Born in Paris and raised in a Beninese home, Catherine Sarr’s tryst with fine jewelry was a result of her frequent family trips to Benin as a youngster. These early memories prompted Sarr to start her own jewellery line, Almasika Fine Jewellery, which blends symbols of Africa’s cultural heritage with contemporary designs, creating ornaments of universal appeal. “Each outing there [to Benin] came with the reward of a dazzling show of jewellery adorning my mother, aunts and cousins, and trips to the market, where, for hours at a time, I would watch craftspeople transforming traditional materials into magnificent necklaces, earrings and bracelets,” Sarr remembers.
The name Almasika was derived from two words: ‘Almasi’ meaning diamonds in Swahili, and ‘Sika’ meaning gold in several West African languages, and quite fittingly, one can see a notable fusion of gold and diamonds in the line. Besides bespoke jewellery, Almasika has two other collections. Its debut collection, Le Cauri Endiamanté, was inspired by a popular cultural symbol of African heritage long considered a symbol of good fortune- the cowry shell. In keeping with Almasika’s focus, the cowry-shell shaped pendants in gold are studded with diamonds. Almasika’s Vallée de l’Omo collection is characterized by a simple band of gold over the upper arm, and it is Sarr’s interpretation of an ancestral ornament worn by residents of Lower Omo Valley in Africa.
Debuting in 2014 at the Colette store in Paris, Almasika is based in London, and its works are available in Paris, London, Zurich, Florence and New York. Sarr plans to strengthen their US presence and expand the venture in Middle East, Africa and Japan in 2016. “We are discussing with potential retailers to launch in the UAE this year,” says Sarr. While Almasika’s growth is still self-funded, Sarr reveals that advanced discussions are on with “proactive” investors, and she aims to finalize the deal by the second quarter of 2016.
Regarding her enterprise’s journey since its launch, Sarr says she is pleased with the strong uptake in sales, especially in the past six months, which she credits to public relations activities including mentions in leading fashion media. Several celebrities like American singers Andra Day and Zoe Kravitz have adorned Almasika’s creations in public, thereby bringing recognition to the brand and its African culture theme.
How has your background and previous work experience helped you with launching Almasika?
After graduating, I left Paris for London where I promoted the art of craftsmanship. I worked for various luxury brands including several years at the heart of the diamond and fine jewellery industry at De Beers Group. There, I curated one-of-a-kind diamond jewellery collections giving me invaluable experience in international PR, marketing, jewellery production, diamond expertise, budget management, logistics etc.
What is your creative process like in designing a product? What influences your collections?
It usually starts with a story (family, historical or fictive), or a mix of my imagination, my travels, pieces that I collect, books I read. I imagine a design that would represent a piece of history so anyone would be able to appreciate the design but also the story behind it. I have designed a pair a cufflinks following a walk on a beach, where I saw my husband and my little boy sharing a precious father and son moment. These diamond cufflinks are now one of our best-selling pieces. I am influenced by stories, symbols and heritage.
What moment in your career was most discouraging, and how did you get back on track afterwards?
The beginning of my career felt the most discouraging. I was moving country and looking for opportunities. I used ‘felt’ instead of ‘was,’ because looking back, I’ve always stayed positive and this period really defined who I am.
What’s one thing you make sure you do for your company to run efficiently?
I am passionate about jewelry and design, yet I always make sure my decisions go through a financial filter, and pass the ‘does it make sense’ test.
What are your top three tips for starting a business?
Write a business plan, have a mentor, and be relentless. My husband calls it PHD: passion, humility and dedication.
About Sindhu Hariharan
Sindhu Hariharan is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is a financial consultant turned business journalist with a FOMO when it comes to everything technology.