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West Native | Locally Made, One-of-a-Kind Jewelry

Jewelry Fusing the East and West

Written and Photographed By: Amina Touray

Hair and Makeup By: Emiko Smith

Model: Darija Varnas

Whether you are a casual California girl or a world-traveled bohemian chick, you will love West Native Jewelry. Designer Sheva Lee Absher’s line takes jewelry design to a level far beyond the average. She combines beads from the West African continent with charms from the North American West to form West Native, a line that is inspired by travels, folk art and culture. West Native consists of handmade one-of-kind jewelry pieces that are not only beautiful, but that have a story and meaning that is unique and personalized for each piece. Learn about West Native’s inspiration and what jewelry trends we can expect for Spring/Summer 2015.

Q: Sheva, please tell us a little about yourself:

Sheva Lee Absher: Well I’m born and raised in Los Angeles. I love jewelry, I love craft, I love working with my hands and I love learning new skills and incorporating new mediums into my work.

Q: How long have you been making jewelry?

SLA: I started when I was in college. I found a jar labeled craft junk when I was on vacation, and it started from there. I was already very crafty…

Q: Where were you vacationing?

SLA: I was in Cambria; it’s near Big Sur. I found a little antique store that was selling the “junk jar” sealed shut, so I couldn’t really see what was inside, but I just had a feeling. I went ahead and purchased it and tore it apart when I got back to the hotel and found the most incredible antique jewelry pieces from the 60’s— gorgeous, timeless pieces. I used my boyfriend’s tools and assembled them into necklaces and earrings as soon as we arrived home.

Q: Your line is called West Native, how would you describe it, the looks of it and who wears it?

SLA: It’s got an ethnic feel inspired by my travels, and also by my background. But it’s also very casual and Californian, kind of bohemian. I like to fuse the East and West in my designs.

Q: You mentioned that you’re traveled, and I saw your African pieces, could you tell us a little about that?

SLA: I was working on a project with a company called Novica that works in association with National Geographic. They sell work from artisans in eight different developing regions around the world. They were looking to start selling jewelry from Ghana, so I went there and worked with some of the existing Novica team members to source Ghanaian Jewelry artisans. It was the most inspiring project of my life, and it has really informed my work.


Q: I think that’s everyone’s dream, to be able to travel with your passion and do what you love…

SLA: Yeah! I’ve been so fortunate, and that was such a wonderful, inspiring time. I went there twice for a month at a time and just sourced … looked for local jewelry artisans. The other thing we were looking for was lead-free jewelry. Many of the materials used in West African jewelry such as the glass and brass beads often contain lead. I worked closely with local bead manufacturers to figure out ways to create their indigenous glass beads using totally lead-free materials and processes.

Q: So Novica; did they find you or you found them?

SLA: I saw the job posting online and then I applied and it, was such a long interview process, it took nearly two months. One of my projects was to create a presentation of the types of jewelry I expected to find in Ghana, and you know I think they expected a PowerPoint presentation but I actually made a full jewelry collection using Ghanaian beads I found at a local bead store.

Q: You have your line West Native, but you also work with companies?

SLA: Yes, I’ve been really fortunate to have worked in the jewelry industry my entire career and I’ve done a lot of different jobs in the industry. I’ve always been eager to learn. Naturally, my fundamental goal is someday starting and really pushing my own line and having that grow and expand. In the meantime, I’ve worked with these other companies doing production, design, sourcing … anything to learn and gain experience in the field that I love.

Q: And you also designed for Forever 21?

SLA: Yes, I did product development and production for Forever 21 which was really interesting. Every company I’ve worked for has been so different, and I went to Forever 21 right after the Africa project, so it was such a culture shock. But I was able to see what large retail mass production looks like. All my experience with mass production has made me value handmade, and locally-sourced materials, indigenous techniques, resourcefulness— all those things mean so much more to me now.

Q: Where can we purchase West Native?

SLA: I have an online shop, and I sell at Tavin Boutique in Echo Park, The Runway Outlet in Silverlake, and Brass Tack in Laguna Beach. I also sell at local markets and pop-up shops throughout the year.

Q: Where does the name West Native come from?

SLA: Well I am a West Native— born and raised in Los Angeles. My designs are inspired by having grown up here. There’s a casual Californian vibe and a little bit of playfulness, but there is also a very ethnic, folk kind of feel and I think that’s where the Native part comes in.

Q: Would you say that you follow trends?

SLA: I do in work, but I think that I try to cut that off when I’m doing my own work. It’s much more organic. I find that I naturally follow some trends, but I don’t make a conscious effort to do that.

Q: How do you feel like your style has changed through the years?

SLA: I look back at my old pieces, and they look so junior to me! But at the time, those were the pieces that I liked and that I wore. I was shopping at Forever 21, so my pieces reflected that. Now, I value truly antique pieces and quality materials, and my work reflects that.

Q: Do you ever custom-make jewelry, like if a client comes in and wants a piece for a wedding or such?

SLA: Yes those are my absolute favorite pieces to do. It’s rare because that’s all kind of word of mouth. I’ve done Bridesmaids jewelry, wedding jewelry, wedding headpieces … and it’s so cool because you’re really working closely with a person and whatever you create is a product of you and them.

Q: So how does this work— if a client says they want jewelry for a special event, how do you make it custom for them? Do you brainstorm ideas or do you come up with ideas yourself or how do you learn what they will like and what jewelry will fit their personality?

SLA: Well I ask a lot of questions. I recently made a piece for a client who wanted to gift her friend a necklace. I asked things like what’s her sign, what are her personality traits, does she like silver or gold, what’s her style— things like that. Then I’ll go to my charm and bead collection, and pull things I feel will work, and then I’ll send photos or meet with the person to review and then go from there. I love working with semi-precious beads as they each have meaning and healing properties. So, for example, if a person is lost and needs direction in life, there are semi-precious beads that are said to aid in that. So each time I do a custom piece I add a little note with what each charm and each bead represents. It’s quite personal.

Q: Which celebrity would you like to see wearing your pieces?

SLA: I see it more on musicians and artists really. I just worked with a great local musician. Her name is Fools Gold Daughter and to me she’s the epitome of the West Native girl. She’s kind of bohemian, but very feminine as well. There’s always that inherit femininity in my pieces and … I don’t know, I see local artists and musicians wearing my work more than Hollywood celebrities.

Q: What spring trends do you see in jewelry for 2015?

SLA: I see a lot of natural blue stones, like monochromatic blues; turquoise, lapis, blue agate— all those oceanic hues with natural stones and more organic shapes. I’m also feeling minimalist styles with rope accents and brushed metal finishes. Kind of a Montauk vibe, a little bit nautical but minimalist.

Q: How did you learn to design jewelry?

SLA: After I got that jar of “craft junk” I just played around and taught myself. That was before YouTube was big, so I would often go to a local bead store in Laguna Beach and just ask questions, ask things so simple that now I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I didn’t know how to do that.” Now I’m taking classes at Barnsdall, which is a little art school in Los Feliz. I’m learning ceramics and, I’ve taken a couple of metal smithing classes because I’d like to start incorporating that in my work. I’m also taking a casting class where I’m learning how to do Lost Wax Casting, which is a technique used in Ghana. I visited a lot of Ghanaian brass casting makers when I was in West Africa and have been fascinated with that technique since.


Q: How do you plan on expanding West Native, do you plan on making more things than jewelry eventually?

SLA: Oh yeah! I’d definitely like to, and that’s partly why I’m taking this ceramic and casting class. I really want to explore other avenues, but at the end of the day I really just love jewelry so that will always be the focus. I just can’t imagine that ever changing. It’s such a big part of my life because I do it for work and play. So it will always be jewelry, but I’d love to do hair accessories and maybe handbags, and hopefully continue to work with artisans in developing countries.

Q: And all of your jewelry is handmade?

SLA: Yes, everything is handmade by me; everything is one-of-a-kind which makes things more time-consuming. Eventually, I’d like to create limited edition collections, with 20 pieces using castings of some of my best pieces.

Q: What inspires you to create certain jewelry, and where do you go from there when you have an idea?

SLA: It can be anything, and I find that inspiration doesn’t necessarily hit you over the head, It often comes unexpectedly in an organic fashion. I’m inspired by travel and indigenous craft. In West Africa, for example, I worked on a similar project in Mexico too where these artisans have so little but they are so resourceful, and they are making jewelry from just their surroundings. I’m so inspired by that, and I’m inspired by limitations. I find having certain limitations forces me to be really creative, and I end up making the best pieces that way— when I’m forced to be inventive.

West Native