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Meet Sharon Baluku

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sharon Baluku.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I was born in Uganda, raised in Sweden, and moved to the United States as a teenager. I have always loved and been interested in everything art and design, but initially I was mostly focused on dance and fashion, so after high school, I took a year off to explore dance of all kinds, before deciding to pursue fashion. I was accepted into FIDM, but due to my status as an international student at the time, the tuition was way too high to justify attending, so I looked at other options. I ended up finding a much better match and value in the accredited interior design program at CSUN, which was an unexpected new direction, but I went with my gut and chose to attend.

During my time there, I was fortunate enough to complete two internships with renowned interior designer Michael S. Smith, whose clients include Cindy Crawford, Steven Spielberg, and the Obamas. After graduating with a BS in Interior Design in 2011, I started my career as a Design Associate at the award-winning Kerry Joyce Associates, working on luxury residential and large commercial projects in Southern California, Colorado, and New York. After years of working for several leading designers in the interior design industry, my desire to start a company of my own grew stronger every day, until I finally decided to pursue my love for accessories and launch Baluku Design in 2016.

Please tell us about your art.
I create home and fashion accessories that are inspired by African and Scandinavian aesthetics. My design philosophy is “less is more” – I strive to create practical, clean, minimalist designs that feel both modern and timeless. Because I think it’s everyone’s duty to help preserving the environment for the next generation, I use carefully selected, environmentally friendly, sustainable materials whenever possible. Some are naturally sourced, like cotton, linen and banana leaves, and some are repurposed, like recycled glass or reclaimed wood. With the exception of my baskets, which are handwoven and sourced locally in Uganda, all of my products are designed and handmade by me in my Los Feliz studio.

Design is part of my soul – it’s who I am and what I love – and through my designs, I get to express myself and share that part of me with other people. I also love the challenge of creating unique pieces that can’t be found anywhere else and working with my hands to figure out the best way to connect my ideas to a tangible product.

Because I believe strongly in giving back, I am also committed to creating opportunities for girls and women in developing countries through my work. Currently, Baluku Design proudly supports girls’ empowerment through education in Uganda, with the hope that one day gender will no longer be a barrier to fulfilling one’s dreams and potential.

I hope to inspire people to consume more mindfully. We live in a world of fast turnover, where things are manufactured quickly and cheaply and aren’t meant to last long. This has wide-ranging economic and environmental impacts that are not sustainable long-term, for anyone. I believe in creating well-made, thought-out products that can be used and loved for years, and that beautiful design can and should be responsibly produced.

What do you think about the conditions for artists today? Has life become easier or harder for artists in recent years? What can cities like ours do to encourage and help art and artists thrive?
As I mentioned above, society as a whole has been consuming more than we need for a long time now. This is due to many reasons, both internal and external, but the result has been that there’s a lot of pressure to produce cheaper and faster and to keep up with rapidly shifting trends. That’s very difficult for an individual artist to sustain financially, reduces art to a commodity, and is also terrible for the environment.

However, it seems that because climate change has become more of a public concern in the past few years, more and more people are looking for a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, which also affects what kinds of products they buy. This has given artists like me more space in a market that is very competitive, and also inspired others to rethink how they create their products, so I think we are heading in a more sustainable direction.

I think cities like Los Angeles can support small businesses and local artisans in many different ways. West Elm runs a program called West Elm Local, through which local artists do pop-ups in their stores. I think that’s a great way to introduce small businesses to a larger audience (I have participated many times myself), and that’s something I’d like to see other large retailers do in a way that makes sense to their business. Plus, it brings them business as well, so it’s a win-win situation. As far as consumers go, I urge people to check out local vendors, whether it’s in small boutiques, at markets, or online. Our products can be a bit more expensive upfront because we don’t mass-produce, but in return, you get unique designs, high-quality products made with love and attention to detail, and a happier planet.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
Instagram / Facebook: @balukudesign

I can also be found doing pop-ups and markets around Los Angeles, which I announce ahead of time on my website and Instagram. In addition, I set up shop at the Atwater Village Farmers’ Market every Sunday (except when I’m doing pop-ups).

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Sharon Baluku (profile image by Vaunn)

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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