Sela Designs: Art that Gives
In 2012, I boarded a number of flights that would take me across the ocean and onto the red, earthy Ugandan soil. My sister and I had worked a good portion of the year and fundraised to save up enough money to travel to Africa -- a childhood dream that is hard to describe. I've had this yearning in my heart since I was a young girl to travel overseas and spend time helping in orphanages. It was the sweetest moment to finally set foot in Uganda and Ethiopia during our travels. The goal of the trip was simple. As a team, we were asked to simply show and be love to the orphans and widows that we spent time with during our stay. What I didn't expect was how much my heart would break during that trip, in all of the best ways. I never knew that I would travel to Africa, only to receive in return the most gracious, unconditional love from the children and women we met.
Fast forward to 2017, and our family has been on a new journey of refocusing our expenditures and finances to businesses that are both ethically driven and are making a world-changing impact in the lives of others. Just a few months ago, I was introduced to Sela Designs, a beautiful, handmade jewelry business that uses 100% of profits to giveback to organizations that are rooted in life-giving work. Ashleigh, the owner, designer and maker behind Sela, uses her talents to create pieces that are giving back in a powerful way.
You can imagine the joy that filled my heart when I learned that Sela Designs financially supports a children's home in Ethiopia. This heartbeat I feel for Africa and the desire to find thoughtfully made products intersected in a beautiful way that can only be God.
The pieces in Ashleigh's shop are so unique and intricate in a way that I haven't found in other jewelry. The colors and shapes are vibrant, but balanced with delicate, and simple metal pieces. I had the opportunity to style one of Ashleigh's necklaces, which highlights one of her primary materials used in her designs -- the tagua nuts from the Amazon Rainforest! The piece I'm wearing is the Geometric Pendant Necklace. I loved the rose pink color of the nut against the brass chain. It's the perfect accessory to style casually with jeans and a t-shirt, or to dress up, as we did on our photoshoot.
One of our favorite parts of meeting new businesses is learning about their "why" and what inspires their work. Ashleigh was kind enough to chat about Sela Designs, the mission, their impact and some of her favorite pieces for the Holidays. We know that you'll love the ways Ashleigh is intentionally using her gifts to bless and uplift others -- I like to think of it as art that gives.
Can you briefly tell me about Sela Designs and how you got started in making jewelry?
When my oldest son was born 8 years ago I quit by job in the corporate world. I went from working 50+ hours a week to being home with one baby. I was bored. At the same time my husband wanted to go on a mission trip to an orphanage in Mexico and it simply wasn’t in our budget to fund the trip. I had made jewelry as a creative outlet in the past, but decided to sell some pieces to friends and family in order to pay for the trip.
I continued making jewelry throughout that time, nothing more than a hobby and a few sales here and there. A couple years later a friend asked me to start doing art shows with her and that’s when Sela Designs was really born and started to take off.
What is the inspiration behind the name of your business?
There’s no great story behind the name to be honest. Sela is an old word for stone. When I first started making jewelry all of my pieces were one of a kind (only one of each piece and a huge variety of styles) and I mostly used semi-precious stones. I liked Sela and it seemed to represent my work well so I went with it. 😊
You donate 100% of your proceeds to others in need. That’s so powerful and really emphasizes your heart for others. Can you tell us about your giving model and some of the ways you have supported others through your jewelry?
The entire purpose behind Sela Designs has always been to give. It’s never been a form of income for us in any way. We have been able to give generously to organizations and causes that we believe in. Orphan care is very high on our list and I talk about that a lot. We are extremely passionate about helping others in many ways though so we don’t limit our giving to one cause.
On a monthly and quarterly basis we support two children’s homes – one in Ethiopia and the other in Madagascar. In the 2015 Holiday Season we raised enough money to fully purchase a small vehicle for Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home (Ethiopia) so they could get their kids to appointments and meetings in a timely / cost effective manner. That is one of my favorite things we’ve done to date. In just 3 months we raised over $6,000.
We also have been able to do some great work in our own community helping families walk through hard situations – sickness, death and loss. We’ve been able to provide scholarships and supplies to an amazing local school that works with kids at all levels and incomes, providing phenomenal Christian education. We’ve worked Life House of Manitowoc, Inc. which provides housing and life skills training to people and families who are ready to turn their lives around.
I could sing the praises of each of these organizations all day long, but the truth is we are honored to partner with each of them and are so thankful that God has sustained and grown Sela Designs.
Has there been a particular organization or person you have supported through Sela Designs that has really impacted you personally?
Buying the vehicle for the children’s home is one of my favorite things we’ve done. Largely because I feel like the community of Sela Designs’ followers stood alongside of us and took on the mission with us. It felt like we linked arms and together were able to give in a way bigger than we have imagined.
There is something special to me about buying a handmade item, especially one that gives back and impacts other, because it tells a unique story. When someone purchases and wears one of your own pieces, what’s the story you hope that it tells?
I hope it spurs others on and encourages them to love others well and to give hope to someone else. I hope it starts conversations of the bigger issues we are facing and shines a light on ways everyone can do something to make a difference.
Your designs are so colorful, vibrant and intricately made! What are some of your favorite materials to work with for your pieces?
I primarily work with eco-friendly tagua nuts from the Amazon Rainforest. Tagua nuts are the seeds of an ivory palm tree found only in South America. They are a natural by-product of the tree and need to be collected. Artisans in Ecuador harvest, slice and dye the tagua, providing sustainable jobs to people living along the Amazon Rainforest. They are extremely light weight, similar in consistency to animal ivory, but nothing is harmed in their production.
With the Holidays quickly approaching, what are some of your favorite designs from your shop that would be perfect to wear for this season?
I’ve released limited edition Holiday Collection. This collection is my favorite to date. The pieces are easily interchangeable, each color perfect for the Holiday season and beyond. I work hard to create pieces that can be worn year-round so that they can be worn again and again. (Photos below courtesy of Ashleigh).
I was amazed at the variety of your designs and color options! What are some of the ways you get inspiration when coming up with new products for your shop?
I am never short on ideas! Inspiration is everywhere for me – in nature, fabrics, paintings, clothing… I love being versatile and offering something for everyone. Limiting my designs is the hardest challenge I have in this business. I love creating new pieces. Designing is my favorite part of this business.
Note: Special thank you to Ashleigh at Sela Designs for gifting us the beautiful necklace styled in this post! We love it, and look forward to sharing more about Sela in the future! For the sake of transparency, we were not compensated for this post and all thoughts and opinions are our own!