Turning discarded jewelry into fashion treasures: Interview with Luz Barbosa, founder of upcycled jewelry brand Stella Lucchi
You know the broken, tarnished pieces of jewelry that you’ve had lying around for ages? Or the costume jewelry you bought for that one occasion and don’t really wear anymore? Luz Barbosa would put them to good use. What started out as a hobby became Stella Lucchi, an upcycled jewelry brand based in New York City. I caught up with Luz to chat about her story and her dreams for the future of sustainable jewelry in the Big Apple. Here is a summary of our conversation:
Lovely to meet you, Luz! How did you start out making upcycled jewelry?
It all started in 2011, when I was in a rough period of my life. I was laid off from my job after 14 years of service, left an abusive relationship and was finding sobriety all at the same time. Financially I was able to take some time off and I got bored, so I started taking free jewelry-making classes at the public library and ended up falling in love with it.
How did you end up turning your hobby into a business?
I was driving one day and the woman next to me at a spotlight honked and asked where I got the bracelet I was wearing [pictured below]. I said I made it! I took an inexpensive cuff that was gifted to me, removed a huge metal flower that it had and embellished it with vintage buttons from a thrift store. The woman yelled “you’re going to be a great jewelry designer!” and drove off. I had never considered the idea of turning my hobby into a business before, but that got me thinking. I launched Luchie’s Creations, the predecessor to Stella Lucchi, shortly after that.
What materials do you use? How do you source them?
Almost anything can be upcycled into jewelry – beads, buttons, leather straps of broken sandals, even things like surgical supplies and silver cutlery! One of my favourite pieces is a necklace that I made using donated beads, pieces of a chandelier, and some chains and clasps from other broken necklaces [pictured below].
A lot of the materials I use are unwanted or broken jewelry gifted to me by friends, colleagues, thrift store owners, consignment store owners, and random people who respond to my ads on Craigslist or Freecycle. The response has actually been quite incredible – women living in wealthier parts of New York leave amazing stuff with their doormen for me. I’ve very rarely had to purchase any materials.
What do you do with donated jewelry that’s oxidized (tarnished)?
I do my best to keep it out of the landfill. There are ways to clean it and coat it with special sprays or clear nail polish to prevent the metal from tarnishing again. Those materials are not very healthy, however, and I’m looking for more eco-friendly alternatives. I do what I can.
Tell me more about your upcycled jewelry workshops.
It’s a “crafts for healing” initiative that I used to raise funds for an organization that works with domestic violence survivors. In the future I would like to partner with a community organization to continue these workshops. My ultimate dream is to create a hub similar to FabScrap but for jewelry instead of fabric. It’d be a place where people can drop off their unwanted or broken pieces, volunteers can come and sort them and take jewelry parts for their projects in exchange for their time, and people can attend and host jewelry-making workshops. It would also be a place to showcase pieces to inspire people to make the most of the materials we already have. One day!