Yenaé (pronounced as Ye.Nay) is a high fashion jewelry brand that offers culturally curated and African-inspired collections. Their exquisite jewelry designs fuse deeply rooted and diverse African culture with a twist of modern design appeal.
We caught up with co-founder Seble Alemayehu to find out more about the business.
What inspired you to start your business?
Yenaé was born out of our shared experiences – two Ethiopian- Americans, jewelry lovers, and co-founders, Seble Alemayehu and Felekech (Fei) Biratu.
While living in different parts of the US, we saw the magnitude of the lack of awareness that existed about Africa, especially in a positive light.
We were both born and raised in Ethiopia and we had first-hand knowledge about the creativity, craftsmanship, and resources that exist in Africa.
Coming from entrepreneurial families and holding MBA degrees ourselves, we decided to pursue our interest for business and love for jewelry.
With that, we founded Yenaé – a high fashion jewelry brand that takes patrons on a journey inside Africa through exquisite jewelry designs that blend culture and storytelling with a twist of modern design appeal for a wide range of jewelry enthusiasts.
How did you raise the capital to start your business?
Yenaé is 100% self-funded and women-owned. We raised our initial funds from our immediate families while we worked on the side to raise our own capital. But most importantly, we learned how to kickstart with minimal investment.
We heavily utilized a lean startup model to build the brand, where our ideas started with customer interviews, building out the minimum viable jewelry, testing it, quickly iterating, or pivoting to get to the core of our offering and branding.
What makes your pieces unique?
What makes Yenaé stand out is its creative focus on offering customers multi-wear jewelry. Currently, 50% of our collection fits this category, whereby a single piece of jewelry can be worn in a minimum of 3 different styles.
All of our jewelry is made from recycled brass, plated with 14K gold or rhodium; responsibly and ethically sourced Ethiopian semi-precious gemstones, hand-crafted by artisans in Ethiopia, and hand-polished hypoallergenic jewelry made in California, USA.
Ranging from simple, everyday jewelry to one-of-a-kind, contemporary statement pieces, each piece of jewelry has a story behind its design, sourced from historians and storytellers.
What is one lesson you’ve learned as a business owner that you’d like to pass on to other entrepreneurs?
One of the most important lessons we learned is the power of taking action and having a “Start Today” mentality. Often, there are so many limiting reasons for why one may not pursue their ideas or take it to the next level.
There will never be perfect timing, working capital, network or resource. Whatever you want to explore as an aspiring entrepreneur, don’t limit yourself. Just start.
We both love to wear jewelry, but we didn’t have a single clue or background on how it’s made. We just made the bold decision to start, figure it all out, and learn as we go along our journey.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
In 5 years, we see Yenaé playing a role to influence a consumption pattern that moves towards a more sustainable community, away from fast fashion.
We will be expanding the design of our jewelry collections to cover every corner of the African continent, showcasing the rich heritage and culture of each African country. Lastly, we see our collections available in major retail stores in the US.