a refund.’
Ms. Olulana pursued her passion while still schooling at the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos, traveling to Benin Republic to buy jewelry that she resold to fellow students. She recalls that she had to make the trip every other day because of her meagre capital. Finishing school in the year 2000, she decided to take the bull by the horns – not to look for any job but concentrate on the business. With a loan of 5,000 NGN from her mum, she continued the business, “visiting salons and just about anywhere I could find ladies to showcase my wares.”
The RARE GEMS JEWELRY line was launched much later in 2008, featuring 18kt gold jewelry, gold-filled jewelry, gold-plated costume jewelry, sterling silver, rhodium jewelry and stainless steel. The line specifically targets African women, who love their jewelry “rich, detailed, and sometimes colored.” Getting such designs off the shelf proved to be not so easy, prompting a determined Talatu to start designing her own jewelry, making use of 3D impressions.
“In 2013, RARE GEMS GOLD AND SILVER – our precious metals arm was birthed to provide those seeking to invest in gold and silver a viable platform to do so. We offer trading at spot price, building of gold/silver reserve and valuation analysis services.”
Not resting on her oars, Ms. Olulana went on to become a UAE certified cast gold/silver bar manufacturer. She also trained at the USA-Hamilton Jewelry design Institute and today is a Certified CAD designer. She is a member of the International Jewelry manufacturers, designers and suppliers association among others. All great developmental strides are evidenced by the creativity and ingenuity of her designs, 70% of which she crafts by herself. All Rare Gems jewelry designs are inspired by nature and by the uniqueness of African women.
After the launch of the Rare gems brand, it took another 3 years for it to make a meaningful impact on the market. ‘Breaking into the market was difficult because people could not come to terms with the fact that a brand of jewelry could emerge from Nigeria. They would ask if it was any of the foreign brands, but we would always maintain that it was a Nigerian-owned brand.’
The company’s gold and silver trading activities is yet to be fully explored though. ‘Precious metals trading in Nigeria is still relatively new thus the slow response, but we are not relenting. We would continue to sensitize and educate Nigerians on this critical aspect of investment.’
Sales and Production
The Rare Gems brand is distinct in that each piece is built for the African climate and the designs are dynamic enough to satisfy a wide selection of buyers. Due to local high production costs, jewelry production takes place in France with technical partners while raw gold and silver bars are fully cast in Nigeria. On production she enthuses, “We use metals and alloys like gold, silver, copper, brass, and steel. All of our jewelry are lead-free and we incorporate the best practices in production, allowing mainly gold-layering (gold-filled) and gold plating techniques.
In order to increase distribution and sales of her gems, Talatu and her team created a sales strategy that entails having registered retail partners and distributors all over Nigeria. She credits the internet – Facebook and others, as having been very useful in surmounting their sales challenges. The desire to empower people financially is the major driving force behind the partners/distributorship program. It has also helped reduce some of the challenges associated with purchasing goods online as buyers can easily connect with retail partners near them.
Joy Omoaka (Zanetabenny Ltd.) is one of such partners that came on board via social media and as a retail businesswoman that interacts with several brands daily, she had this to say, “In comparison with other brands in the market, Rare Gems keep to their return and guarantee policies and this singular factor makes them stand out for me. Combined with the fact that my sensitive skin would not tolerate any less than 18k gold, and I have never had issues with the RG brand.”
On the local fashion and jewelry industry, the accomplished jeweler believes there are a lot of untapped potentials, “We are progressing but a lot needs to be done. Nigeria and indeed Africa is the last investment frontier, we have an economy with huge potential for growth. The business climate is becoming more conducive with deeper entrenchment of democracy.”
“Our plan for the next 5 years is to gain full presence in the African market. We are also looking at setting up production factory in Nigeria, with improved infrastructure. At the moment, hundreds of people are being empowered financially through the reselling of our products and we plan to spread our nets wider to reach even more people.”
Not having the backing of any financial institution, Talatu Olulana has gone on to succeed in the capital intensive business of jewelry design and precious stones trading. Her advice to new and aspiring entrepreneurs is this – “Never give up. Keep adding value to others through your business and shortly you’ll break through.”