Tell us about yourself...
My name is Mariam-Kankou. I am French by Nationality but I came to live in the UK seventeen years ago after getting married to one of Her Majesty’s subjects! I love living in the UK and usually start missing it within three days of going abroad! I have two lovely teenage boys and two cats [Bacardi and Biscuit - you can see them on my Flickr] and of course, my gorgeous hubby. I live and work in Chippenham, Wiltshire.
...and a bit about your Etsy shop.
My Etsy shop focuses on selling the beaded jewellery that I design and create. The shop is called "Perles de Bijoux", which means "Jewellery Gems" in French. I played with words because in French, "perle" means bead but depending on how you use the word, it can also mean "gem". If you say to someone "Tu es une perle!", this would mean, "You are a gem!" [a little French lesson for you!]. I only started selling in February 2010 so I am very new to Etsy and still very much learning what to do, or rather what not to do!
I love what I do and I feel that my jewellery is different - very colourful and sparkly - and my designs take a long time to make. I do feel that my shop fits into a niche market - in the South West UK at least - and like all niche markets, I hope my passion pays off when people are looking for something striking as a present or for a special occasion. In the meantime, I am trying to work on improving my shop: the photographs, my descriptions etc. I have about twenty more pieces that I need to list...
How long have you been making jewellery and what do you enjoy most about it?
I started making jewellery in October 2009 and it took over all my free time as each piece takes a lot of time to make. As a teacher by day, what I love the most about beading is the creative freedom it gives me; I forget about my day job and just immerse myself in the world of beads where anything is possible and there is no curriculum to follow - I just follow my own heart! It is a magic moment when I find a new stone as my imagination starts to run wild about what I can do with it...
Do you remember the first thing you ever made? Tell us about it...
The first thing I made was a colourful beaded cuff. I had no design but was so excited from reading a book on beading that I had bought lots of beads and just wanted to get started. I found a glass bead in one of my garden pots and I decided it would be the focal point of the cuff, so it was quite a spontaneous design and I still love the result. I wear my cuff all the time as it goes with any outfit! The nice thing about multicolour jewellery is that you can wear it with anything and break the rules about colour coordinating every outfit :D
[Kankou's first piece]
What sort of things influence or inspire your designs?
Well, my Mother is French and my Dad is African - from Mali - and I lived there up to the age of 15. If you look at my Flickr account, there are a few photographs from Mali and you will see the colours, and perhaps feel the sun that shines constantly and feel the heat it generates! Unconsciously, when I started making jewellery, I kept choosing bright colours and galvanised beads [gold ones in particular] that reflect colourful Africa and the sun - so I am definitely influenced by my memories of life in Mali.
And because I love colour, my other influence would definitely be Bollywood - I love Asian fashion! I am aware that my jewellery might not be the usual style that Westerners would go for as I have found that people are generally more conservative with colours over here but I love creating pieces that have a sincerity about them. I follow my heart and create what I love to make and wear myself. Having said that, I strive to make pieces that are definitely wearable and versatile; for example, I make beaded necklaces that can be worn with or without the pendant so that buyers don’t buy a piece that can only be worn in one way, or just for a special occasion. I also look at fellow beadweavers’ fantastic work; their work inspires me to always raise my standards and make eye-catching pieces whilst staying true to myself.
Do you enjoy any other crafts, and are there any you would like to learn?
I love any crafts; they are the key to my wellbeing. Since I was little, I always did things with my hands. I am also very good at sewing, knitting, and crochet! One of my big achievements was to create my wedding dress when I got married - until the moment he saw it, my husband was a bit worried about what I had “stitched up”. Thank goodness the result was great; my Grandmother, who was a professional seamstress, gave it the thumbs up! The other thing I do as well as beading is coloured pencil drawings; one of my cat pictures is on my flickr. I started drawing a couple of years ago but I don’t practice enough due to lack of time. I like to do realistic drawing and that, just like beading, takes time. I generally like to learn challenging crafts.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Yes! I was very excited to do this interview! I understand I have given the honour of being the first interviewee as the humble founder of our SWAC group. I have found that this team is already very vibrant with an interesting range of warm and enthusiastic crafters. I hope that it takes off and that we can meet at some point over a proper traditional cream tea [I love eating nice homemade dishes]. I am also a firm believer in handmade things; they are unique, have soul, and are environmentally friendly - the handmade pledge rules!
Thank you so much to Kankou and if you enjoyed reading this interview, then do follow along and watch out for the next one with Quercus Silver...