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Meet Kuumba Recasner

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kuumba Recasner.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Growing up in South L.A.’s Florence district, just north of Watts in the 70s, I was exposed to the expressions and fashion of the Black Power Movement, Chicano Pride, and Chola lifestyles within that community. The intermingling of these thriving LA lifestyles and cultures with the music, cars, hairstyles and jewelry of the youth, at that time, really made an impression on me. My mother, and other Black women, would wear their hair in Afros or Fulani braids embellished with beads, and shells while royally wearing thick gold chokers, and cuffs adorning their arms. The Cholas, who often wore big hoop earrings, would artfully lace up their fingers and forearms with black jelly bands. Additionally, my Chicana godmother taught me how to make indigenous Mexican folk jewelry using seed beads. That introduction to crafting jewelry inspired me to make jewelry from anything imaginable. I would even raid my grandfather’s toolbox to find plumbing rings, nails and wiring to create pieces.

One of my fondest memories while visiting with family in Louisiana is of my great Aunt Rose. She gifted me an antique brooch that she had as a child. I remember her telling me, “you take care of your family with this jewelry here!”  I hold that memory as one of those prophetic moments because I knew my great aunt descended from a strong Creole tradition of gifted clairvoyant women. Retrospectively, I have a better understanding of that moment.

My artistic journey has been a story of valleys and hills. In 1996 I was attacked by the LAPD riot police while at Leimert Park’s 5th St. Dick’s coffee house. They were there to shut down an open mic session in a neighboring space. It began to escalate and I witnessed them pushing a disabled woman on crutches with a baton and my partner and I stepped in to try to stop it. They then started beating us too. I was hit in the head with a baton and was knocked unconscious, leaving me with a deep head laceration and a severe concussion. I filed a lawsuit against the LAPD, but then made the very hard decision to settle out of court four years later, because the City Attorney defending the LAPD kept strategically postponing the court dates and the continued harassment by the police. I justed needed to concentrate on my family. Prior to that incident, I had a vegan soul catering business and would often work catering music video for Ice Cube and other Hip Hop and R&B artists. I had to close my catering business after being injured because of the physical and emotional wounds. I eventually came to terms with the unacknowledged trauma, depression and overall injury. Knowing this PTSD was real and present I had to take control of my life again!  This was a pivotal time for me because I decided to take a cathartic approach to my healing and started practicing yoga, painting, as well as creating jewelry again. A turning point was when I invested some of the funds received from that settlement into jewelry classes at the San Gabriel Bead Company. I also invested in unusual vintage beads and beautifully cut gems to create these amazing one of a kind pieces that were sold and showcased in the Beverly Center, and other high end boutiques on 3rd St in West L.A. That’s where my jewelry was purchased by many celebrities, including Beyoncé, Halle Berry & Cameron Diaz. I knew I was on to something. My jewelry line was eventually picked up by a showroom agency that took my jewelry to a whole new level by getting me new accounts with Fred Segal, Barney’s, Sundance and other major retailers.

At the same time, I wasn’t very computer savvy. I was eager and had little business acumen. I  could barely keep up with the large and rapid purchase orders. I took a break in 2013 and made a slow comeback in 2017 with a new jewelry line. My latest line, Erzulie, draws inspiration from the cottage decor within the households of my Louisiana kin of bygone eras. The Erzulie collection uses recycled gold and silver while also creating with upcycled gems, crystals, corals and pearls that are reprocessed onto glaze or enamel. This artistry allows me to distribute their colorful textures and pigments onto delicate, hand sculpted filigree designs. I prefer to work organically and ethically as opposed to the global mining practices in the gem and mineral trades and policies that can ruin fragile eco systems as well as the cost to humanity with the issue of unfair labor practices.

I’ve always been fascinated with the ancient Egyptian and Byzantine jewelry as well as the Art Nouveau movement with the Plique-a-jour pieces that resembled stained glass. You may find some influences in my jewelry from these periods in which they celebrated natural, organic femininity. I’ve also pulled inspiration from other ancient periods in Africa, the Mediterranean, Native American as well as modern Bohemian Funk. I often see these designs in lucid dreams and create from there. My jewelry ranges from minimalist to wildly embellished yet lightweight. It all ties into the paradox of being unapologetically feminine, free and strong.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No! Especially being a single parent and entrepreneur. I’ve definitely had my share of teachable moments. I’ve invested a lot of time, overtime and money. I’ve also lost money. I think I’ve actually paid for a college education through trial and error. For example, I had been finally accepted to be a featured exhibiter at the 2008 New York Fashion Week’s Designers & Agents trade show. At the time, I had an extensive collection and needed to have a nice sized booth which cost $5000 for that weekend. It was going to be worth it as we had appointments with Saks 5th Avenue and Henri Bendel as new accounts. I had been advised to ship my jewelry through UPS which was said would be much more secure getting it to New York from L.A., versus bringing it on the plane. It shipped out on Wednesday night to be at Manhattan’s W Hotel by Friday morning. UPS did not deliver that Friday and informed me that I wrote the address incorrectly. I sometimes struggle with dyslexia and I inadvertently transposed part of the address, the $5000 for the weekend was nonrefundable. The effects of that mistake trickled down and were devastating for my future business prospects. This is where I learned that I really needed to employ capable individuals to assist me with the day to day, non creative aspects of the business. It was an extremely difficult but equally valuable lesson. Hiring the right help and knowing how to delegate duties can save you thousands! Give in and let them wear some of them hats. Teachable moment 101.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I started my business in 2002. I was working as a Kindergarten teacher and went into full production mode due to the influx of orders I’d received. At that time, I was doing mostly freehand wire sculpting that I would pound and forge between one of my grandfather’s leftover hammers and an old railroad track that I found in his tool shed. I was doing a lot of wire wrap with turquoise, opals, tourmaline slices, snake bone and other mixed elements into my designs, mixing these earthy, rustic woods, bones, and gems into refined jewelry designs. Some said it was reminiscent of the whimsical jewelry work of the late, Art Smith.

This organic style is what made me stand out from other jewelry designers at that time, but this accessible and clever technique was quickly adopted by other jewelry designers. Now, you can’t go on Etsy without seeing something very similar to my early work.

During this time, in 2002, there were only a few well known designers doing rustic luxe jewelry lines, before the hand crafted jewelry world become over saturated. I had to keep reinventing my style, while keeping true to my vision. That was what set apart from the other lines. It’s challenging though, because us indie designer tend to get our work knocked off by bigger brands. That hurts!

What were you like growing up?
I grew Up in South LA, Hollywood, and later on in the S.F Valley. I tried to fit into every teen trend but was always an oddball. I eventually tried to accept my quirkiness by trying to rebel against the pop cultures of the 80s. I did this by discovering the music and psychedelic cultures of the late 60s and early 70s. Throughout high school, I tried dressing like Betty Davis or the female version of Jimi Hendrix, and even rocking a maroon fro. I just knew I was his biggest fan, The Voodoo Chil’ Slight Return, but instead, everybody thought I was a Prince fan. I also discovered a new relationship with my paint brush often inspired by the very present, ethereal plant kingdom, which to this day is expressed throughout my work.

I became more politically active with animal rights after trying to rescue the cow that was on the campus of our high school. I also became involved in social justice issues. I involved myself in the local anti-apartheid movement such as L.A. Free South Africa and frequented politically charged open mics and underground music venues in old vacant buildings in what is now known as the DT Arts District.

At this time, I discovered Maya’s jewelry store while passing out protest fliers on Melrose. They carried the most unique handmade jewelry. That’s where I rediscovered my passion for jewelry and jewelry making but I was just a collector at that time. In the late-1980s I immersed myself in the Leimert Park village scene, which was the cultural Mecca for L.A.’s Black artist and musicians, as well as a hub for other social justice movements. My participation there also expanded to the Jazz, Hip-hop, Reggae and African music festivals. This is when I began vending and taking my various talents seriously whether it was my early work of handmade jewelry or vegan soul food. I didn’t know at the time that all of these experiences would lead me to designing, owning and operating my own jewelry company.

Pricing:

  • Avocado gold hoop earrings $89
  • Erzulie weeping chandelier earrings $398
  • Butterfly Earrings $840

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Rodney Ray on the torso shot.

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