The National Museum of African American History and Culture will acquire a significant portion of the
Sewit Sium is a designer of historically and culturally inspired African jewelry. Each handmade piece is a modern heirloom imbued with story, statement and sentiment.
We spoke to founder, Sewit Sium to find out more about her business.
I’ve always been captivated by the intersection of jewelry, education and grassroots activism. Prior to starting my business, I taught Fashion Politics and Design at various High Schools in NYC, using jewelry as an educational tool, as primary source material (like a text) to teach predominantly Black and Brown youth about their history, about the world. We had powerful conversations about where we came from, where we are now and where we are going.
Much of what is conveniently omitted from NYC Public School curriculum, from common core texts. It’s crucial for us all to recognize and insert ourselves in our own stories – symbols, motifs, jewelry. I believe that this is the work that runs counter her to Western speared revisionist history. This is the urgency that Sewit Sium was born out of in 2015.
I have the opportunity to hand-make meaningful jewelry that will outlast me. I’m always asking myself the question, what message do I want to send people 500 years from now? If the answer doesn’t revolve
around truth-seeking, equality and justice, its not usually worth my time. Nothing against abstraction.
We literally know about the world because of what was engraved and memorialized in jewelry and stone. Jewelry is the oldest form of decorative arts, a phenomenon that was born on the African continent. Without it, we wouldn’t know about ourselves.
This is why I’m continuing the legacy of hand-making statement jewelry encoded with this history, culture, sentiment and love. My hope is that people adorn and become activated and inspired by my work.
I recently made Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X Medallions (took over a year!) to not only honor and channel their spirits but to remind us of what’s possible, that change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. Always has.
I don’t choose what pieces to create, I’m only a vessel of the creator. We all are. So to answer your question, the designs urgently choose me. I usually become possessed and obsessed over the course of 3/4 months at a time. This is how collections come to me.
Designing jewelry is an exercise in memory, it’s a reconjuring. It’s a tactile political and spiritual practice, during this time I feel touched by divine inspiration. This might sound out there, lately I’ve been channeling Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Nefertiti, the Orisha Goddess Oya and my late father. They’ve all deeply moved me on a visceral level. Jewelry should do the same.
I recently re-read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, ASSATA and Ngugi Wa’Thiong’s Moving the Center. Reading key texts and writing is a huge part of my design process.
sentimental. There’s a vintage quality, one of revival and innovation. I draw on indigenous African iconography that is relevant across time and space. I’m an activist and jewelry historian first, so my style direction is freedom bound. The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.
Discipline has been an issue. I wear all the hats in my business and as it grows the overwhelm is real. I have to do the jewelry research, design, making, marketing/selling, PR – I’m an artist, all I want to do is the research-design-making, the rest doesn’t come naturally. Making time for all of this requires an airtight schedule.
When I sleep in or procrastinate, the guilt can take me out of creativity and the present moment, still working on it. The biggest reward for me isn’t press or outward success, its those days when I get up early, meditate and complete my daily goals. The days I show up for myself and do God’s will.
I recently made some dope jewelry for a huge Black Hollywood
production due out in 2020. Let’s just say I got to work with the legendary Ruth Carter (She did the costume for Black Panther and Spike Lee’s “X”) Stay tuned!!! Would love to continue consulting and making animate jewels for movies that are instrumental in telling our stories. I also want to do a PHD in the Politics of Fashion. Of course I’ll continue to grow my business.
Make sure you absolutely love what you do because the money doesn’t come overnight. Work hard and keep going. Take everything one day at a time, in a sense tomorrow is none of your business. Do your work.
Don’t compare yourself to others, you’re on your own sacred journey. Have a full time job that supports your passion? That’s okay. Do what you can, with what you’ve got, in the place you are, in the time you are. Hang with people that support you and get your vision. Don’t commune with people that leave you feeling depleted. Get a mentor and mentor others, give back.
Sponsored by Sewit Sium