In a society where the black experience is being cultivated by the likes of non-people of color, here enters one woman aiming to help reclaim our culture within the fashion community. Meet Lakesha Scotland, a Southside Chicago native and creator of the lifestyle jewelry line Afrohemien. What started as selling novelty buttons eventually grew into the multifarious line of bringing ancient Egyptian ethnology to the modern world. Over mocktails and beef fat fries, she and I discuss her personal life and what motivated her to grow her business into what it is today.
model is wearing pieces from Afrohemian.
Off-Kilter: Tell us about your jewelry:
Lakesha Scotland: Well, my jewelry brand is called Afrohemien and it’s basically a mix of afrocentric and bohemian styles. A lot of my jewelry is inspired by African culture. That’s pretty much what it is. Jewelry inspired by African culture.
OK: What motivated you to start that line?
LK:Well, what motivated me most was because I wanted to create jewelry for my people–for my culture, for black people–because you don’t find a lot of jewelry for black people in retail stores. If you wanna find jewelry for black people, you have to go looking online, you have to go to the fairs and the festivals and that’s where you can find those things for us. But you can’t just walk into a store like Forever21 or Macy’s or anything like that and find something for us. If you do, it’s in a little section and I wanted to provide jewelry that was inspired by my culture. So I wanted to create for my people.
OK: Has your upbringing, like where you grew up, inspired it? Like where did you grow up, first of all?
LK:I grew up here in Chicago. I would say that, in a way, it has inspired it. I haven’t, I can’t say that I’ve had a lot of… You know I’ve been exposed to a lot of the African culture. I am just now getting more into, and learning more of, my culture, African culture, becoming more conscious of things. I feel like that has been what has motivated me in the past year because before I wasn’t creating this jewelry, but when I felt the need to find myself, that’s when I started to create more jewelry that was black jewelry.
OK: Why do you think we have to call it “black jewelry”?
LK:The category is pretty “ethnic”; that’s usually the category. You couldn’t find “ethnic” style jewelry, “tribal” style jewelry in places, but for me it’s like it can be tribal style but it’s not all the way there; it’s inspired by our culture. That’s why I call it black jewelry because it is African symbols from West Africa. I do get a lot of my items from Ghana; I order them from Africa–so that’s what I’m calling it. Anyone else can call it “ethnic” or they can call it “cultural”, whatever they wanna call it. But I call it black jewelry.
OK: Are there any people who inspired your work? Anyone you look up to when you’re creating?
LK:We’ll go with my girl Erykah Badu. I love me some Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, those are the two people that mainly come to mind. That’s who I listen to the most when I am creating. I just really think those are my main two people.
OK: When did you learn this was what you wanted to do?
LK:I’ve always kind of had this feeling that–I started creating jewelry about four years ago and i started from vintage buttons. I always felt like this isn’t what I 100% want to create and it was more about–almost like a year ago, I wanted to create something that has more meaning for me, that I can connect deeper with and that is more my style. More Afrocentric, a little bit more bohemian, and for the longest time I kind of bought that. I was like no, let me stick with what’s working for me now, what’s making me sales, but this just does not feel right. So I decided to let my old brand go in January; I’m going full force ahead with this one. I started in January and ever since then, it’s been amazing. Every other week, every month, I would have these little depressions, I’m like omg am I doing what I want to do, I don’t wanna do this, I kind of want to quit. When I started doing this, it was like the answer to everything. This is the best thing ever. It’s life.
OK: What symbols do you draw from? Are a lot of them mainly Egyptian?
LK:A lot of the symbols I use are either Egyptian symbols or they are the West African symbols. Those are my two main ones that you’ll find more of a recurring theme in my shop; that’s my jam.
OK: Do you know if your family is from the West African area or do you just feel some type of connection with the culture?
LK:I feel more of a connection with the African culture because my father is actually–my grandfather is from Haiti and my grandmother is from Antigua, the Virgin Islands. I just feel more of a connection to Africa ’cause that’s my roots. What better way to celebrate my blackness than where it all started.
OK: How has your environment, where you live, the current people you surround yourself with, how have they inspired some of your work–or do they give you some type of motivation to keep going with it?
LK:My biggest inspiration, I have to say, is my sister because she is an artist. I actually kind of pushed her to make more black art featuring black women. I think me and her kind of motivate each other. Anytime I’m looking for some type of direction, she’s the one I talk to. She kind of knows what it’s like to be an artist. When she questions something, she comes to me. My sister has definitely been my motivation–my inspiration to keep going because you’re not always gonna find people that support what you’re doing.
OK: Could you describe a moment where you felt like you broke some type of barrier? Do you feel like you’ve been breaking barriers?
LK:I feel like just putting myself out there. It more started when I did my showcase with RAW Artists. That has been a time I questioned what the audience is gonna be but I’m gonna do it anyway. It was well-received, a lot of my work people loved. I think when I decided to put it online and to go with “afrohemien” and when sales just started to come in, I was like this is it. I questioned it for so long and now people are receiving it so well. People love it, they appreciate it. That’s the answer! Everything is just falling into place!
OK: Do you think your art focuses on a cultural or social issue? That by putting the work out there, you’re making some type of political statement?
LK:I’ve never really thought if I was making a political statement. It’s a bit of me trying to bring more awareness. It’s more of saying “we’re here”; it’s my way of saying “I appreciate Africa, I appreciate the culture,” and as a black woman, I feel that this should be available to other black women. This should be out there because there’s no one out there really doing it. We have black artists but I don’t feel like we’re appreciated as much. You can find a white artists doing the same thing, making black or tribal or ethnic designs & products that are more popular. As somebody who is black and i’m creating black items, I feel that it’s my way of saying…
OK: As a female person of color, how important to you is it that you collaborate in some form with your community?
LK:That is my focus right now. I want to collaborate with other black artists, photographers, stylists, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care what you do, I wanna work with you. I feel we need to come together more as a community and we should work together more, just support each other. That is my focus now, as I create more I want to meet more black artists and people in every industry. It doesn’t matter what you do, we should all support one another.
OK: If you could give a message to black girls everywhere, what would you say?
LK:It’s okay to be who you are. You are appreciated. There is someone out there who appreciates you, whether you know them directly or not. There’s someone out there who sees you for exactly who you are–who sees the magic in you. Black girl magic one hundred percent. You are powerful! Don’t let nobody tell you otherwise. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, you’re gonna be able to get through it no matter what. It may seem hard right now and it may seem like nobody is paying attention to you or that people are just overlooking you, but there’s somebody out there who’s watching. Somebody sees you just as you are, sees you as the beautiful woman or girl that you are. That’s why I create the jewelry I create because I wanted to make women feel good. To me, jewelry is an expression of self-love; and to adorn yourself in beautiful items that have a spiritual or any meaning to it besides being trendy, I feel like that is so important.
photo: felton kizer style:sal yvat mua: henri mitchelle model: tynece allen