What does it mean to be proudly African in today’s fashion industry? What does it take?
Trends used to be dictated by the West, even when those narratives referenced our continent. Today, we have a stronger sense of pride in our industry than ever before, yet foreign labels and luxury imports are still considered more aspirational or carry more weight – especially in terms of monetary value – despite the fact many of the raw materials used in the fabrication process come from Africa. How do we change this mindset and empower our continent?
To answer this question, we spoke to Kealeboga Pule, who’s the founder and managing director of Nungu Diamonds, a proudly South African, black-owned business that’s flipping the script on the bespoke jewellery and diamond trade.
How did ‘Nungu’ (Swahili for porcupine) become the brand’s moniker?
The porcupine is resilient, agile and able to defend itself against ‘the kings of the wild’. It’s distinctly African and embodies the spirit of Nungu Diamonds and the people behind it. Founding a first-generation, black-owned diamond business has had its fair share of challenges, which we’ve met with a will to survive and an unwavering belief in our ability to build an impactful brand that tells a new story about diamonds.
What is that story?
It’s about diamonds in the context of Africa and the role of the continent in the global luxury industry. First and foremost, we had to understand that diamonds are an African natural resource. The narrative of diamonds, concerning the African continent, is due for renewal, and it should be told by local people. The porcupine’s small size is grounding, because regardless of how big our business becomes, it’ll always remind us where we came from; that we were once small, hungry, and eager to grow and seek new opportunities. These are qualities that have sustained us, and that will contribute toward our continual growth.
The diamond industry is surrounded by controversy. What distinguishes Nungu, in terms of its practice and ethos, from other purveyors of diamond products and fine jewellery?
Provenance is one of our key pillars. Knowing and understanding the origin of our diamonds gives us a unique opportunity to play an active role in ensuring that the diamonds we buy, cut, polish and sell to our customers are sourced from reputable mining companies whose business practices, particularly their mining processes, adhere to best-practice principles and are sustainable.
What has the brand done to empower and uplift women?
Women have contributed significantly to my personal development; as a man, an entrepreneur and a husband. My mother’s strength inspired me to look for the same quality in women, which I found in my wife and business partner. She brings a much-needed dynamic to the brand, as a woman and a creative. Women cut and polish our diamonds, and my business associates are also women.
The contribution women have made to my personal life is immeasurable, and I consider myself a champion of the development and inclusion of women in all spheres of life, including business.
You celebrate iconic women.
Carolyn Steyn has continued Nelson Mandela’s legacy of Ubuntu with her ‘67 Blankets’ initiative, which has touched the lives of many people who are less fortunate than others. She’s helping to build the South Africa Nelson Mandela dreamed of. We showed our gratitude by gifting her with a bespoke ‘67 Blankets’ diamond- encrusted brooch.
Bonang Matheba’s resilient spirit has inspired many young South Africans. She continues to do great things in the media space and business. For Bonang, we immortalised her logo in diamonds and rose gold, a symbol of living forever in South African history. We also had the pleasure of making Dineo Moeketsi’s wedding ring.
Who is the Nungu customer?
Our customers believe diamonds are as much a part of our heritage as our rich cultures, and as such, should be worn with pride. They also acknowledge it’s time for Africa to claim its rightful place in the world of luxury. Africa’s natural resources should serve the development of our economies and, more symbolically, mark the most significant moments in our lives.
What’s the biggest trend in diamonds and fine jewellery?
Bespoke. How you connect with and set a diamond should be personal. Gone are the days of telling the consumer what they want. Today’s consumer seeks an experience. They’re looking to connect on a deeper level with each purchase they make. Leading with the diamond allows the customer to dream.
What’s next for the brand?
We’re working on exciting projects that will see African diamonds incorporated into original designs that celebrate African culture, and Nungu’s Lifestyle Diamond accessories will demonstrate the versatility of the gems. Via our collaborations, we’ll extend the reach of diamonds, making them accessible to a wide range of consumers.
Kealeboga has served on the executive committee of the South African Diamond Manufacturers Association. He cofounded the South African Young Diamond Beneficiators Guild and serves as its vice president.