But Ifé’s not the kind of person you have to meet to know.
On November 28, 2015, I was on the couch with Lu - right-clicking through pages and pages of Etsy, opening more tabs than anyone would care to have to review and/or close - doing what I like to call e-networking.
When I’m searching for a Khafra partner or even just new style options for a Khafra client, I’m never anticipating I’ll be lucky enough to find a full collection. Sometimes all I’m hoping for is a glimmer of earnest-seeming inspiration that I can take and amplify for the world.
After about an hour of clicking through every product - staring, studying the materials, design, cost value - I reached out to Ifé somewhat verbosely.
I (hopefully without gushing too much) explained to her that Khafra would be doing a #khafrachristmas15 promotion for the entire month of December. I detailed the other businesses involved and discussed our interest in collaborating to offer her handmade jewelry to the Khafra community. I didn’t explain that until that very moment of reaching out, I wasn’t even sure that #khafrachristmas15 actually needed to happen.
“Thanks so much for your outreach,” she replied less than 24 hours later. “I would be happy to participate … Please provide next steps.”
I was sure then of what I’d suspected all along: I was about to embark on a journey, and hopefully spark new friendship, with a woman deeply invested in action.
Still I wouldn’t confirm this feeling until after our first and only phone call prior to launching the #khafrachristmas promotion.
Inspired by the vibrant aesthetic of Harlem and rooted in a focus of geometric form, Ifé’s jewelry deeply resonates with those who understand the desire and need to adorn. I felt connected immediately.
I saw all of that when I first saw Hecho en Harlem.)
Hearing Ifé’s voice transformed my relationship to both her and her product. I’d probably be lying if I said our phone call was longer than 5 minutes, but I can hear a kindred soul when it speaks to me, plus Common’s made us all aware that it takes but a moment to recognize the sun. And Ifé’s shine is bright.
For her, jewelry-making has been a life long process, begun with bead work at about 10 years old. Although her mother suggested she turn her design efforts into a small business then, according to Ifé, “Like many adolescents, I did not eagerly embrace her suggestions!”
Ifé continued telling me about her journey to entrepreneurship in email.
… My passion for jewelry was never quelled. I began studying (and decided I wanted to go to college for) photography in high school, but still I travelled every weekend alone into Philadelphia from my boarding high school in Newtown, PA to take classes at Moore College of Art. I would return back to school, change my clothes, and go straight to my weekend job at a local Indian restaurant; I think this voluntary routine of 8am-11pm Saturdays exemplifies my natural motivation for artistic practice.
As an undergrad at New York University, double majoring in Photography and Africana Studies, Ifé continued classes in metal work and began selling her jewelry through the gift shop of Studio Museum in Harlem (”Shout out to Jamie Glover, the buyer at the time!”.
I still remember my jewelry professor at NYU, Lisa Spiros, and the encouragement she gave me to start my own business. Hearing this incredibly talented, accomplished jeweler tell me I had a unique, important voice, and that I should continue to pursue my jewelry craft is something that stays with me today.
After graduating from NYU, Ifé began a career in art education, and for the next 10 years (with a little bit of Grad school thrown in the mix for good measure), found herself consumed by the lives of her students, with very little time or energy left to pursue her personal art.
But soon, the high of creative practice would tempt her again … permanently. Ifé returned to jewelry-making in 2013 and started selling her designs under her company, Hecho en Harlem, during the summer of 2014.
I have found no other thing, besides being an artist, that is as fulfilling and satisfying, as being able to support myself from my own creations.
Being able to design my life, has quite literally been a transformative experience for me and has been the most empowering thing I have ever done.
Remember when I said that I wasn’t sure that the #khafrachristmas15 promotion needed to happen until I contacted Ifé? What I meant by that was that when I came across her jewelry, I believed: Hecho en Harlem is a line that people needed to know. It’s prodigious but practical. It’s decadent and yet, unassuming. It feels pure.
Ifé, it only now occurs to me, feels much the same.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for more of my conversation/correspondence with Ifé, when she shares everything from the most important lesson she’s learned from her customers, to the celebrity she’d be most willing to form an army with (spoiler: it’s Meshell N’Degeocello).