We first came across Jess Sanchez’s creations at the A Home Run pop-up last year. We were instantly drawn to a certain mystique about Jess and her jewelry, something inherently special. Wanting to know more, we traveled to the East End to see the new Santa Isla winter collection and hear about her community focused beading practice.

Can you tell me a bit about your artistic background? How did you get into jewelry making?

Gimp was a game changer for me. I went from wearing no jewelry to embellishing both forearms and ankles with gimp bracelets – the glow-in-the-dark ones were my favorite. My obsession with jewelry grew as I did, but I never had any formal training until 2012 when I began interning with a goldsmith in Colombia. I would go into the studio everyday for fun but then, through that, discovered my path.

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Santa Isla works in close collaboration with the Embera-Chami peoples of Colombia. When did you first make that connection?

I took a yearlong sabbatical and stayed with my parents in Colombia.  Two months in I went to a small town called Salento – it’s one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen. I was walking around town when I saw two women selling jewelry and I almost lost my mind when I saw their work. They didn’t speak much Spanish but I did find out who they were and where they came from. I never thought I would end up working with the Embera Chamí then, but I did feel something special, magical even.

What does that working relationship mean for both sides?

Santa Isla is my creative outlet and refuge. It represents my passion for jewelry, my culture, and working with beautiful people. I hope to showcase the Embera culture and craftsmanship to as many people as possible. For the group of artisans I work with, it means that they can earn a living doing what they love. They really like that their art is being worn by people outside of their community. It makes them feel very proud.

How does the process break down between you and the Embera people?

I design the colour patterns/styles and then I present it to my production manager, Jesus. We have Skype calls to discuss prices, hours, and if any modifications are needed. Truth is they are wizards with a needle – they can make anything! Jesus sends me pictures of the progress of each piece and I approve it or work through revisions.

What is the significance of beadwork to that culture, and to you personally?

The Embera Chamí people believe that women bear the weight of the world on their shoulders. These pieces are made to adorn the life we carry around our necks. I adopted that belief as my own.

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When we last met I remember you were interested in learning to silversmith. Is that still in the works?

Absolutely! As of now I’m designing more silver pieces, I hope to incorporate more silver pieces into each collection. I’ll be debuting some in my newest collection on December 13 at the OCAD Student Art Gallery Pop Up alongside Miracle Thieves. The event is called Forever And A Day. More details to come but save the date!

Find out more and connect with Santa Isla:

Website: santaisla.com