Next Stop – West Africa – With Jewelry Artisan, Ila Suleyman


Landing in Ghana

West African jewelry traces its roots deep into the past. Exquisite beadwork harkens back to an ancient form of currency. Cowrie shells carry with them symbolic value. Religious, spiritual, and nature-inspired motifs still find expression in the handwork of West African jewelry artisans, who now infuse new techniques and materials into their creations.

Whether you’re looking for a modern earring fashioned of recycled material or a traditional necklace crafted from glass beads, you’re sure to find it in West Africa.


The Real Deal

Ila Suleyman challenges the influx of imitation jewelry with his authentically crafted pieces.
Ila Suleyman challenges the influx of imitation jewelry with his authentically crafted pieces.

It all started with a cow. Well, a herd of them.

“My forefathers were predominantly millet and cattle farmers,” Ila Suleyman says. “They would use the leather of the animals they reared for clothing and accessories such as talismans, bangles and necklaces.” One day, Ila’s great-grandfather took a look around and realized that these farmers had more than cattle and millet to offer the world. They had developed skill and talent and a keen eye for beautiful jewelry.

Thus was born a family enterprise in jewelry making that welcomed Ila into the fold when he was very young. He would follow his grandfather around the workshop, where he learned to prepare natural leather and create beautiful objects from it.

The traditions of old gained new life under Ila’s touch. “I designed a more youthful and modern collection which was incorporated into the traditional styles that we were accustomed to creating. These sold very well.”

Artisan Multicolor Bead Necklace with Wood Agate and Leather, "Multicolor Wend Panga" , African Agate and Bone Beaded Necklace, "Taoure", Handcrafted Modern Leather Cuff Bracelet, "Annula in Green"
Agate and Bone Necklace, “Taoure”; Beaded Necklace, “Multicolor Wend Panga”; and Leather Cuff Bracelet, “Annula in Green” by Ila Suleyman

Now, alongside his leatherwork, Ila incorporates wood and recycled materials. When asked about the biggest threats to his trade, Ila is crystal clear: “industrially manufactured copies of our authentic hand-crafted artistry that flood the market and threaten local artisans.”

Ila himself clearly feels up to the task of taking back authenticity. “I rise above this by producing wonderful and more interesting handmade designs. I also work with other artisans who create handmade jewelry in order to highlight the positive impact it has in our lives when people support artisans.”

What better sentiment to celebrate the gorgeous world of West African jewelry!


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