We're honoured to have the pleasure of collaborating with Jess, founder of Santa Isla. We chatted with her about how culture and community is woven into her jewelry, and what it means when you wear Santa Isla.
"...at the core of living truthfully is our connection to nature, community, and our own self."
Santa Isla is a love letter to Colombia. An homage to where I come from and where I’m going. A way of showcasing Colombian creativity, community and warmth.
I started Santa Isla over 10 years ago when I encountered the Embera Chami artisans, an indigenous group that beads as a way to connect with nature. The Embera believe that much like the beads, we all connect to form the fabric of life, full of feelings, and creations.
Although I was born in Colombia, the Embera Chami’s existence or perspective was not part of the norm; rather they have been socially ostracized, oppressed and culturally rejected. Santa Isla was created as a way to showcase their craftsmanship because it’s so beautiful and a small way to create opportunities.
Throughout the years, the Embera Chami have taught me about their culture, beliefs and intentions. Their drive and resistance to the status quo is something that I try to integrate into my daily life - at the core of living truthfully is our connection to nature, community, and our own self.
"Santa Isla connected me with a part of my culture that was hidden by social prejudice and colonization."
The inspiration behind my designs is simply what I gravitate towards. When designing it’s important to create from what moves you, otherwise things get vapid and people can tell.
The creation process has shifted over the years. At the beginning, I suggested colourways and the artisans would create these amazing and massive neck pieces. As my comfort level grew and an awareness of the social climate, it became very apparent that I couldn’t sell pieces with such cultural weight. I simplified the designs, each time a little more until I ended up with my current offering. It was the best move in every aspect - design, cultural respect, production, and sales.
The process looks like this: I create a design mock-up and send it to my artisans via WhatsApp (WhatsApp is king in Latin America!) for a first round of sampling. We then make adjustments until we’re happy with the results. It’s a collaborative process! My beading skills are embarrassing but they are always looking for ways to improve my idea.
Santa Isla connected me with a part of my culture that was hidden by social prejudice and colonization. It's important to me because the Embera Chami have taught me so much about being present, connecting with our ancestors and living intentionally through community.
Santa Isla’s current designs aren’t culturally Embera, but it does provide a way for the Embera to earn money through a craft and skill set that is part of their cultural DNA.
"When you wear Santa Isla you help the Embera Chami culture breathe and expand."
Each piece is made with intention and blessed with an abundance prayer. The Embera Chami believe they weave spiritual intentions as a way to connect back to nature. In your hand, or around your ankle, is a tiny piece of Colombia’s magic just for you. A reminder that we’re all part of this human experience.
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