THE DESIGNERS STUDIO BLOG
‘Each piece tells a story…The cultures that inspire it…and the beauty captured by it’. Despite her successful legal career, founder and creator Shikha Vincent, found an avenue to combine her wanderlust spirit and her inventive fervidness to craft jewelry that goes beyond its aesthetics. This was brought to fruition with the launch of Shikhazuri in 2015. The Indo-Swahili brand name, is the amalgam of the words “Shikha” (her name) which means “tip of the flame” in Hindi, or “to hold or embrace” in Swahili, and the word “zuri” which means beautiful. And embrace the beauty it does; on multiple levels.
Every item bears a captivating story regarding the origin and symbolism of each ethnographic element and stone. Just like a flame, each piece is as enticing and alluring as the next and the closer you are drawn to it, the more engulfed by the depth of their meaning. This definitely makes Shikhazuri culturally inspired creations the arsenal of the globally minded woman who wants to stand out from the crowd, and make an exotic statement, infused with style, soul and history. The Designers Studio talks to Shikha to view the different elements that make up Shikhazuri.
Q: “Each piece is passionately handmade by Shikha using antique and contemporary beads” – do you personally make the pieces or you work with a team? Why?
A: I personally make all the pieces. I absolutely love the whole creative process of making a piece from scratch – choosing the materials, experimenting with different combinations and designs, and tweaking until I’m satisfied with the final outcome. It’s usually a work in progress and I often add or remove certain beads or components while I’m creating it, so it’s an evolutionary process that would be difficult for me to outsource. And as I make it, I begin curating the story behind the piece. This whole process is what makes each piece a true SHIKHAZURI original – touched and created by my own hands and vision, and infused with my passion for the craft.
Q: If it’s you who makes them, where did you learn the skill from?
I am self taught. I started making jewellery several years ago as hobby and learnt from books and also getting advice from local artisans at the markets from where I sourced my beads about what materials they used and how to make components like clasps. I’ve since come a long way and keep upgrading my skills and materials so that it reflects the quality and finish that my customers expect.
Q: How do you know which countries or continents to source from? Do you have a contact guide or these are pieces you stumble on during your travels?
A: I have been collecting interesting and unusual trinkets, artefacts and beads for many years – it’s something I’ve always been attracted to seeking out during my travels. Naturally I am attracted to the wealth and variety of craftsmanship that stems from the African continent, however I’m also fascinated by the exquisite ethnic and tribal jewellery that originates from all over the Middle East and Asia, and pieces from there feature strongly in my work.
I also do a lot of research through books that specifically focus on indigenous adornment which gives me insight as to what is available and where. In most cases, and where possible, I travel to source jewellery from specific places. However there are certain places where it may not be safe to travel on my own. If I am fortunate to know people who reside in these places then I shall ask them if they know anyone who deals with local jewellery, and might source through this avenue. I rarely explore this option unless I know that the person that I am sourcing from is reliable and deals in genuine items. It often takes time to build relationships with local traders as well, and there can be a lot of trial and error involved. But this is all part of the learning and development process and ensures that I can communicate the backstory of each component effectively to my customers.
Q: Who gives you the back stories of these items? How do you verify their origins?
A: I resort to a combination of resources. I speak to and ask a lot of questions of the traders whom I purchase the materials from, as well as elders amongst the same community. I also visit museums within the areas where I go to source from which usually have a section on local adornment, and these prove to be very informative. And finally I have my healthy collection of books specifically relating to jewellery from different parts of the world. I always try to refer to at least two to three points of reference to verify their origins and their symbolism and significance to the cultures from where the originated.
Q: How can you tell an antique from a knock-off?
A: By following the same process just outlined: talking to the vendors and asking them a lot of questions, and verifying this information against research at museums, books, and also speaking to and leaning from local jewellers from the places that I source the items. Over time, it becomes easier to tell what are knock-offs or mock-ups of original pieces. I have learnt so much in the past few years, and I’m sure I will continue learning more during this journey, which makes it all the more interesting.
In my experience, making the effort to source from origin and establishing good relationships with reliable traders makes a world of difference. It’s easy to sit behind a computer and buy beads, pendants, or artefacts from online vendors, but there’s no guarantee of what you’re actually going to get. That is why I source in person, and that is part of the fun and intrigue anyway… when you don’t know what to expect, and then stumble on a treasure trove of goodies that you’d never find by searching on the internet!
Q: Is it difficult to maintain and preserve jewellery that has antiques in it? What’s the best way to keep them?
A: It depends what material it is composed of, but by their very nature, antique materials should be handled with care to preserve them. I prescribe the same guidelines for all my one of a kind pieces and provide a detailed care guide to my customers. To summarise, jewellery should be stored safely and out of reach of any chemicals (household cleaning agents, chlorinated water, perfumes, etc.). Jewellery storage doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. A plastic ziplock bag usually works great to keep your items protected from exposure to chemicals, dust, and air to prevent tarnishing, etc. Store them separately so that they don’t scratch against each other. Only put your jewellery on after you’ve applied cosmetics and perfumes. Exposure to the elements does cause tarnishing over time, and this is how certain antique and vintage pieces acquire their patina. A detailed guide is available on my website.
Q: You recently launched a silver line… tell us a little more about it… the inspiration, why the change in direction, where they are made… how the experience differs from the previous pieces/collections.
A: The silver line is not necessarily a change in direction, but an additional product line to the SHIKHAZURI range of jewellery. I wanted to create a line of jewellery that is still inspired by different cultures and has a backstory relating to each collection, but is widely accessible to a larger customer base in terms of availability and price point.
My first collection is a range of charms, called the Telesma collection, from the Greek word ‘talisman’ which is regarded to attract good luck and positive benefits to its owner. It is currently composed of four designs: the Elephant, Hamsa, Lotus and Om. I choose these because they each have universal meaning in many different cultures, and are very relatable feel-good charms for everyday wear. These have been a great success.
I also recently launched a collection called the “Big Five” consisting of the big five animals, which reflects my passion for wildlife conservation, but I’ve also tied in the “jewellery with a story” theme by incorporating the symbolism of each animal in different cultures, hence giving each piece a deeper meaning. These have also been popular to date, particularly amongst safari-goers.
Q: You include a little note in each of the boxes you offer explaining more on the product, in your opinion why did you think it’s necessary that designers share their product’s origin stories?
A: A salient feature of my brand is the ability to relay the story behind the jewellery and bring this to my customers experience. I believe that customers are becoming more inquisitive about brand and product stories, where something is made and what it is composed of. In this age of information, it is our duty to share that information. But I wanted to take this a step further. I want my jewellery to connect with each and every customer who wears it. I want it to be a celebration of the craftsmanship of artisans all over the world, and to honour their art and culture and to keep its history alive. SHIKHAZURI jewellery is more than just adornment – it’s an experience and a journey of cultural awareness and an appreciation of art.
Q: Congratulations on Africa Fashion week London… how did you get shortlisted for the event? How do you feel about this?
A: Thank you! When I saw the call for designers to apply, my first instinct was that I am still a very young brand and it would be a bit pre-mature to apply for this year. But it kept playing on my mind and I thought what would be the worst that would happen? They would simply say no. So I carefully completed the application and gave it my best shot, and when I received the news that I had been accepted to showcase my designs on the catwalk I was absolutely thrilled! I think it’s such a fantastic opportunity for me to take my brand to an international platform and share the beauty of African adornment in an environment which I feel will be very receptive to embracing it. I am really honoured and excited to represent Kenya and showcase my jewellery to the London market.
Q: What has your experience with local fashion events been so far?
A: The local fashion events I have done to date have been a great way to get exposure for my brand locally. They have also been really good experience for me in terms of learning the modus operandi of such events, curating collections and presenting them on the catwalk, and helping me to discover who my target audience is locally. It’s also been a good opportunity to network with other designers and professionals within the industry.
Q: Why is the Mara project so close to heart?
A: What many people do not know is that I started making jewellery while I was working on a wildlife and conservation project several years ago, as a means to raise funds for orphaned animals. I am an animal lover and have a personal affinity for big cats. When I started SHIKHAZURI, I knew I wanted to give back in some way, and after researching several causes I decided to support the Mara Lion Project. Working with communities, this project has “science driving conservation” at its heart. Its main aim is to sustainably conserve lions throughout the Greater Mara ecosystem by determining their current status, identifying the major threats that could be causing declines in the current lion population and mitigating these threats wherever possible.
The team are doing a fantastic job on the ground and I’m really proud to support them.
Q: Why did you include those specific pieces as your collection highlights?
A: Not only do they consist of really unique artefacts, but they were also some of my favourite pieces to create. I continually receive complements on them whenever I share them on social media or when people browse my online shop.
Q: Where are you readily available?
A: Via my online shop and my items are also stocked in various stores which you can find on the Stockists page on my website.
Q: What is in the works… collection wise?
A: Layering jewellery is very much on trend so I’m creating a collection based on this concept, but with an exciting twist. It is in response to a demand for pieces that are versatile enough to be worn on their own and still enable you to make a statement everyday, or can be combined with other pieces to really make you stand out from the crowd. They can be worn in lots of different ways so there is a fun play on layers in both a traditional and unexpected way. I’ll be launching this at Africa Fashion Week London, so stay tuned for pictures for the big reveal!