As a member of Uganda’s Bahima tribe, Olivia Byanyima carries a deep reverence for the African Ankole cow. "Our culture revolves around this animal," she says. But in recent years the number of purebred Ankoles—known for their majestic horns and commanding presence—has dropped as farmers cross Ankoles with breeds that produce more milk. Researchers have predicted that Ankoles could be extinct by the middle of the century.
Byanyima, who moved to the U.S. in 2003, saw a chance to help. In 2014, she and social entrepreneur Shanley Knox founded Olivia Knox to create a luxury market for the horn, incentivizing farmers to raise more purebred Ankoles. "Now the farmer is not just raising it for meat and milk. It’s for the entirety," Byanyima says. The pair works with the local beef industry to source the horns (which are usually discarded) and hires skilled Ugandan artisans to turn them into striking jewelry, accessories, and housewares.
Today, Olivia Knox products can be purchased through Anthropologie and Bloomingdale’s, among other retailers. Byanyima projects $1 million in sales by 2017, partly due to new deals with eyewear makers Lindberg and Hoffman. As more businesses around the world find uses for the horns, Byanyima hopes the significance of the material travels with it. "Companies should educate customers on the importance of their products. You should know the value you add to the world by buying this product.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.