by Madison Kahn
Buying a piece of jewelry is rarely a philanthropic endeavor, but Etkie is changing that. The new social enterprise partners with Native American women artisans in New Mexico to sell beautiful beaded bracelets at fair prices. In doing so, Etkie hopes to empower the underserved community though the attainment of financial independence.
Born and raised in rural New Mexico, Etkie founder Sydney Alfonso observed from an early age how mainstream fashion companies capitalize on traditional patterns and styles without giving back to the Native communities that inspire them. Recognizing the absence of a cohesive brand that directly benefits to New Mexico’s Native women, Alfonso started Etkie last year. “We're basically Etsy on steroids,” says Alfonso. “We provide collective design support, branding, partnerships and the market to help our artisans reach larger audiences, which, in turn, allows them to focus more on their craft.” Many Native American artisans lack the financial capabilities to purchase the high-end materials needed to start their own small jewelry business. Etkie provides these women with the support to do so.
Growing up on one of New Mexico’s poorest reservations, Etkie’s lead artist, Dru, learned the matriarchal traditional craft of beading when she was 15. Beading is historically a Plains Indian’s tradition, but other tribes across the southwest have adopted it as means of resilience to support their families. In 2012, Dru’s sister, Lil, met Alfonso at Albuquerque’s main plaza, where many Native artists sell their goods to tourists. Impressed by Lil’s work, Alfonso offered to collaborate on a few bracelet designs together. Shortly thereafter Alfonso began selling the bracelets at pop-up trunk shows around the country. They quickly became a hit. As demand grew, the two realized they needed to bring on another artist. That’s where Dru came in.
At the time, Dru was homeless. Despite her artistic talent, she couldn’t find a job that utilized her unique skill-set. And she wasn’t alone—many women in Dru’s community also struggled to make a living from their craft. But with a little help from Alfonso and a loan from non-profit loan coordinator Kiva, Dru was able to purchase beading materials and sell her product. “We both bring different yet valuable skill sets to the table,” says Alfonso of her partnership with Dru. “And I think that’s the ultimate definition of a social enterprise—our business simply can’t exist without the people we serve. We’re codependent on each other to succeed.”
This is about more than bracelets. It’s about investing in women.
Etkie currently works with three different Native American artists like Dru—but Alfonso hopes to work with many more. “There are tons of interested and skilled women in New Mexico,” she says. “Our goal is to support more of these women and help them preserve their tradition by accessing a larger market." And now that goal is becoming more of a reality with Etkie’s recent Indiegogo campaign. “We're trying to raise $20,000 so that we can start working with five new women artists,” says Alfonso. “This is about more than bracelets. It’s about investing in women.”
Etkie’s Indigogo campaign is now on and will close 4 June, 2014.
Images courtesy of Etkie