PHS graduate and former teacher now making jewelry

Special to the GatewayApril 30, 2014 

International travel inspires Tiffani Wetherbee’s jewelry designs.

PHOTO BY TEDD WETHERBEE

With the launch of her jewelry line, Tiffani Wetherbee has turned international influences into tangible accessories. As far as Wetherbee is concerned, it is a small world.

The Peninsula High School graduate has spent most of her life living abroad. She spent 20 years in Nigeria, another four Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and her passport boasts stamps from 40 countries. At each exotic destination, Wetherbee found jewels of inspiration. From the gold bangles of Greece to the Maasai’s beadwork in Kenya, Wetherbee’s products are influenced by the world’s most unusual art.

“I remember visiting the markets with my mom,” she said. “My eyes were opened to the beautiful fabrics and the silver and semi-precious stones that were used by artists from all over the area.”

Wetherbee’s jewelry is a fusion of cultures that she strings together in a line dubbed Abeja — the Spanish word for bees.

“I chose the bee to symbolize this jewelry line because bees are the connectors of the world,” she said.

Wetherbee is a former elementary school teacher. She spent 11 years teaching in Lagos, Nigeria, at the American International School. In her spare time, she cultivated her artistic talents through painting and photography. She was also the lead singer for several bands in Lagos.

While living in Mexico in 2007, Wetherbee began to pursue her interest in jewelry making. Going from the vision in her head to a hard piece of bling wasn’t easy. In the beginning, Wetherbee crafted her pieces by hand with supplies purchased online or at trade shows. As the years passed, her ideas developed. By 2012, she knew it was time to start producing her goods on a larger scale. The process of finding a supplier took a tedious six months. With the help of her friend, Los Angeles-based dress designer Ticci Tonetto, Wetherbee found a manufacturing contact in Bali.

Today, Wetherbee still draws her designs by hand. She then emails the designs, along with specifications, to Bali for production.

Bloom, a local clothing boutique, started selling the Abeja jewelry line last year. Maria Miskoski, owner of Bloom, enjoys supporting local artists. In this case, she said, the pieces are gorgeous and they sell really well.

Tickled Pink, a gift shop in downtown Gig Harbor, will begin selling Wetherbee’s second line, How Does Your Garden Grow, in May.

“We buy so many products from all over, it’s fun to support a budding local entrepreneur,” said Michele Henery, Tickled Pink owner. Henery, who has been in the retail industry since 2005, is assisting Wetherbee on the business side. From her experience, Henery believes this jewelry makes the perfect gift.

“The pieces are personal and timeless,” she said.

As Wetherbee’s success grows, she plans to funnel some of her profits back to Nigeria through the charity Kinabuti.

“I feel like I should be giving back to the place that enriched my life so much,” she said.

The dream of jewelry making has been a long quest, but Wetherbee persistently worked through the obstacles.

“I believe we can pretty much make our dreams come true, we just have to put them out there. And be patient.”

Where to find it

Bloom, in Uptown, 4779 Pt. Fosdick Dr. NW

Jewelry Trunk Show, May 2, 2-8 p.m.

Tickled Pink, 3026 Harborview Dr. NW

Girls Night Out Event, May 9

www.abejadesign.com

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