Kevia Jeffrey-West is the designer of the beautiful Kevia Jewelry, sold in exclusive boutiques nation wide. Her amazing line of jewelry has been featured in InStyle, Lucky, and Real Simple granting her some deservedly hot publicity. Using 22K gold vermeil and semi-precious stones, Jeffrey-West handcrafts an exquisite collection full of rich color and texture. Kevia Jewelry also maintains an eco-friendly design process, which is just one more reason to fall in love with the line. TDO caught up with this talented designer to talk about the design process, breaking into the biz, and advice for wearing these extraordinary pieces.
The Daily Obsession: What made you want to design jewelry? Did you always know this was your calling?
Kevia Jeffery-West: My career path has been anything but straight and narrow. While studying in Zimbabwe on an undergraduate study abroad program I stumbled upon a store that sold loose stones. I began to collect locally mined and cut stones, sketch designs, and find local jewelers to make my creations. I returned two years later to do post-baccalaureate research and again, began to design pieces for my personal collection. I planned to become a university professor and was close to finishing my doctorate when I realized that my hobby was where my heart truly was. I am not sure that I would have thought about selling my work if a local boutique hadn’t asked me to make items for their store after noticing a necklace I was wearing. Yet now there is no doubt in my mind that designing is definitely my calling. I resisted at first and was pouring most of my energy in to advancing in a career as a researcher. Luckily, the universe kept pulling me in the direction of fashion and eight years after designing my first pieces I realize that this industry is the only place I belong.
The Daily Obsession: We all know that breaking into the fashion industry is no walk in the park. What were the steps you had to take to make a name for yourself?
KJW: When I first began, my primary focus was creating interesting and beautiful pieces. Once I realized I wanted to design full time, my focus expanded to thinking about building a brand. My approach to designing and cooking are similar: I prefer to make things from scratch. About a year after I started selling to stores, I decided to prioritize sourcing raw materials rather than buying components from manufacturers. I design nearly everything used in my line (the only exception being small findings like clasps) which allows me to create pieces that are uniquely mine. I am also fascinated by the stone manufacturing process, so we buy our stones in rough and have them cut to order either in-house or with a specialized lapidary.
After selling to stores for about a year, I also began designing collections of jewelry rather than a group of standalone pieces. Collections begin with a key design concept, metalwork technique, or an aesthetic feeling that is then communicated across a number of designs. I develop signature metal textures and stone cuts for each collection, which both helps to build my brand recognition and allows my line to be easily merchandized. My signature metal finish is the matte 22K gold vermeil, which took me about a year to develop. My goal has always been to offer fine jewelry quality designs that are affordable, and I think the high karat finish makes the pieces feel more precious than traditional 14K gold.
On the business sides of things, making sure you attend the right tradeshows shows, developing a public relations campaign, and securing high profile stores early on is also important.
The Daily Obsession: Your collections touch on a large number of inspirations. What are some of the places you look to most for design ideas?
KJW: When traveling or living abroad, I visit museums, and cathedrals, and learn about local jewelry techniques and aesthetic preferences. I am fascinated by ancient Egyptian and Etruscan jewelry: you really get the sense that ancient gold jewelry was rare, precious, and revered. While I respect the advances we have made in modern jewelry fabrication, my preference is handmade work-both because it feels strongly tied to the earliest jewelry-making techniques and each piece is slightly different and thus one of kind. I also enjoy studying art history and tend to draw on architecture and antiquities for inspiration.
The Daily Obsession: Your are an organic farmer as well. How are you influenced by natural world inspiration in designing jewelry?
KJW: I often draw inspiration from the natural world and from my own garden. Our flora collection started with my fascination with the butterfly bushes I planted when I bought my first house. Six years later, the bushes overflowed with bright clusters of flowers and dart green leaves. To pay homage to the prolific bush, I designed clusters of leaves into the shape of a butterfly and set cushion shaped stones with metal butterfly bush leaves.
My annual trips to the small beach town of Neskowin inspired a collection that features cast sea shells set with delicate stones. Leaves, flowers, and the natural world are common themes for my work; living in the Northwest is a great source of inspiration due to the combination of lush urban gardens and some of the world’s most bio-diverse outdoor spaces. The Pacifica collection centers on wood textured metal inspired by the bark of to local forests.
The Daily Obsession: What are some of the biggest challenges you face when beginning the design process?
KJW: Since I design by collection, my styles have to hang together. Sometimes I create something that is beautiful, but doesn’t fit in to an existing collection and doesn’t lend itself to creating 10-15 styles based on that idea. There are also production issues when starting new directions, stone setting, or metal work techniques. You can create a sample and then figure out that the style won’t work for production quantities.
The Daily Obsession: As an avid farmer and traveler, you must be thankful for the heightened green movement in the fashion and design world. Does Kevia Jewelry implement any eco friendly tactics in producing jewelry collections?
KJW: I worked in the environmental field for eight years before becoming a designer so sustainability is important to me. Our Woodland collection features reclaimed ebony wood that we finish with lint seed oil, instead of conventional wood finishes that are chemical laden. Our factories filter runoff water and recycle metal, and we have a streamlined packaging system that reduces shipping, storage, and labeling materials. On the administrative side of the business we incorporate sustainability principles in our use and purchase of packaging materials, office supplies, and energy use. We recycled as much as possible to reduce waste. I moved most of my production to India about three years ago, primarily because I wanted to be able to design fine jewelry, quality hand-fabricated pieces that are affordable. It was really important that my business dealings followed the principles of fair trade in the areas of pricing, worker conditions, and manufacturing practices. Each year I try to tackle a new way to green the business. This year I plan to set up a carbon offset program to decrease the impact of our international and domestic shipping.
The Daily Obsession: Of course all your designs are lovely, but do you have any personal favorites?
KJW: My everyday pieces include an ever-changing collection of bangles. I love to mix textures and metal finishes. I can roll out of bed, grab a handful of bangles, slide into a black t-shirt and jeans and feel effortlessly glamorous with each move on my wrist. I also have a love of affair with rings. For casual days, I wear a set of three 18K gold rings, each set with eight diamonds. For going out, my go-to pieces are my wood ring with three rose cut stones set with flower brocade metal and a large agate ring set with a small diamond.
The Daily Obsession: What pieces would you recommend to a first time Kevia Jewelry buyer?
KJW: I have two aims when designing: I focus on items that are either knockout pieces for special occasions or signature pieces that can be worn daily. I want women to find a piece that they love to the point that it becomes a part of their daily look or something that they put on to make them feel excited and special. For knockout pieces, cocktail rings are fantastic. My cocktail rings juxtapose 22K gold vermeil with high gloss stones or earthy ebony wood with 22K gold brocade metal. For signature pieces, my multi-color stacking rings, a simple earring, or a stack of bangles can be worn every day.
The Daily Obsession: How do you suggest wearing your jewelry? Describe your ideal outfit centered around a favorite piece from your collection.
KJW: For dinner outside on a sunny summer day in Portland, I often wear a Rachel Pally goddess shirt, with a denim skirt, and Vialis woven patent leather wedge sandals. I wear a moss green agate ring set with a diamond on my right ring finger and a matching agate necklace. Jewel tone studs either sapphire or pink tourmaline. I finish the look with a stack of metal bangles or an ebony cuff with gold accents on my left wrist.
The Daily Obsession: Do you have any advice for people out there looking to break into the design industry?
KJW: The two things that worked well for me were creating a business plan and researching the competition. Create a business plan that maps out your sales goals, marketing strategy, and estimates production and operation costs for the first three years. When I first started out I tried to avoid looking at other designers jewelry. The truth is that if you don’t know what others are doing you are more likely to duplicate what has been done. Keeping a pulse on trends gives you an opportunity to find a design vision that sets you apart, which ultimately strengths your brand.
The Daily Obsession: What do you see as upcoming trends in the jewelry sphere? Do you stay plugged with these trends or navigate away?
KJW: Statement bracelets and bangles never seem to go out of style. They make great editorial pieces and can be worn year around. For handbags, the trend has been moving away from heavy hardware accents to pleated and ruffled cut leather. I watch trends but generally don’t follow them. I like to create collectable pieces that will stand up as time passes. The one exception would be my focus on yellow gold finishes. Soon after I started designing, the trend shifted from silver jewelry to gold. Up until that point, I personally had worn silver and platinum; once I perfected my matte 22K gold finish it became an integral part of the look of my line. I do however, make seasonal adjustments in stone selections; we offer warm colors for fall and vibrant stones for spring. There are also large trends that come along where it makes sense for me to find my voice within the boundaries of what is hip for the season.
The Daily Obsession: Any new projects on the horizon for Kevia Jewelry?
KJW: I am currently working on a line of handbags that incorporate some of the metal work from the jewelry collections. Our new website which will feature online shopping has just launched.
Be sure to check out Kevia Jewelry’s new e-commerce site at www.kevia.biz