Whilst the world of jewellery is traditionally solely associated with the aesthetics of luxury and elegance, Kiala Kanzi, owner of the jewellery brand Gemz, aims to intertwine this concept of adornment with storytelling and heritage. Inspired by her grandmother's jewellery box and the stories behind each piece, Kanzi discusses a brand that values individualism, community and representation. With a focus on natural hairstyles such as braids and locs, she aims to break down the stigma against these hairstyles in Western cultures by celebrating the beauty and culture of Black hair. Gemz aims to fill the gap in the market for high-quality hair jewellery that is both functional and aesthetic, while also maintaining sustainable and ethical production practices. As for Kanzi's long-term goals for Gemz, she simply says, “Just watch and see.”
Can you tell us more about your background and how you became interested in jewellery design?
I loved the jewel box of my grandmother. She used to tell me all the stories of the pieces, where she got them from and what they meant to her. I think I understood quite young that jewellery is more than just an accessory.
You are a multidisciplinary artist, how does that influence your approach to designing hair jewellery?
Hmm, I guess we can get inspired by a lot of things in life and not being put in a box while doing that makes you explore in all directions. And see more possibilities of expression.
You have worked with several high-profile artists, such as Jorja Smith, Bad Bunny, and Baloji. How has that experience impacted your creative process?
They're also just humans. I think the people that impact me most are my closest people, friends and family.
Can you tell us more about your experience as a goldsmith and how that informs your current work? How does your expertise in jewellery-making translate to the creation of hair adornments?
Jewellery is not just rings necklaces and bracelets… It’s interesting to always push boundaries and see where you can develop something that feels new and refreshing.
You have mentioned that Gemz hair jewellery is designed to last a lifetime. Can you talk more about the materials you use and how you ensure the durability and longevity of your products?
I work with silver gold and precious and semi-precious stones. In the same way an old Byzantine ring has survived all those centuries our Gemz can ‘survive.’
How does the brand approach customisation for individual clients? Can you share any examples of particularly unique or challenging requests that you've fulfilled?
We’re just getting started, and I love challenges so we’re ready for it all!
You also have said that Gemz is a brand that values individualism and community. How does that ethos translate into your business practices, and what steps do you take to foster a sense of community among your customers and supporters?
I don’t think that there is ever a plain strategy to build or foster community. We come from a community and that’s where we will go.
Also that Gemz is targeting middle-class and privileged individuals of all backgrounds with a focus on the African diaspora. How do you ensure that your products are accessible to people of all income levels, and how do you balance accessibility with luxury branding?
We are a luxurious brand. Our pieces are not part of fast fashion, they are meant to last a lifetime and provide the quality for that. And that has its price. Especially when it’s handmade in Europe.
Your hair jewellery is focused on natural hairstyles such as braids and locs, which have traditionally been stigmatised in Western cultures. Can you talk about the importance of representation in the hair jewellery industry?
The natural hair movement has been really strong these past years! I am not the first to make hair jewellery but with the times we're living in now, with the options given to us, the chances of finding a high-quality hair jewellery brand are close to zero. This will be our focus. Pieces that like the jewellery of my grandmother will have a meaning for you – that you wear for special occasions or on the every day and that you pass on to the next generation. A piece that empowers you and connects you to your heritage.
How does the brand approach sustainable and ethical production practices, and what steps do you take to ensure that your products are produced in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?
Everything is handmade, by me mostly and I have a team that takes on higher production numbers (all based between Berlin and Barcelona). I have been working with and in the past also for these people so we have a very close connection.
You mentioned that Gemz has identified a gap in the market for high-quality hair jewellery. How do you see the hair jewellery industry evolving in the future, and what role do you see Gemz playing in shaping that evolution?
We’re the trendsetters.
Can you talk more about your collaboration with Fily Mihan and how that partnership has influenced the creation of your products? What strengths do you each bring to the partnership, and how do you collaborate to create the unique designs of Gemz hair jewellery?
Fily is an incredible hair artist and we have been working together on a few projects already until we decided to join forces. It was all very natural and just made the most sense. She is an expert in everything that is hair, and our symbiosis is perfect as a basis to create pieces that are functional and aesthetic. She’s also way more organised than me, I could have never done this all by myself. we need our people.
What are your long-term goals for Gemz and how do you see the brand evolving over time?
Just watch and see.
As a designer, what inspires you and keeps you motivated to continue creating new and innovative pieces for your brand?
My daughter – she’s the future and I hope she will forever be proudly rocking Mama's Gemz.