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Q & A with Lindsay Knox of Ladha Jewelry

Ladha Jewelry | Gem Gossip

A lifelong love for art and fashion lead jewelry designer Lindsay Knox to silversmithing classes, where her keen eye for distinctive forms quickly became a vehicle to display her talent. Influenced by the travels of her family’s matriarchs, Lindsay’s jewelry conveys an old world feel, through modern silhouettes imbued with a global sensibility. Her brand, Ladha Jewelry, is only two-years-old, but you wouldn’t know it from the sophistication of her designs, which are playful, yet elegant. “Ladha” means flavor in Swahili, and it is clear that Knox intends for the wearers of her jewelry to bring a little spice along with them, wherever they go.

We chatted with Lindsay about her background in retail sales, why her Sahara Ridge hoops are both her favorites and favorites of her customers, and what she wishes to pass down to her two young daughters.

Can you tell us a little bit about how your love for jewelry began?

My love for jewelry began at a very young age. My mom and my aunt were the two matriarchs in my family, and growing up, I was always drawn to their jewelry collections. They both had a penchant for jewelry and were avid travelers. Everywhere they would go, around the world, they’d be collecting things. My mom always wore gold bangles that she had made in Cairo. My aunt traveled to Beijing and had a bunch of pieces made in the market there. Those are just a few examples of the things they wore on a daily basis that I was enamored by. My love for jewelry definitely started when I was a child, and it grew as I grew into a crafty, artsy kid. I started messing around, making my own jewelry— hot gluing beads to posts and experimenting with clay. My artistic temperament, plus my family’s penchant for collecting, are what helped me fall in love with jewelry.

You said that you were an artsy kid. What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

I originally wanted to be a fashion designer. I grew up in the era of supermodels: Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista. I would steal copies of fashion magazines from my older sister and from my mom and my aunt. I fell in love with clothing first. Then I was always painting, so I said I’d be a painter. I ended up in art school and wanted to be a photographer for a while. Looking back, I was experimenting a lot. I used to sew, I used to draw, I made jewelry. I was dipping my toe into everything.

Ladha Jewelry | Gem Gossip

So when you started working, did you work in fashion?

I’ve always worked in retail. I think I was either 14 or 15 when I started working at a toy store, and ever since then, I realized I like retail. Whether it was that toy store, a clothing store, a card shop, a shoe store— my resume, from the beginning, has always been all about retail. Selling came naturally to me, and buying also came naturally to me [laughs].  I’ve always been a fan of retail and working in places where you’re surrounded by beautiful things.

Later down the line, when I was in my 20s, I actually did transition from being on the sales floor to being a buyer. My first real, professional job was as an assistant buyer for a big box store, and I was actually in the jewelry department. I was buying jewelry wholesale from India and China and that’s where it clicked: I really love jewelry and I think this is the direction I want to go in. Not necessarily, the buying direction, but just jewelry itself.

Ladha Jewelry | Gem Gossip

How did that lead to you making jewelry professionally?

These beautiful samples were coming in from all around the world. Putting together collections was super fun, but I realized I missed being creative. I loved seeing everyone else’s creations, but I wanted to try my own hand at making jewelry again as an adult with a more sophisticated point of view. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, signed me up for a metalsmithing class at a local community arts center. It was just supposed to be a fun thing for me to do in my spare time, so I could get that creative satisfaction after working on Excel spreadsheets in a cubicle all day. I loved this class so much, I took the beginning course three times. I just couldn’t get enough. Finally, I said to myself, “Something is going on here. You are really enjoying this. You are really good at this. You want to keep learning. You are making things that you can actually wear, and people are commenting on them.”

I ended up quitting my buying job. I traveled for the summer and decided that I was going to take a few months off to soul-search and figure out how I was going to segue into this new realm of jewelry to become a designer. During that summer, I ended up in Mexico, where my mom has been living for the last ten years, in a town called San Miguel de Allende. It’s located in the silver belt of Mexico, so in the middle of the country where the desert highlands are. There was a school there that was teaching silversmithing. I decided to visit my mom and take the silversmithing course. I think I was at the school in Mexico for about a month, and by the time I left, I had decided that I was going to pursue a formal training in fine jewelry production.

I came back to the States. I found a job at a fine jewelry boutique, I enrolled at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, which is no longer in existence, unfortunately. It was a small school in San Francisco where I completed a three-month intensive course called the Jewelry Technician Intensive. I learned everything from soldering techniques to stone-setting, to how to re-size, how to repair, how to cast. It took me through the whole gamut and I was just like “This is it.”

When did you actually start Ladha?

I officially started Ladha in 2019.  I got a job on the sales floor at Esqueleto, a store that’s pretty well known out here in California, then I graduated to working in the production studio once I had my formal training as a jeweler. I was a bench jeweler working on customer repairs and special orders. I was at the bench every day and I loved it. I was honing my skills on the job, and then I decided it was time to start making my own jewelry. I made a couple initial prototypes and tested them out. People seemed to respond, so I started my business. I got my website together, started posting on Instagram and it kind of just took off from there. I’m new in terms of being a jewelry designer and business owner, but I feel like it was always the plan.

Ladha Jewelry | Gem Gossip

What would you say have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced when it came to building your business?

Time has been the biggest challenge for me. When I started the business, I was working full time for another jeweler. I also was a new mom. My firstborn was born in 2017, so I had a toddler in tow. It’s been difficult to find that in-between time to work for myself. I would be working at night, or on the weekends in between my daughter’s naps. I felt that ambition and wanted to push so hard, but just didn’t always have the time or bandwidth to do so.

The start-up capital wasn’t necessarily there, either. I didn’t immediately take out a loan. I didn’t have a wealthy family member investing in me. I had not much in my savings, so I was building from the ground up. So I would say those two things—the lack of time and start-up capital—were my biggest challenges.

Can you take us through your design process—how do you take an idea from inspiration to execution of the physical piece?

My process is pretty organic. I’m not one of those designers who sits down with a sketchbook and does really in-depth, detailed renderings. I usually have an idea in my head, or something inspires me. I’ll think about it for a while. Then I sit down at the bench, get out whatever materials I have in mind, and just start experimenting. Generally speaking, what’s in my head tends to translate pretty easily once I actually sit down just to make the piece. Every now and then, I surprise myself by going in a different direction, or I change my mind and like the way something turns out using another technique. But I would say my process is pretty intuitive.

I know that your jewelry is actually available at Esqueleto now. What has that experience been like?

The great thing about Esqueleto is that I’ve been given the opportunity to test my designs in this really amazing venue and I feel super grateful for that. It’s awesome because if I have a new design, I can put it in the case there, let it run and see how it goes. It’s just cool to see how people respond to my jewelry, to see what sells quickly and what sits a little longer. It’s helping me become more refined in my collection. It’s a great way to test designs. The good news is, I’ve picked up a few other stockists. That was one of my goals for this year, to get into more stores in different parts of the country and so far that’s working out pretty well. It’s a slow climb, and you definitely have to deal with a lot of rejection. I’m just really curious to know how things will be perceived outside of my immediate community of Oakland. So I’m in a period now where I’m gathering the data, seeing how things do and seeing how other retailers are selling. It’s a really cool way to learn how to course-correct, or what to amplify.

Ladha Jewelry | Gem Gossip

What are some of your best-sellers?

My number one bestseller is the Sahara Ridge Hoops. Those were some of the first designs I came out with. I knew I wanted to design a signature hoop. I love a hoop. I’ve always loved a hoop, been wearing hoops since I was a kid. Little hoops, big hoops, chunky, thin, dainty, diamond, whatever. I wanted it to be a staple of my line and I wanted people to know me for it. They’re loosely based off the Fulani hoops from Mali and I just wanted to make something fun and funky, but also refined. I wanted them to go with anything and look good on anyone. They’re my bestseller for sure, and they come in three sizes so you can pick whatever works for you. I think people like that, too.

That’s interesting. I really love those earrings. They’ve been on my wishlist for a long time. And I’ve seen Fulani earrings before, but I never saw the resemblance until you mentioned it. But now that you’ve said it, I totally see the inspiration.

I’ve been wearing Fulanis since the early 2000s and I loved the design. I thought they were gorgeous and I didn’t want to rip them off. They’re a special thing from a special place, and a lot of people have exploited that design, I think.  I just wanted to do my own version. Something that was showy, but elegant, with texture, and a little bit of a lip on it.

The ring has been selling well, too. Because it’s kind of a statement, but it’s also sleek and comfortable and easy to wear.

Ladha Jewelry | Gem Gossip

What is your favorite piece to actually work on?

The Reyes bangle. It’s the bangle in my collection. I carved it out of wax. I just started filing away at the wax, seeing what the different textures were doing. I love getting the castings back because they’re so chunky and weighty, and polishing them is just so satisfying. The inside is a mirror finish; it’s super sleek and comfortable and smooth, but then you have this beautiful texture on the outside that, once it’s cleaned up, really catches the light. When you stack them together, they make a beautiful, magical clinking sound. Seeing that go from a block of wax to the finished product is one of my most satisfying times at the bench. But honestly? Making jewelry is magical in general. Every single piece I’ve designed is my favorite because it’s so much fun to see something turn from an idea to an actual, tangible thing. I just love the before and after at every stage of making.

It always sounds very magical. Everyone I’ve talked to who makes their jewelry themselves has said something similar-where it’s almost like you get into a state of flow.

Yeah, the flow is a wonderful thing. Going back to one of my challenges being time—you need time to get into a state of flow. Balancing my life with my two small kids, and working for someone else for many years, it was really hard to find the time to get into that state. In the last year or so, I’ve really been able to work harder on that. Part of that strange blessing was the pandemic, because we’re all sheltering in place, you can’t go anywhere. So whereas in normal times, I might’ve had to be running errands or picking up or dropping off my kids, all of a sudden I had more time. I found it a bit easier to sit down and actually let the creative juices flow, to focus on what I was designing, or making. Even just doing a production run was more pleasurable because I wasn’t just piecing it together. I had dedicated time to spend on creating and that felt really good.

Ladha Jewelry | Gem Gossip

You have two daughters, and I was wondering whether you found that having children has any affect on your creativity, or on the way you think about creating now.

It definitely does. I think it’s because I grew up coveting the jewels in my family. I want my daughters to have jewelry handed down to them. I love the idea of creating something and being able to give it to them. I got their ears pierced when they were really young—I feel like that’s a cultural thing. Many of us Black girls were pierced early on, and I wanted that to be a part their upbringing. I’m looking forward to designing little hoops for them, and baby bracelets, and a locket that they’ll be able to wear and keep as a keepsake. I have some signet rings in my line that I designed with the intention that customers could personalize them.  If you think about crests and monograms, the more traditional European, Victorian-era jewelry, you can really trace a family line. I would love to mix that into the current culture. The whole idea of heirlooms, and wealth, and history being passed down through jewelry is really special to me.

I have a lot of jewelry in my line that is not necessarily considered fine. I can’t afford to make gigantic hoops in solid gold yet—key word, yet–but I am trying to segue more into the fine category. The huge driving force behind that, for me, is the passage of jewelry and being able to sell things to people that are going to last literally forever. It’s very important to me. I want everyone to be able to give their children special pieces they’ll never forget.

What is your favorite piece from your collection to wear?

The Ridge hoops. I’m wearing a pair right now. They are my go-to, every single day. I don’t have to think about it. I know they’re going to look awesome. I’m wearing yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt, but I put on the Ridge hoops and they took me from a sleep-deprived mom, to having a little pep in my step. I can walk into the preschool drop-off and not feel like a bum. At the same time, my husband and I went out to dinner for the first time since being vaccinated, and I grabbed my large bronze Ridge hoops and just felt like myself. They were the statement I needed to feel sassy and put together.

Ladha Jewelry | Gem Gossip

Are you working on anything new?

I’m currently designing a new collection for summer, and I definitely want to make more jewelry that has that same feel: you can wear it whether you’re going to a cookout or to a fancy dinner. I’m hoping to offer those kinds of pieces that are just easy, breezy, flavorful, fun, and pretty.

I also want to incorporate more gemstones and diamonds into my work. I want to focus a little bit more on bridal. I’m planning to elevate some of my styles that aren’t currently offered in fine metals, so people can invest in the jewelry that will have the most longevity.

Is there anything else you haven’t shared that you think people should know about you?

I guess just that I’m kind of new to this game in terms of running the show. I’ve just been having so much fun experimenting. I love seeing people’s reactions, I love getting feedback and seeing what people respond to. It’s really hard, but it’s also really fulfilling. I’m just having a blast and trying to do the best I can within whatever limitations I have.

You can follow contributing writer Keisha –> @goldisneverplain
You can follow Lindsay – @_ladha_