Up on the Mountain | A Topanga Visit with Alkemie Jewelry
Having the opportunity to visit the beautifully serene Topanga nest of Dara and Ashley, the dynamic duo behind the nature-inspired jewelry line Alkemie, was such a dream. Their stunning jewelry line evokes such a profound love and respect for the natural world, so it was beautiful to discover their spirits perfectly align with their work.
How long has Alkemie been alive and making beautiful pieces?
About eight or nine years. Originally, we were working with this guy Robert from the Melrose Flea Market. He took non-conflict bullet casings from shooting ranges and melted them and cast off of that. So our first collection was called Ammunition Art, before it was Alkemie. We wondered how can we re-invent what we were already doing separately, which was making jewelry, but how could we do it in a way that where there is consciousness around resources? That we are not just mining fresh metals all the time.
There’s certainly enough metals in the world…
Absolutely. Our first Alkemie casting happened accidentally when we laid a stingray skin across the ammunition metal. That was our first cuff. It’s still my favorite piece.
So you used an actual stingray skin?
Yep. We laid it across the wax and made a cuff. We both looked at it and knew that we just had something. At that time, we had separate lines. Ashley’s line was leather work and casting, he was very rock and roll. He was the leather to my lace, as my girlfriends used to say. I (Dara) was using gemstones and golds. I was selling at Barney’s and Neiman and Saks, and I had like 200 pages of press for my line. Then, one day, I had a meeting with a man who was a teacher at the Gemological Institute of America, and he told me how gemstones were harvested, how they’re irradiated and how much damage is done to the planet along the way. Before I was designing jewelry, I was a pre-school teacher, and, for me, the safety of children is everything. When I found out that kids are carrying machine guns and machetes at work to get these gemstones I just felt like I was done. I felt like I lost my mojo quickly, and once that mojo goes, once that creativity goes…Barney’s stops calling to place orders. I had a young daughter at the time, and it was actually my brother who told me that I needed to do something that made me feel good, something that didn’t hurt the planet, something that already exists in the world and make art out of it.
That’s one thing I love about your line – the use of reclaimed metals.
Flash forward and we’ve designed this whole collection. We went back to our bullet casing guy and said ‘we have a line; we are going to New York and doing a trade show, and we mean business’. He says ‘okay, great.’ We came back from New York with 45 orders, and he looked at us like ‘I can’t do that, I don’t want any part of this.’ So we went around downtown trying to find a metalsmith to work with and everyone was like no, no, no we don’t want to touch that stuff. Nobody wanted to touch non-conflict bullet casings because there could still be gun powder residue. It was really important to us then, and still absolutely is, that everything be made in the USA, using 100% reclaimed-recycled metals. Our metal consists of Copper, Sterling and Zinc. We repurpose old materials—electrical wires, old coins, printing press metals, and we melt it.
How did you come to that?
Necessity. It’s really hard as jewelry designers to demonstrate you’re against war, so our statement against war was you could use this same metal and kill an animal or a person or you could make art out of it. That was our tag line underneath Ammunition Art. Eventually, we found this other factory that was doing this blend, and I really do want to give them the credit on that. It was really her that found this blend of metals that we use to this day. We’d already gotten so much press about being green, as pioneers of doing this, so we knew we had to stay green. We couldn’t abandon that.
Yeah it would be difficult to diverge from brand…
It was really important to stay true to ourselves. We ended up having to change factories from the woman that taught us our blend, and I (Ashley) had to go downtown and knock on every door, floor by floor. I thought we were done, finished. It was the end of the day, and it was the last door, top floor. As I was coming out of the elevator, this man was standing there and said ‘Can I help you?’ and I said ‘I hope so.’ He’s been our life-saver; we’ve worked with him ever since then.
Everything in our line is hand-done. We make the chains, link by link, all hand-cast piece by piece. Fortunately, it’s all worked out. In addition to being sustainable, we wanted it to stay here. We have been working with him for four years or so. He’s been our savior, and we like keeping the business completely in LA.
We’ve had so many people say to us over the years, well, if you were making these things in China you could be making so much more money. But, you know, we are not that greedy. We make a good living, and no one should have to be suffering to make our stuff. We believe in trying to spread good energy, and I’m not going to capitalize off of other people’s suffering to make someone else feel good by wearing a piece of our jewelry. We look at ourselves as a feel good brand.
Do you have any daily rituals that you do that inspire you and ground you before you come to the work table to start creating?
I do (Dara). I have three decks of cards that I draw from, and I’ve been pulling from these decks since I was 18. So I feel like these are my special decks. One is the Medicine Woman deck, one is the Power Path deck, and the last one is of course the Animal Medicine Cards. And I pull from these decks religiously every day. I ask my guides to give me wisdom to get me through the day. That has been my ritual since I was 18. And then I like to smudge. I’m a big smudger. And new and full moon rituals, too. That’s always been really important to our girls, that’s been their thing. Sage, my oldest, has been doing circles with me for awhile, and Sophie, our youngest, is really in tune with her spirit guides, too, from a really young age. She’s like a little medicine woman. (to Ashley) What about you, babe? What would you say your rituals are?
I watch you pull cards. She’s pulled me a bit into that world. I’ve always had a sense of intuition, but Dara’s really brought me into that spiritual world. We are not religious people by any means. We are deeply spiritual. For our kids, if we do things it’s about tradition. Our family always gathers at the table for dinner, so we have at least one moment of the day to connect. We wanted to move to Topanga to connect them to nature, being in this realm, in these surroundings. We try our best to keep our kids out in nature.
(Dara) I mean I’m nature all the way. I am a fish out of water in the city. I trust the hawks; I trust the coyotes way more than I trust humans most of the time. I think our aesthetic really pays tribute to that. We are four miles from the beach, so we have all of that right here— starfish, coyotes, hawks.
Would you say that Topanga Canyon in some ways serves as another designer and collaborator for your brand, Alkemie?
Absolutely. 100 %. Without a doubt. We pay tribute to our surroundings. I mean, we have this cuff…one day I was walking down the driveway, and Mother Earth literally left this leaf there for me. I put it around my wrist, and it fit perfectly. I slid it right on my wrist. I put it in a box and took it straight to our factory. It’s called the Topanga Leaf Cuff. We get so much inspiration from being here. I would definitely give Topanga props for being the third wheel in Alkemie.
I mean Mother Nature is always the best designer. So we are just honoring Her.
Chatting with Dara and Ashley flew by with homemade kombucha-fueled connections over our love of candles, music, sacred ceremony, and super-charged Selenite. I could have stayed up for many more hours, but by the time the sun began to set, I knew it was time to head down the mountain and back towards my home in the east. Driving home, playing back over the special moments this family had let me into, my heart was so full and incredibly grateful for the new-found friends, whose work has been so deeply inspirational in my life for so many years. All photos are by Taren Maroun.