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Love jewelry? Want to be eco-friendly? Then you should know about Kevia Jeffrey-West’s sustainability jewelry and her business, Kevia, a word meaning “beautiful child.” The business officially launched in the winter of 2005, and has grown since, with Jeffrey-West’s designs appearing on TV shows like Desperate Housewives and magazines like InStyle. But before she launched her business, Jeffrey-West was in a PhD fellowship program in education and research and policy at the University of California Santa Barbara Recently. I asked Jeffrey-West some questions in hopes of getting to the heart of  Kevia’s start and its designs.

MadameNoire: How did you become interested in jewelry design?

Kevia Jeffrey-West: While studying in Zimbabwe on an undergraduate study abroad program I walked by a store that sold loose stones. The stones drew me in and I began to collect locally-mined and cut stones, sketch designs, and found local jewelers to make my creations. When I returned two years later to do post-baccalaureate research I again began to design pieces for my personal collection. I am not sure that I would have thought of selling my work if a local boutique hadn’t asked me to make items for their store after they noticed a necklace I was wearing. Designing is definitely my calling.

MN: When did you know jewelry design would be your career?

J-W: In my case, I initially resisted becoming a designer because I had spent most of my energy advancing a career in research. Designing seemed like a risky career move. Luckily, the universe kept pulling me in the direction of fashion and it reached a point where I was making money. I was completely content spending my time designing and my academic work became increasingly hard to prioritize. I took a year off from my doctoral program in 2006 and began working on the business full time. Once I was fully committed, the business took off and continues to grow steadily. Eight years after I designed my first pieces I couldn’t be happier doing anything else.

MN: Describe the growth of your business.

J-W: That this began as a hobby and grew into my lifelong passion and dream still seems surreal to me. Starting with just a small collection for a boutique and growing into a completely sustainable brand that is releasing new styles five times a year is incredible. Our customers are women who each have their own interpretation of every piece. Kevia’s designs simply complement their individual style, which, in my opinion, is the best part about my collection.

MN: How did sustainability come into the picture?

J-W: Sustainability has always been at the core of my philosophies and values, so when I started my line, I knew that I wanted to incorporate these practices into my pieces. Even though I was armed with an education and work experience in environmental policy, I had to learn to apply those principles into the fashion business. Initially, I made each piece domestically, but then realized that most of the raw materials on the market — wire, metal sheets, stone — were being imported from China and India then resold in the U.S. My firsthand experience living in Zimbabwe and witnessing the positive impact fair trade can have in developing countries, prompted me to look for opportunities that would allow me better control of the entire manufacturing process, including the sourcing of raw materials.

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