Exciting happenings today — this blog feature is the first of a monthly series from Asia of @iRockGems where she will be interviewing some movers and shakers within the jewelry industry that are Black & POC. Today’s interview features Khadijah Fulton of White/Space Jewelry. Take it away Asia…
People do not do what they do because of the color of their skin. People do what feels right to them, what is accessible to them and what resonates in their soul. It’s about art. It’s about love and creativity. It’s about what feels good and what doesn’t. We are in a time where the world is realizing #BlackLivesMatter yet people are much more than their ancestry, and in light of such, we are beginning to accept one another for our individual differences. Several ‘Open Letters to the Jewelry Industry’ have been made and it feels like everyone is listening and ready for change. As we all learn to better support black and brown communities in our industry it must be stated that this ongoing segment of BIPOC jewelers are not being featured based on the merit of their race, but on the merit of their talent.
A special thank you to, Danielle, for inviting me to contribute in this special time in the world and in such an authentic way. I appreciate the opportunity to build a lasting relationship with you, your audience and this inclusive list of artists in this unique and collaborative way.
I can still see her image: a coco-brown visage encased by tight afro curls with a humble sparkle in her eyes. Khadijah Fulton, founder and designer of WHITE/SPACE Jewelry, was attending an industry event that appeared in my instagram feed. She was my visual anchor in a sea of unfamiliarity. I came from the world of selling jewelry behind the retail counter where I was historically one of few women of color, so I knew branching into an elite world of couture and one of a kind jewelry as a blogger, would be much of the same. When I saw WHITE/SPACE jewelry for the first time it was a breath of fresh air. A modern take on the timeless pearl. I also loved the diversity they displayed through imagery. It was a rarity, as much of the images we showcase in our industry can feel one in the same — it was nice to feel a connection as a black woman.
Over the years I have admired WHITE/SPACE’s ability to work slow, steady and sustainably. Each piece is made by hand with recycled gold and ethically-sourced diamonds in Khadijah’s studio or in partnerships with small manufacturers and artisans in Los Angeles.
In this interview it was great to speak with, the CEO behind the brand, and get to ask her questions about working as a black woman solopreneur in the jewelry industry. We also talked about how her design aesthetic has evolved as she has grown as a designer and her thoughts on what it takes to succeed.
How did you get your start in the jewelry industry?
I’m a graduate of Parsons School of Design in NY where I studied fashion. I was a fashion obsessed child from the age of 11, watching MTV and scouring fashion magazines. I worked in the fashion industry as a designer for about 10 years and although jewelry designing started out as a hobby, I’ve always been really passionate about creating. While I was still working as a fashion designer I started making jewelry as a hobby on the weekends working with semi precious stone beads and doing wire wrapping for myself and my friends as a creative outlet. Fast forward a bit — I was pregnant with our first child, and moved with my husband to Seattle. I didn’t realize how disorienting it would be for me to be a stay at home mother after having been so career focused for so long. I still had this passion and calling to make things. One day, I realized I had a few friends with birthdays coming up, so I decided to make them something just to be creative. I ended up remembering just how much I loved creating jewelry in that moment. Everyday, thereafter, I was in my supply box messing around and eventually I had ideas that couldn’t be executed with the findings from my local bead supply store. I started taking metal smithing and stone setting classes at night at my local art center. I would practice when the baby would nap and whenever I could. My jewelry career really started from there, because ever since I started fabricating with metal, I’ve been obsessed.
How did you come up with the name and concept behind your brand WHITE/SPACE?
Being a lover of minimalism and mid-century modernism, I really loved the concept of whitespace which in art and design is the space intentionally left open that gives the larger composition a greater impact. With my jewelry I want the pieces to be unique and eye-catching but not overpowering. It’s all about the wearer having great style that people can’t help but notice.
How did you put yourself out into the market to start selling your designs? Direct/Wholesale/Retail?
Jewelry making and designing jewelry was really how I found the way back to myself because I was so far removed from the life I had built for so long in fashion. As I started to create more I realized, I had a mini collection. Then I said to myself, “Huh, maybe I’ll show them to some friends and have a little jewelry party?” The rest was history. I started inviting friends to my home or would go to their homes with my collection, they would make orders, and I would then go home, create, and ship their orders out. It was very organic and based on my friends’ reactions I started to take my jewelry designing more and more seriously. I also showed at a couple intimate trade shows for more exposure and everything grew overtime. My main job, though, will always be my kids. Working as a mother 1st and designer 2nd has always allowed me to take baby steps and grow organically, thankfully. The culture that we live in right now is one where everything needs to be so perfect, so fast, but I think it’s important as women for us to remind ourselves to be more patient and be more gentle with ourselves in business.
Who were your examples, inspirations and/or role models as a new designer?
First, my grandma inspired my love of vintage jewelry because she had an entire jewelry chest filled to the brim with jewelry. She was very fabulous — definitely the type of woman who never needed an excuse to wear her red lipstick. Within the industry, I looked to other jewelry designers who were established so I could find out how to pace myself and set expectations. I saw other designers being carried in stores where I wanted to be carried so I researched as much as I could. I came to learn that the jewelry industry can be quite tight lipped. So I decided to do this exercise where I took my favorite 10 designers that were in a place I’d wanted to be. I researched when they started, where they were now and how long it took them. On average it was 8 years. That helped me to put things into perspective and realize patience is key when growing a jewelry business. I had to get comfortable with forging my own way and not giving up no matter what.
What kind of music do you listen to when you get into the flow of creating?
It’s interesting because I listen to a bit of everything but I go through modes depending on what type of situation I’m in. When I am creating and trying to come up with new ideas I like listening to artists that inspire me in the way they push things. For example I listen to Frank Ocean, Solange, Dev Hynes, and a lot of David Bowie. I can come back to David Bowie any day and be blown away. When I’m coming up with new ideas I like to listen to music artists that push new ideas. When I’m trying to crank through at my bench I listen to R&B 70’s disco funk and a lot of classic rock.
Tell me about your different collections and how they have evolved over time?
I always go back and forth between super clean lines and organic elegance when I design.
Eclipse was my first full 14k fine collection. I tried to differentiate myself within the marketplace with modern, yet delicate jewelry women felt great while wearing. In the Eclipse collection I started focusing on round pearls. I loved modernising them and doing interesting things with them. I really started to refine my aesthetic and began integrating circular shapes.
In the Linea collection I played with the timelessness of circles and straight lines while making them feel fresh and new. I started to hit a stride creatively while working on this collection because I got a studio space outside of the home. It enabled me to take time, step away and immerse myself in my inspirations. I was in my own contained universe. When clearly crafting a vision, I think it’s really important for an artist to have the space and time to truly focus. I had that while creating Linea. Mid century modernism also became a big influence for this collection. I also started integrating diamonds.
Forme is my most recent collection. I utilize a lot of baroque pearls because I love that they feel refined and elevated, yet beautiful with an organic hand of curves and imperfections.
I wanted to play with curves in my creation process. My key inspiration was the female form, and exploring the idea of imperfection vs perfectionism. It’s hard to meet a woman that doesn’t battle with perfectionism in the culture we live in. I explored this creatively because I find women to be so inspiring. We don’t even realize how incredible we are because we are constantly being told cultural messages about not being enough. I want women to step out into the world in their most confident way. The combination of exploring perfectionism while embracing imperfection and wanting to celebrate the female form and feminine energy was behind this collection.
In ending our interview, Khadijah answered some fun quid quo pro questions about her and her style:
Family and pets: 2 boys, ages 5 1/2 and 10, and one formerly-feral, polydactyl cat
Describe your personal style: Elegant and relaxed.
Favorite gemstone: Ooh that’s a toughie….can’t pick just one. Emeralds for their charisma (also my birthstone!), diamonds for their fire, flash and durability.
Jewelry you are wearing right now:
My continuity Ring first sample from years ago that I hardly ever take off, my Malcolm Betts engagement Ring, my Carla Caruso wedding band and a wide gold hammered band sample in gold that I made ages ago and recently rediscovered
chunky silver cuff bracelet (a sample that never went farther than my wrist), a new green gold chain bracelet I’m wear-testing ahead of adding to the collection
Nova Baroque pearl earrings (it’s a travesty, I only have one piercing in each ear. Remedy-ing this post Covid though!)
My Duo Diamond necklace, the “mama” pendant I designed as a special Mother’s Day edition for Vrai last year, and a new green gold layering chain I’m wear-testing ahead of adding to the collection (matches the bracelet)
Favorite guilty pleasure:
Boba tea and coffee!
Personal motto: It’s a marathon not a sprint.