We Create Birmingham: Edina Shrestha

"My design is inspired by my culture. We are deeply spiritual people, and I can see myself in every customer."
Interview: Meghann Bridgeman
Photos: Ambre Amari
Location: Special thanks to The Kelly Hotel

There is so much to talk about but let’s start with your journey to Alabama. The highlights include your upbringing in Nepal, time at George Washington University in D.C, and eventually a move to Birmingham. How’s the journey been for you? And what connects each of these places to another?

The traditions of my home culture and my creativity have been the connective thread in my journey. As you know, I grew up in Nepal, a culture inspired by meditation and yoga. I always carry that with me.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in interior design from George Washington University and Masters in Business Administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, I worked with several highly reputed firms in Washington D.C. that provided me with a unique experience. I gathered invaluable knowledge of design and art through numerous complex multi-cultural projects. After I moved to Birmingham for my husband’s work, I took some time off to do part-time consulting while being a full-time mom.

During that time, I had the chance to visit a lot of art shows, museums, and read books about jewelry. I found the urge to use my inherent creativity rising more and more often. That urge allowed me to reinvent myself and follow my passion for making jewelry. It also allowed me to express more intensely the Nepalese symbols and traditions I cherish.

Where does your creative drive come from?

Nepal is such an artistic place, but my late Uncle was a jewelry maker, and we spent a lot of time together. That was really influential, and I first thought about creating my own jewelry when I was just a girl in his studio.

Also, Nepal has a large caste system with more than 36 castes. Every caste actually has its own art trade. I’m Newari, and our caste is known for jobs in architecture, sculpting, painting, woodcarving, pottery making, metal work, etc. So maybe there is a larger historical element attracting me to this field

Finally, I think transitioning careers and cities in early motherhood really inspired me to believe in my creative talent and make it into a business.

I love how motherhood propelled you into your launch. Can you talk more about how you managed to do it?

As I mentioned, I went back to school at UAB to get my MBA. And from there, I focused on making a few pieces that represented my home and me well. I launched my jewelry line in 2005 with the idea of making “one-of-a-kind” pieces. My jewelry has a lot of different techniques involved in creating inlay fusion with stones of various shapes and designs from different places. Sometimes, I also design custom jewelry for my clients or vendors who have unique design needs.

Because I’m a designer and creator of Handweave, I can draw on my background as an artist, meditator, healer, and lover of the natural world to express spirit through my work in order to share it with others.

To my surprise, people here love my work! Birmingham has been a really friendly market. I kept selling out of my signature designs and had a lot of requests for custom work. I’ve explored west coast markets, but they’re so crowded. I have a unique opportunity in Birmingham to really share my design and culture with the people here.

You source all of your stones from Nepal. Your pieces are so special – literally handpicked from your ancestral home. How often do you go home to source materials? Where do the stones come from?

Yes. I actually have pieces in a gallery in Nepal, too, and hire people locally to source the stones. I want my work to always go back to supporting the people of Nepal. So, I hire locally, and I go at least three times a year to work with the team that helps with the gallery and sources materials.

Nepal is very rich in mines and minerals. Our majestic mountains are the mines of gemstones. Precious gemstones like ruby, diamond, aquamarine, emerald, sapphire, kyanite, tourmaline, jade, jasper, crystals, etc. are sourced in the mountains and river banks of Nepal.

Can you give us a snapshot of your creative process?

Once we know what stones we’re working with, I can push my design toward those materials.

First, I draw them, and then I put things in strips and solder, polishing and finishing. We do filigree as well, but I only have limited pieces, and they sell really quickly.

My ideas take time. And they require different cuts and designs. The stones are really large and take all day to cut. It can also be hard to get the exact measurements right from such a long distance.

That’s why I travel to Nepal three times a year. Sometimes I make and leave sample pieces so they can see exactly what I envision. More recently, I’ve started focusing on simple pieces that I can produce locally without Nepalese stones – that way, I can always produce something to my specifications and timeline.

What’s your design calendar?

I design about five to six new things annually and keep my signature designs in rotation.

Your designs are dynamic – old meets new, east meets west. What inspired you to move in this direction in your design? Do you find American customers have notably different tastes than Nepalese customers?

Absolutely! 100%. Ironically, my eastern customers want a western look, and my western customers want an eastern look. In fact, I hardly sell any of my signature designs in Nepal. Those are made almost exclusively for American customers.

One thing that I’ve seen shift in the American market is the familiarity with yoga and meditation. I think that has given people a better understanding, or at least a common starting point, to some of my work. That has definitely changed since I started making these designs in 2005.

What’s your dream for Handweave Decor?

I really want to open a store or gallery. Now that my children are grown, I feel more able and ready to open a store, or maybe a gallery, to showcase my work along with other people’s work. I would really enjoy the separation of home and work and love the idea of having a central place for people to come who are looking for great design.

And for all the readers out there who now want an Edina piece of their own… where can they get it?

They can contact me directly through my website. I just have a few pieces on my website, but I do respond to people who send a direct message. I also attend festivals and markets like Kentuck Art Festival, Bluff Park Holiday Market, Magic City Art Connection, and Moss Rock Festival. I do a lot of custom work too. And I have a few pieces at Evolve in Homewood.

Well, lucky for me, I can pick a few out today. Edina, before we sign off, anything else you’d like to add?

Only that my design is inspired by my culture. We are deeply spiritual people, and I can see myself in every customer.