What is Culture Shock jewelry and what inspired you to start?
I have always had a passion for learning about other cultures, and really wanted to incorporate that into my career. My goal was to work at a marketing agency that specializes in minority marketing, however after graduating college, it was nearly impossible to find a job. I eventually landed a job at an agency; while it was a valuable learning experience, it was not for me. I became very frustrated in post-grad life and knew that I was destined for more. I decided to take my [very small] life savings and use the contacts that I made from living abroad to create an international jewelry import company called Culture Shock. For about a year, I imported jewelry from Nicaragua, Peru, Costa Rica, Thailand, China, India, and Nigeria. While it was an amazing experience, I felt creatively limited. So a little over a year ago I launched a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter and raised over $15,000 to create my first internationally inspired jewelry line. Since then, I have designed three collections.
I really love the name. Can you tell me a little more about how you chose it?
I chose the name as kind of a play on words. I wanted the name to represent sensory overload and complete exposure to other cultures.
How has the city of New Orleans shaped your design aesthetic?
For a very long time, I took my culture for granted. It was not until Hurricane Katrina struck and I had to temporarily relocate, that I realized how fortunate I am to come from New Orleans. Although Culture Shock focuses on other cultures, it’s crazy how much I inadvertently incorporate my culture into my designs. New Orleans Creole culture is very bold yet chic. We have a lot of French and West Indian influences, so our traditional art is very colorful and dimensional. When designing our items, I tend to add a Creole twist to it. However, our current collectionWanderlust, is a lot daintier than our past collections. Wanderlust challenged me as a designer and taught me that minimalist designs are beautiful as well.
What are some of your favorite places domestically and internationally and what do you like about them?
Domestically, I LOVE Miami! I am fascinated by Latin culture and really enjoyed the authentic parts of the city. Besides Miami, I really like DC because it’s literally a melting pot. One of the main things that I enjoy about it is the food (spoken like a true New Orleanian)! I can get Ethiopian, Indian, and Polish food on the same block. I also enjoy Austin and am visiting again later this month. The city reminds me a lot of New Orleans with the live music scene and festival culture.
Internationally, my heart will always be in Costa Rica. It changed who I am, the way I perceive my culture, and the way that I view life. The main phrase they use is “pura vida,” which basically means easy living. While living there I also saw how race was not as big of an issue as it is here in America. When I asked about race, a local told me, “At the end of the day, everybody is Costa Rican.” As an American it made me realize that we need to focus more on what unites us rather than what divides us.
Another cultural aspect of the country that I liked was the closeness of families. While living in Costa Rica, I stayed with a host family. I remember coming home from school one day to find their extended family over for lunch. Coming from a large family, it made me realize that although I was in another part of the world, we are all very similar.
How has travel inspired your business?
Before I left for Costa Rica my mom gave me spending money, and told me to “live it up!” She literally gave me $500, and I thought how was this supposed to last me for months in a foreign country. During my last week in Costa Rica I still had about $200 left and decided to spend the rest of my money on presents for my friends and family. I went to markets, met with jewelers, and purchased scarves, jewelry, and accessories. My friends and family enjoyed their gifts so much that they gave me money to buy more items when I went on my next trip to Peru. I did not realize it at the time, but this was the early stages of Culture Shock. When I was unemployed after college I took the contacts that I made from buying all of the items and used them for my company. I also used my family and friends as my initial customer base and reached out to their contacts to place more orders.
I love that your brand is socially conscious. Tell us what that means to you and how that shapes your business.
Not to be overly spiritual, but I believe that in every situation, you have the opportunity to help others. I believe that in the grand scheme of things, that is what all of us are here for — to serve. Personally, I don’t feel right working unless it is benefiting others in some way. When I created Culture Shock, I wanted a business that would make me money, but would also help the community. Since starting the company, we have donated a portion of our proceeds to local, national, and international organizations. Besides that, we have hosted events that have served as educational sessions where our customers could learn about other cultures. Currently, we are working on a study abroad scholarship program that will launch at the end of the year. As a company, we have also taken stances on issues that pertain to cultural and racial injustice. I want my company to be a lifestyle and a movement, not just a fashion brand. I would not be able to sleep at night if Culture Shock were just another fashion line.
What do you hope people feel when they wear your accessories?
I want my customers to feel like they are wearing a piece of culture. I want my items to be a piece of their life, a conversation starter, and a small symbol of their travel experiences.