The Uzo jewelry brand resonates well with modern jewelry lovers. The designs are dainty minimalist pieces that can attract any subtle jewelry enthusiast. Best of all, each piece is handmade with love and can be personalized to tell stories and preserve memories of whomever. “It is not just to put your name or a date on a piece of jewelry. I am telling stories and preserving memories,” says Uzoamaka Ezeugwa, founder and head designer at Uzo jewelry, a handmade Nigerian jewelry brand.” A customer once asked Uzo to create a jewelry piece in memory of her dad, who had passed on. “The request blew me away. I felt so honored to be given such an opportunity,” Uzo recalls. “It opened my eyes to see that my work is beyond fashion.” 

Jewelry is a product desired by all. It symbolizes wealth for the rich and those who cannot afford it, either save for it or opt for cheaper replications. According to Statista, the global jewelry market is valued at $269 billion. In Nigeria, the jewelry business is dominated by the Hausa, with prominent trading points in Kano. However, there are jewelers producing jewelry in different capacities across the country. But to truly thrive, one should aim to address the needs not being addressed in the industry. This knowledge is what Uzo has come to relate to in 9 years of exploring the jewelry industry.

Although many people love jewelry, most Nigerians cannot afford to own solid gold pieces. One hundred and thirty-three million Nigerians live in multidimensional poverty. This means they lack more than one essential survival need; for so many, solid gold or silver jewelry could seem a luxury. “I knew many of my consumers could not afford the luxurious metals, but I wanted my products to be of top-notch quality. My products had to be premium. That way, I am giving top quality at affordable pricing,” she says. Uzo decided to use gold-filled metal, a thick layer of solid gold, bonded to brass. The gold-filled metal has some major gold properties, like its durability and skin-friendliness. 

Uzoamaka Ezeugwa, founder and head designer at Uzo jewelry

Uzoamaka’s love for arts and crafts as a child led her to jewelry making. Her parents had recognized her interests and encouraged her to take bead-making classes, where she made jewelry with beads. “Taking those classes made me realize I could do more with jewelry,” she says. Bead-making craft had just rejuvenated in Nigeria and had become so popular, many people wanted to be a part of the industry. Not Uzo. Though she truly enjoyed making jewelry from beads, she did not want to join the crowd. Her passion for making jewelry led her on a spiritual journey to uncover a unique way to enter the industry. “There is no profession that you want to start that cannot be found in the bible,” Uzo tells me. “I discovered my niche from the bible in Exodus chapter 31 where God was so specific about the types, shapes, and sizes of gemstones.” After conducting some research online, Uzo decided to attend jewelry design school. Although she found schools in the US and South Africa, she decided to attend one in India because of the country’s reputation as the global jewelry leader and because the school was affordable.

It took a little convincing to get her dad on board- he wanted her to study for her master’s degree because he did not understand running a jewelry business in Nigeria. “One morning, he came into my room and said, get ready. You are going to the jewelry school.” Her dad had remembered he got his wedding ring from India while on a work trip. So, he reached out to one of his Indian friends who lives in Nigeria for advice on Uzo studying jewelry design and manufacturing in India. His friend told him it was a great idea. The minister of state, mines, and steel development, Gbemisola Ruquayyah Saraki would agree. Last year, he stated that Nigeria has a huge insatiable appetite for jewelry, and creating a local jewelry industry is imperative. After her jewelry production course, and eventually earning a master’s degree, Uzo returned to Nigeria to start a retail jewelry business called Zoya jewels in 2014. “I didn’t start producing my pieces right away, because I thought I needed a lot of capital to start producing jewelry. The next best thing to do was to retail jewelry,” she says.

Handmade earrings from Uzo jewelry. Credit- Uzo Jewelry

With Zoya jewels, Uzo was on a mission to sell authentic and unique pieces. The jewelry market was riddled with mass-produced products of subpar quality imported from bigger markets like China. “I decided to sell pieces that were not easy to find in popular markets,” she says. After a while, Uzo’s business began to feel the heat from the market; customers would opt for subpar products because they were cheaper. “Customers would say to me, ‘I saw this same design at a cheaper price. Why is yours more expensive?” she recalls. Uzo figured it was time to put her jewelry production certificate to good use; if she created her designs, she would decide their place in the market.

A minimalist gold-filled bracelet from Uzo jewelry

Gold-filled is a tricky metal to use for jewelry. First, it lacks the resale and recreational features of solid gold. This means the jeweler has to be careful while heating metal, as there is a high risk of completely “de-Golding” the metal. The easiest way to reuse it is to plate it, which makes the metal lose its durability value. “When we started, there were cases where we told people to bring back their jewelry because it was part of a bad batch. Then they would wait four to six weeks to get a new one. And we sent it back to them at no extra cost,” she says. “It took a lot of practice and failures to get it right and find the perfect supplier for my gold-filled metals,” she adds.

The production process of a minimalist design from Uzo jewelry


Commercial jewelry production can be in different capacities, it does not always require heavy-duty equipment or huge capital. “When people walk into my studio, they are usually surprised to see that my equipment is basic. I can throw my equipment into a box and travel with them,” Uzo says. Like many people, she thought she needed at least $60,000 to start a jewelry business. “That is why I started with retailing. I wanted to gather my capital,” she says. Thankfully it didn’t take so long for her to realize that with $100 to $500, one can venture into the jewelry business. “My capital was not up to 250 thousand naira,” Uzo notes. “Although that was when a dollar was equivalent to 300 naira. Now, our revenue goes into millions yearly.”  

Despite it being a less popular metal, using gold-filled metal to create her jewelry is a decision that Uzo has not looked back on. Her confidence in her choice of metal can be linked to the advice she got from Nigerian celebrity jewelry designer Chris Aire nine years ago. “I remember walking into a bank and seeing a Chris Aire advert play on CNN. I did not know Nigerian jewelers were doing great things in the jewelry industry. So, I was astonished,” she says. She reached out to him for some advice via Facebook. And surprisingly, he answered. Chris’ advice was plain and simple. The jewelry industry is wide. You don’t necessarily have to start with diamonds and gemstones. Find an easy way to start and evolve from there. “When I saw the message, I thought he was hoarding information because he was afraid of competition,” she recalls heartily. “I only understood what he told me after I had started the business.”

The Halo earring from the Uzo jewelry ‘Grace collection’.

The grace collection by Uzo jewelry is the epitome of simplicity and purpose. One of my favorite pieces is a round-shaped earring with a mini disc that houses a birthstone in the middle. The circle represents a halo, while the gemstone represents the personality wearing it. The entire collection was inspired by Uzo’s journey, venturing into jewelry-making in Nigeria. Even though she had been retailing jewelry for some time, making jewelry was new waters that came with several concerns. For one, she had moved from selling accessories at 3,000 naira to selling jewelry at 15,000 naira. “I was worried they would not buy, that it would be too big a leap, and they would not understand the change. I worried my brand name was not as attractive. There were just so many concerns,” she recalls. “I know another jeweler who started a few months before me, she was not as successful. The only answer I have to why people responded as well as they did is grace,” Uzo says.

Customized necklace by Uzo jewelry

Seasons like Valentine’s are usually a swell time for jewelers, as jewelry is usually in high demand amongst lovers who are thoughtful gifters. According to Uzo, she could have up to 200 personalized requests in February. However, a lack of funding can affect the volume of supplies and stock on inventory. “I can stock up and meet all customers’ demands. And it is easier to project a target because I have a record of how we fared in the preceding season,” Uzo says. Getting access to loans or grants from banks can be hectic; they usually have insurmountable requests. In 2019, the central bank of Nigeria disbursed grants for businesses with fashion credit. According to Uzo, this grant helped her brand stay afloat during the pandemic. However, this funding program has since stopped.

The exchange rate is also a big challenge for this jeweler. Last year, when the brand found out it had been underpricing the products, the company increased the prices of its products, but still, it was at the company’s expense. An instance is a necklace previously sold for 16,000 naira, now sold at 25,000 naira, yet, under the 100% profit margin. According to Uzo, it’s a sacrifice you have to sometimes make for your customers, “Drastic price leaps can chase your customers,” says Uzo.

Minimalist ring designs from Uzo jewelry

This year, the brand is working on three new projects, starting with the mini ring collection it launched at the beginning of the year. They have also revived their affiliate program, where regular customers can sign up to sell products and get commissions monthly, a segment that experienced hiatus after they could not keep up with inventory. Zoya jewels have since rebranded to the men’s division of the company, producing everything from beaded bracelets to personalized necklaces made from steel to lapel pins for organizations. “I tell people, you should be willing to put your craft out there and challenge yourself. The market may end up determining the path that you should follow. That’s okay. But you have to be willing to start. That thing you are afraid of is also afraid of you. Plus, what is the worst that can happen?”

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