As a crafter, machinist and artist, Gwanyan Barker dedicates her craft to empowering Black woman through her African-inspired jewelry business.
Through Kpellé Designs—based out of her home in Bear, Delaware—Barker has spent the past seven years creating African-inspired pieces like head wraps, hair jewelry, ear cuffs, necklaces, ear savers, nose jewelry and more to inspire Black women to embrace their cultures.
“My mission is for individuals to feel inspired, empowered, and educated on the power of embellishing themselves in culture,” she says. “As an African, it is important I represent her everywhere I go; Kpellé Designs is an extension of that sentiment.”
As a way of embracing her own culture, Barker, a first-generation Liberian-American, named her business after her father’s tribe, which is one of the largest populations out of 16 Liberian tribes. The tribe’s culture is rich in many ways, including in its history, dialect, original accents, friendliness and, of course, food.
“They are known agriculturalists and self-sustainers. I admire the sustainability way of life,” she says. “Also, the fact that they use their hands and tools in order to do their work is how I do mine as well. When I work with my hands and/or tools I feel like I’m paying homage to them.”
A majority of the pieces made by Kpellé Designs are handcrafted by Barker, a computer numerical control machine (CNC) or a laser machine using materials like brass, sterling silver, wood and acrylic. With brass, however, it can discolor due to moisture over time, so Barker offers a step-by-step jewelry care process as well as a free polish/buff service to all of her customers to ensure all the pieces can remain looking beautiful for longer.
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Not only does Barker create incredible pieces, but she educates her followers as well through her podcast, Kpelle’s Podcast, in which she discusses self-care for creatives, poetry and current events. She also has a YouTube channel—Gwanyan Barker—which focuses on headwrap tutorials, behind-the-scenes shots and so much more. Her podcast has been running since January 2021 with help from her producer/audio engineer friend Trey McCloud.
“A large majority of my customers wanted to wear my jewelry and accessories, but some of them involve skill i.e., headwraps,” Barker adds. “I incorporated the tutorials to help those who may have been hesitant to purchase or for those who have purchased and wanted to learn more. … Also, to give a transparent view of my experience and journey with jewelry design or small business in general.”
Barker has big plans for Kpellé Designs in the next few years as she prepares to expand and grow the business by onboarding employees and trying to eventually become a brand name in stores.
Kpellé Designs can be seen on its website, Instagram, Pinterest and at various expos and festivals throughout the year.