For 52 years the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers
(NAFAD) has been working to focus the attention of the fashion industry on
the creative contributions of its member designers. Founded by Mary McLeod
Bethune and Jeanetta Welsh Brown (now in her 90s and living in Ohio), NAFAD
remains the only African-American fashion association in the country. July
16-20, 2001 African-American milliners as well as jewelry and clothing
designers will join their colleagues in all areas of fashion for "Artistry in
Fashion," NAFAD's 52nd National Conference at the Wyndham Washington Hotel
(1400 M Street, NW).
Scheduled activities for the five-day event will include discussion sessions
to explore economic issues as well as marketing and creative opportunities
for these artists. The public will be able to take advantage of workshops and
hands on demonstrations in fabric weaving, decoupage, making buttons from
clay and a whole host of creative endeavors. Then on Saturday, July 21 at 1
p.m. an awards fashion show will be held to showcase and honor original
designs by NAFAD members.
Jewelry designer Elena Crusoe has been a member of NAFAD for four years. "I
became a member because I was looking for an avenue where I could expose my
work and have camaraderie with other creative people. I was also attracted by
the association's rich history," Crusoe told Metro Connection.
At Elena Design Studio, nestled in a quaint professional plaza within walking
distance of the Silver Spring metro station, this artist creates one of a
kind designs. When we visited we were drawn to her collection elegantly
displayed in glass cases and on golden statuettes. In the back room, where
the jewelry is conceived and created, there were hundreds of rows of boxes
full of a variety of semi-precious and natural materials such as amber,
turquoise, onyx, fossilized ivory, bone, horn, pearls, wood, sliver and other
metals gathered from resources around the world. Crusoe's shapes and
hand-painted surfaces have become her signature style. Her earrings,
necklaces, bracelets and pins are recognized for their exquisite and durable
Crusoe, who comes from a large creative family, said she discovered her love
for jewelry while designing clothing with her sister Barbara. When she
couldn't find what she wanted to accessorize their fashions, she began
gathering materials to make her own unique pieces. After four years and
increasing interest in her accessories, she stopped sewing and concentrated
on finding interesting materials for her expanding jewelry collection. "When
I discovered jewelry I dropped fashion like a hot potato. I was surprised as
anyone else but jewelry took a hold of me and I knew this was what I had to
do," Crusoe exclaimed. "I do it for the love of being creative. I couldn't
find it, so I made it and everybody loved it."
Crusoe developed the business, using personal funds and investing the money
that came in back into the business. "I saved all of my money for a year
before leaving my job, but it has been a constant struggle." Crusoe said she
has had problems drumming up business in the African-American community and
is not sure why. "African-American women love my work, but are not my biggest
consumers." While many of her designs have an Afrocentric flair, Crusoe's
work also has cross-over appeal. It is this that has sustained her business
Another challenge, Crusoe explained is competing with the mass production of
imitation jewelry, or big companies that buy products in volume from third
world countries and sell them cheaply. Although it makes things harder,
Crusoe said she is not overly concerned. There is room enough for all
artisans, she believes. Neither does she fear duplication of her work and is
secure in the fact that her clientele appreciate that each piece of jewelry
she makes is uniquely and carefully crafted.
The fact that Crusoe is an African American has been an asset in the right
markets, she said. Her designs are available in specialty and accessory shops
around the country as well as in the Smithsonian's gift shops and Nordstrom's
department stores. "These large businesses must do diversity marketing and
give minorities and women-owned businesses a fair chance," she explained.
Crusoe's clients also include local and national celebrities. She encourages
her clientele to visit her workshop and choose from a vast array of beads,
stones, charms, trinkets and findings. They then may commission her to design
and produce special accents for their own wardrobes and tastes. "Opening my
own studio and showroom has been my greatest success," she said.
But Crusoe isn't content with that level of achievement; she wants to do
more. And more also means giving back to the community. She conducts
jewelry-making workshops in schools and summer camps and even initiated a
proposal to do a project at a home for battered women.
One of Crusoe's more ambition project is "Beads of Peace." She is the
facilitator for the project that will be launched in South Africa in 2002.
Sponsored through the International Peace Garden Foundation, the program is
designed to teach poor African women and youth the art of jewelry design so
that they can create business to help support themselves and their family.
The project will take advantage of local talent, resources and aesthetics but
the products will be created for an American market. The project extends
beyond the creation of jewelry, participants will be involved in the
promotion and marketing of the jewelry so that by project's end they have
learned the techniques required to sustain their business venture.
There is no doubt to Crusoe's commitment to this project's success. She
donates a portion of every jewelry she sells to help fund the project. Crusoe
said that after all her years in business, it is projects like these that
continue to inspire her.
For more information about NAFAD's 52nd National Conference, the "Beads of
Peace" project or Elena Design Studio call 301-588-8574 or email