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Made Connections

Jewelry designer Sheila Hawkins-Bucklew teams up with Nigerian fashion designer Hauwa Liman to empower women in Lagos

Made Connections

Community + Culture | Profile

It started somewhere outside of Pittsburgh. Sheila Hawkins-Bucklew was different. She was the only person of color at school, she had a pointy nose; the girls asked about her hair, the boys threw footballs at her head. Rather than take in all the negativity, she remembers, she used the attention to embrace her own style. At the same time, she remembers thinking: “We are more alike than we are different. We all look for ways to identify, with our peers, with our communities. We all seek that experience in some way.”

Since then, Hawkins-Bucklew has found ways to both emphasize the individual and connect to the community. In 2014 she launched Hawkins Bucklew Handcrafted Jewelry Designs during Austin Fashion Week. Her custom pieces are built on what she calls the “three pillars” of her company: individual style, self-discovery, and empowerment. Last year she and her daughter, Chelsea, used the company as a platform to initiate the Creative Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in Lagos, Nigeria. With the help of Nigerian fashion designer Hauwa Liman, Sheila and Chelsea led a group of women through a weeklong series of workshops in jewelry design, creative thinking, and entrepreneurial development.

     sheila hawkins-bucklew jewelry

She hopes to bring the Bootcamp to Austin and is in the process of looking for sponsors. In the meantime, Hawkins-Bucklew continues to create opportunities for herself and others by making jewelry and stringing together the beads of a global community.

Before starting Hawkins Bucklew Jewelry, you worked in retail for fifteen years. What was the transition like from retail employee to business owner?
In between my retail career and the start of owning a business, I became a mother. Being a mother elevated my perspective, it ignited a tenacity for multitasking and overachievement. I became all things to all people. I was the chauffeur, event planner, travel agent, chef, and gardener. Being a mother prepared me for being a business owner. Of course, as a business owner you assume risk. However, you gain the freedom to create a work culture that best fits your needs as a professional and family-oriented woman.

What do you think are some of the challenges for women entrepreneurs, particularly for those entering a creative trade?
Securing financing, having their professional skills and expertise questioned, embracing risk, balancing assertiveness, and breaking through male-dominated industries.

What are the most important practices for women to overcome those challenges?
Women need to acquire a team of raving fans and mentors; those people in your network who support you, challenge you, and hold you accountable to your goals and stated aspirations.

It is especially important for young girls but I see older women too, still trying to figure themselves out, like getting butt injections and stuff. What is up with that? Where did that come from?

Tell me about your “team.”
Starting a business always starts with an idea in your own mind. So the first thing I will say is: Be careful who you share your dreams with. There is really a lot of room for self-doubt in the beginning, so you need people around who will encourage you to keep going. That is what I mean when I say a “team of raving fans.” For me, I shared the beginning of my jewelry company with a group of colleagues and childhood friends. People who I could bounce ideas off of, who I could tell my dreams to and then ask whether they liked my logo this way or that way.

Do you think your daughter has been raised to embrace these ideals?
I dressed my daughter the way that I wanted to when she was young. Lots of matching outfits and coordination, because I came from the world of fashion and retail. When we moved to Texas she started dressing like the girls around her—blue jeans and ponytails, and I was like, what happened to my fashionable little girl? But as she’s grown she’s come into her own and does her own thing.

I think that it is so important to build a foundation in who you are. That’s one of our pillars: self-discovery. Get to know who you are and you are less likely to be affected by the negativity from other people. It is especially important for young girls but I see older women too, still trying to figure themselves out, like getting butt injections and stuff. What is up with that? Where did that come from?

jewelry sheila hawinks-bucklew austin

What has it been like working with Chelsea, and how has having your own daughter involved shaped or enhanced your motivation for the business?
As a mother, I’ve always wanted my daughter exposed to women whose lives were different from ours. The chance to hear the stories of the women who participated in our Creative Entrepreneurship Boot Camp in Lagos was invaluable. Although our goal was to empower creative women entrepreneurs while we were there, the connection we felt with these ladies was an enriching experience for all of us. Women of different cultures, religions, and perspectives coming together for a shared experience rooted in the entrepreneurial spirit; what a fortifying exchange.

I’ve always been self-motivated, however a lot of what I do is done for the betterment of not only my daughter but all women. It would be sublime if we lived in a world which provided equal pay and equal opportunities for women; an environment where workplace sexual harassment did not exist, and women no longer were objectified. I hope these situations for women change sooner than later, and I look forward to working toward a future that holds this type of reality for all women.

Read more from the Style Issue | September 2017