Native artist shines with African-inspired jewellery enterprise

WILMINGTON, Del. (WPVI) – “Knowing where you are from is very important,” said Gwanyan “Gwen” Barker.

The first-generation Liberian has always admired her parents, who emigrated from the West African country three decades ago. When she started her own jewelry business, she made sure her legacy is represented in every creation.

“My company’s name is Kpelle Designs,” said Barker. “It’s a tribe in Liberia, my father’s tribe, my tribe, where they are known as farmers, so they work with their hands.”

All over the world, Barker handcraft jewelry in Bear, Delaware.

“It’s almost like an ode to my ancestors, my legacy,” she said.

However, Barker realizes that others may not be able to determine their legacy that easily.

“We know there are a lot of black Americans who don’t know where they’re from,” she said. “And that’s how I want people who wear my jewelry to feel. The feeling is familiar, that’s how it feels at home.”

Kpelle Designs presents earrings made from cowrie shells that inhabit the coast of Liberia. Larger, hoop-shaped earrings display powerful messages that Barker would like other women to hear.

They read: “Be present … protect your energy … own your truth.”

Barker was able to perform this complex design using the laser cutter at NextFab in Wilmington, Delaware. It’s one of their three makerspaces in the tri-state space that gives budding artists access to tools and education.

“We’re really trying to help build that foundation so that people like Gwen can stand out and run a really successful, sustainable business,” said Anna Solomon, director of sales at NextFab.

She notes that Gwen recently completed NexFab’s Accelerator program, which allows incumbent developers to take a formal step forward to turn their ideas into a business.

Interested parties must apply by February 21, 2021. The workshop will practically take place from March 24th to May 21st, 2021.

To learn more about NextFab or Kpelle Designs, visit their websites.

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