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- What made you interested in art?
I have a crazy family, with 10 brother and sisters. Everyone in my family is an artist. My mother makes clothes and jewellery and my father makes jewellery like me, but gold and silver. Four of my brothers are musicians. Every night at my house we sing and play music after dinner.
I studied painting and sculpture at an academy in Paris, but after 2 years I had enough and I left. When I came to Venice on a holiday and fell in love and decided to divide my time between Paris and Venice, going back and forth. In 2000 Europe opened an international glass school on Murano and I moved here permanently and attended Murano from 2000-2004.
When I finished at the Glass School I decided to open a shop in Venice because of the easy access to glass and the glass artist community.
I was lucky because when I finished I was able to collaborate with two glass schools in Italy; Venice Glass School and Vetro Ricerca Bolzano. A hundred students came to Venice to watch and learn how I worked with glass and that’s how I began my business.
- Why jewellery?
Maybe I was influenced by my father making jewellery. I remember the first time I saw the glass masters working in Murano, they made vases, plates and chandeliers and then I saw one of them make beads and I said: “ok, I like that”. Venice is good for my mind. I take my time, I go slow like the vaporetti.
- What inspired the style of your jewellery?
I am originally from Africa but grew up in Paris before moving to Venice as an adult. Having experienced different cultures and understood the different colours each one values, I married the African, Parisian and Venetian styles together in order to create a hybrid style, which is seen in my jewellery. In Senegal, where I was born, we love the forest colours so I enjoy creating green beads. Sometimes, I get inspired by the colours and the patterns I seen on customers clothes and I say: “I want to make that in glass”. The inspiration is in front of you, you just need to recognise it and use it.
- A lot of the pieces that you create use very vibrant colours such as: red, orange and yellow, which makes me think of African jewellery and art. When you opened your shop in Venice, did you have to alter the colours that you used? In order to cater to a more ‘Italian’ market?
You always try to create colours that would suit your customers. When I go to Africa, I just create the African style, which uses very bright colours, because bright colours look good on black people. If I created a yellow necklace in Africa everyone would buy it, but here no one would buy it.
People come from all over the world to visit Venice, and sometimes I create collections that are specifically for Africans, Asians, and White people. But often, I have, for example, an Asian person who comes into my shop and buys a piece from the African collection. So, you can’t always predict who will like what.
- How do you price your jewellery?
First, it depends on which type of glass you use to make the jewellery: handmade glass or industry glass. You can find the same coloured glass but of course, the quality is very different. If I make a collection using handmade glass, it’s going to be very expensive: One kilo is €250, in comparison to industry glass where one kilo is €15. I need to calculate the price of the shop, the energy of the workshop and mine and my worker’s salary, plus the tax. Only then do I know how much I have to charge for each bead in order to break even and make a profit. If you don’t have the shop it’s going to be less expensive. The jewellers in St Mark’s Square will have more expensive jewellery because their location makes their rent much higher. Even if the actual product is exactly the same. Business is not easy, but it’s important that you master the techniques of making the beads in order to be time and cost efficient.
- How did you find your shop?
I paid an agency who found a shop for me to rent. It’s still possible to find a shop like this now but it’s very expensive.
- Would you ever buy your shop?
No, because it’s too expensive and I know that If I bought it, I would stay here forever and I don’t want to do that. I want to go back to Africa and live in the forest where there are animals. Now you can connect with everyone via the internet. Over the years I have built a big customer base and followers, so I know that I would still be able to sustain myself, even if I didn’t have a shop.
- Do you collaborate and create other pieces of jewellery or works that are not glass?
I do a lot of collaborations. My friend creates wooden jewellery and we combine wooden and glass beads to create an exclusive silver and gold collection. I also create large lamps constructed out of 600 beads. Two restaurants in Venice have my lamps.
- Have you ever had any negative experiences with collaborators or specific requests from customers?
Some customers request a specific necklace, which they want to look exactly like a stone they found or a drawing they created. It’s always tricky because I could create it and be unhappy with the final product, but get paid or I could tell them no and not get paid. But over the years I understood that what is important to me is playing my music, my glass work and good company. I only need enough money to survive, in order to be happy. I don’t need a fancy car or expensive clothes. I just need my music and the freedom to create whatever I want at the speed that I want.
A famous Italian clothing brand, KENZO offered me a contract and a lot of money, which I declined. They asked me to make 13,000 beads every month. I said no, “I don’t work just for you”. There is only one of me, I can’t give you 13,000 perfect beads, which are exactly the same size-I would go crazy. You need to be strong and do what’s best for you, your sanity, and your happiness and sometimes that means saying no.
- What advice would you give me?
It’s important that you are confident with who you are and your work. And, that you have people’s respect regardless of whether they like your work or not because you never know where a good connection or relationship might lead you. If you know what you want and where you are going, your journey will be a bit easier, but not necessarily more exciting or fulfilling- so remember to take calculated risks! Work out the things that are most important to you and that you value in your life and make sure that you never sacrifice them, especially for the money.
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