Alibi V.26 No.38 • Sept 21-27, 2017 

Culture Shock

Bead by Bead

Etkie firmly plants its feet in Downtown Albuquerque

Behind an unassuming cement wall and across a gravel parking lot on Fourth Street, a workshop-turned-showroom-turned-art-space is quietly taking shape. Inside the building at 1216 NE the members of Etkie were hard at work preparing the showroom for its launch on Sept. 28, officially rooting themselves in the community and establishing a highly visible outlet for their refreshing take on jewelry production and distribution.

Etkie team
The Etkie team, who have are soon to open a showroom in Downtown Albuquerque
Etkie

“Etkie” is a Turkish word meaning impact, and in that country is where the business has its origins. CEO Sydney Alfonso studied abroad there and saw tremendous potential in the jewelry being made by artists that was tending to be undervalued. Alfonso wanted to help working artists there create a sustainable, profitable model to distribute their pieces and after graduation returned to Istanbul and did just that. Later, Alfonso, who is originally from Estancia, returned home to New Mexico and got to work on Etkie, a different iteration of the work she had done in Turkey.

“I've always been interested in design and business. Spending time in New Mexico, you see that there are these incredible opportunities, and such incredible talent that doesn't get a lot of light shown on it,” Alfonso explained over the phone from San Francisco where she makes her home part-time, her other home being Albuquerque. Three years ago, with their values of fair pay and high quality outlined, Etkie was launched to bring the beaded jewelry of Native artists to high-end consumers. At that time, there was just one artist on board. Now the team has grown to about 10 Diné artists, mostly from Tohajiilee. Through Etkie their beadwork—each piece requiring skills that the artists have honed over many years, in some cases several decades—has found a broad consumer base and an outlet that values the profound time and talent that goes into each detailed cuff or pair of earrings. This high-end jewelry is sold the world over in fashion hubs like New York, Paris and Tokyo; in total there are more than 100 stockists.

“What I've found is … everyone really wants to be a part of something,” Alfonso said. “If you can highlight the people that make the product, and the talent and the labor and the love that goes into it, then you can create something that is equally beautiful as it is rich in story. I think that is something that people want to connect with.” Etkie's growth is a testament to that investment. While the price points start around $200, that's part of the paradigm shift in how we think about being consumers and how we value art and handmade goods. “I think on the consumer-side, its an educational process,” Alfonso continued. “It is unfortunate that it's expensive, but our bracelets are expensive because we pay above living wages and they're US wages … You see the slow fashion movement … and the trend toward buying local and more sustainable—that's the camp we're in when it comes to fashion. Definitely consuming less, but of higher quality.”

Secondarily, supporting Etkie as a business platform—a business platform that is very importantly transitioning to being a worker-owned cooperative—means that you are supporting Native artists whose art has been developing for generations and work that is made by the hand of skilled artists, spending many hours on each item. As such, this work deserves to be attributed that value—in dollars, yes, but more importantly how that support translates in the lives of working artists. “As far as our vision for our artists, it’s about creating a platform and a workspace where they can have agency and control over their own lives. … It's about creating sustainable opportunities for women to lead the lives they want to lead.”

Just before the showroom's opening, Etkie launched their fall line, based on the New Mexican desert. All of the work created by Etkie is grounded in a deeply collaborative process. For Alfonso's part, she crunches the numbers, examining what has sold well in past years and keeping abreast of trends in the broader market. Then, all the members of Etkie begin the process of design and creation with an eye on modern forms that still connect with tradition. “The approach we're taking with our collections is … how can we create a product that has the essence of what we do, but doesn't necessarily have the screaming aesthetic of New Mexico?” Through earthy palettes, locally-sourced materials of glass beads and leather—all woven together by hand on a handmade loom, to boot—both the process and the finished product speak to tradition as well as striking originality. More than that, Etkie honors artists first. In a landscape where too often equity is sacrificed in favor of a price point, the humanization of production is a vital point which the company keeps at its heart.

Visits to Etkie's new showroom are by appointment only, though you always have the option to shop online at etkie.com or visit their New Mexico stockists, which include Lilly Barrack and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.