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Meet Jewelry Designer Lorraine West!


Feature, Latest | by — November 24, 2020

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Interview by teen bloggers: Lynara Richards + Aiyana Lockley

Lorriane West went from being intrigued by her mother’s jewelry as a child to creating a successful jewelry brand. Her interest in jewelry and art began at a young age and ever since then she never lost sight of that dream to become an artist! She went on to go to FIT and gain a degree in Fine Arts. Years later in 2010 that’s when she became a full time entrepreneur.

Her beautiful designs have been worn by Erykah Badu, Keke Palmer, Serena Williams, Zendaya, + Beyonce in the Black Is King video. Ms.West is still continuing to create dynamic + captivating jewelry today!

Let’s get to know Jewelry Designer Lorraine West a little better…

LynaraOk so my first question is what did you study in high school that showed you that design was your passion?

Lorraine: In high school, I had many subjects but art was my main focus.  I loved art and visual art which led me to take drawing and painting classes. You have to start somewhere, right?  I had a lot of support from teachers, friends and family because I always knew I was an artist since the first grade.  

Aiyana: What challenges have you faced as a Black woman in the jewelry design industry? 

Lorraine: Oh, that’s a good question as well! The challenge I faced the most was not having the support from the industry. I would say half of my career I was mostly around other women and men of color that appreciated my work and it did help lift me and catapult me to a certain level of success.  I didn’t have access to the so-called standard of the industry though. The industry is primarily ran by Caucasions which I didn’t have those connections nor did I seek for access. 

I told myself I’m just going to live in this realm and rock out with the people that appreciate me. In terms of support from Caucasians it was a small percentage.  I just got used to that. I got used to  when I apply for a job they probably wouldn’t hire me. They’ll tell me my work is great. They’ll see my name a lot of the time and think “oh Lorraine West sounds great, love your name” and then when they see it was a brown person it was a very different reaction.

I went on an interview with a designer named Alexis Bittar who is a legendary designer. I used to revere him so much and loved the work he did. It was early 2000 that I saw there was a job opportunity on Craigslist for Alexis Bittar. I was so excited to possibly have a chance to work with him. I happened to get an interview. 

Alexis Bittar comes in to interview me and at the time I didn’t have as much jewelry as I have  now.  I was meeting with him  and thinking “I can’t believe it, this is crazy” but something shifted in me when I sat down with him. I didn’t feel he was better or greater. I felt like we were on the same page. Here I am a black girl, no publicist, no money,  just kind of making it work with whatever I sell, investing back in the business and I was able to get my work on celebrities. 

He told me I had a strong point of view.  I have a degree in Fine Arts so I showed my illustrations. He said. “Your jewelry has a point of view and I don’t know if you would be a good fit here because I need someone who is going to shadow me.” Right then and there I told myself that I am not applying for these jobs anymore. I’m going to keep doing my work and that was the switch!

The universe wanted me to meet him. The universe knows what’s up! If I were to work for him I don’t think I would be where I’m at now and where my work is now. If you feel like you’re trying and trying and people are not hearing you, you gotta go harder for what you do. 

Lynara: It was great to hear your insight and to hear of the opportunities you took to make yourself greater! When did you know that this was your passion and something you wanted to do with the rest of your life?

Lorraine: Well, I knew that I always wanted to be an artist because I do consider myself an artist first.  I just happen to be a jeweler at the moment. In first grade I entered a contest and my drawing came in second place! I knew then that I wanted to do art. Sharing your point of view and getting rewarded for it, I loved it!  I just felt like I had a talent for it and  kept doing it.

I remember when I was in college something came over me. I had an impulse to go to a store on 38th street. They sold beads, wire, plated wire and all this different stuff. It was almost like the ancestors whispered in my ear “go inside there and go buy some stuff and try it out”.  I  started playing around and giving things to friends. They would wear it and some of them weren’t even anything great, but people believed in me at the time and I guess it was cool. When I made my first sale I knew this was for me! I made my first sale in like ‘97 or ‘98. But I continued doing it ‘98 to ‘99 and that was when I started selling custom work. I did meet a few influential people in the industry that invested in me.

I didn’t really know what I was doing that well. That was the time around the, late 90s early 2000s a lot of people were still sort of coming into themselves. Not to say that you aren’t coming into yourselves now but 20 years later so much has advanced. If you’re in any industry now you can advance quicker than maybe when I was in the industry because I wasn’t using the internet then. I don’t think I got an email address until the early 2000’s. I knew that this was what I wanted to add to my repertoire as an artist. And I just went with it and truly tried it. It wasn’t like I wanted to be the best jeweler in the whole world. I simply wanted to create and the fact that I could make money was awesome! It’s been 22 years that I’ve been selling my work as a professional.  


Aiyana: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a jewelry business?

Lorraine: The advice I would give is learn the technicality of jewelry. Learn what type of jewelry is going to float your boat. If you’re wire wrapping I would say take a class. YouTube is phenomenal! You can learn how to make jewelry.

There  cold connection, wax modeling and CAD. There are some people who only use cad. They work for companies and work for designers. The designer gives you the sketch or the ideas and they punch it into the cad. They create the model where they can print and then cast.

There are also hand fabricators. There are people who do all of that. A little bit of everything. Then there’s the designers that focus on the look and the feel and the technical designers who will produce it. 

Once you jump into the professional realm you have to deliver a really good product to the expectation of the customer because they’re paying you. Start somewhere, start at whatever piece you’re into first. Start from there + do whatever type of design you feel connected to.

Lynara: How do you get your ideas for your jewelry pieces, what influences your ideas for the jewelry?

Lorraine: That’s a good question. Honestly, I feel like a lot of my influences, I don’t even know where it comes from. It just comes at  different times. I feel like we’re constantly seeing things so they’re stored in our subconscious mind. I mean in my bio I have my inspiration being geometry, symbology and experience. I really love symbols and love to abstract symbols.

For example, I have an astrological collection that I’m going to be relaunching. They’re cuffed bracelets and their a glimpse of the Astro signs where I like to stretch them out so they can cover your arm. I designed those almost 20 years ago and sold some here and there but never put out a full the collection.  I’m excited, but I made the samples and realized that because I evolved as a designer the sketches I used then I have outgrown so now I’ll be updating it.  I even did a little film for it with a director that looks beautiful and will eventually be released.  I’m constantly thinking of how I can improve.

The next stage for me is passing off the work and getting trusted manufacturers. When I say manufacturers it can be a small company of 1-4 people that are masters of the trade and are used to being in the business of producing the inventory of collections.

The more your business grows you have to learn to articulate your vision. You can sketch something but how thick do you want the gauge to be? What size stone are you gonna put in the piece? How many stones? You have to be clear because the manufacturer doesn’t know those details. Only you know what you want.  If you have a little bit of experience with designing and making pieces yourself, you’ll be  able to communicate it.

Aiyana: Do you have a favorite piece that You have made, if so what is it?

Lorraine: Well my favorite pieces are the ones that I’m wearing now! This is actually bezel wire. This is a wire that you use to put around a setting but because I feel like I wasn’t classically trained I use certain materials in different ways. I saw this garland and I loved the way the shape looked with the round beads.

Growing up my mother had a horseshoe over the door for good luck and she’s like if you have it facing up all the good luck will poor in and if you face it down you want to give it to others. So this is one of my favorite pieces!

My other favorite is my open heart ring which is kind of an evolved version of wire wrapping and bending.  I started  with wire and you can use wire and make it more sophisticated.

 I like jewelry to be a part of me. I don’t have any tattoos so the jewelry serves as like a tattoo. Then these are one of my favorite hoops, they are called the nipple hoops and this is actually inspired from bangles that I made almost 20 years ago. Serena Williams actually wore the same ones I’m wearing. So when pieces get seen and worn by people particularly people of high influence it does kind of give you that confidence.

You have to develop a thick skin because there is a lot of competition and when I say competition I don’t mean in a negative way. You are competing. It’s like athletes when they are playing they are competing with each other and they are competing with the best. If you are at that high level you are competing with the best. 

Follow more of Lorraine’s West jewelry  journey here:

Lorraine West