Akiko Eisner-Waters was not expecting the notes. When she found the two pieces of white paper taped to the door of her new Central District lifestyle shop CURA last Sunday morning, barely 12 hours had passed since the official opening celebration the evening before. The store had been open for about a week.
“Gentrification,” spell red letters on one of the sheets of paper. “The displacement of Black and Brown urban residents by more affluent whites — is a function of the same forces that emptied the cities of much of their white populations, generations ago: the movement of capital. Capital wants the cities back, and clears spaces for whites,” it reads in black letters below.
Another page outlines, in bullet points, the insidious racism and imperialism embedded in cultural appropriation. Two examples, “wearing jewelry or fashion with religious symbols” and “copying iconography from another’s culture history,” are made bold, a finger pointed to the woven baskets, beadwork jewelry and colorful clothes in CURA’s display window.
“It was upsetting,” says Eisner-Waters. “Like: Do your homework, people. I’m a woman; I’m a minority. I’m trying to do something consciously here.”
With “a little consciously,” Eisner-Waters means that “your dollar matters: How you spend your money is a political statement.” That’s why she doesn’t call her new fashion, jewelry, and home goods store slash gallery, sandwiched between cannabis shop Ponder and what’s soon to be a cookie shop, just “a store.”
“It’s a curated, conscious lifestyle brand,” she says. “What I want to do is find an intersection of artistry and equity.”
What this means is this: The beaded wooden spoons, pastel rugs or oven trays don’t merely look good. The stories behind them are supposed to make you feel good as well. That’s why Eisner-Waters says she only works with artisans in countries in the so-called Global South, such as Cape Town-based hand-made jewelry brand Pichulik or Fair Anita, an organization that employs women across the developing world through jewelry making; as well as women-led organizations in the US, such as US skincare brands Under Aurora and Noto Botanics, Cape Town-based hand-made jewelry brand Pichulik or Fair Anita, an organization that employs women across the developing world through jewelry making.
For 15 years, Eisner-Waters worked (on and off) for Seattle-based fashion and lifestyle brand Tommy Bahama, most recently as the head designer of women’s wear. “Coming from the corporate world, I’m ready to work directly with human beings, and I want to tell their stories,” she says. “I’m ready to get intimate.”
After leaving her job, she left for Mexico with her family. She rented a home on the beach, enrolled her son in school and, while her husband worked remotely from home, traveled around the country to meet with artisans in Chiapas, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, and Guadalajara. Today, these artisans execute the design ideas for jewelry, tapestries, and clothing she sends them through WhatsApp.
“Cultural appropriation is on my mind a lot as I am working directly with artists and artisans in Mexico,” Eisner-Waters says, in response to the two notes she found on her door, now lying on her shop counter. “But what I’m trying to do is celebrate their craft and bring it to a market, create sustainable jobs. I think cultural appropriation leans more towards the taking of a concept from another culture, and claiming it as your own, versus celebrating and discussing the talent across the world.”
Still, there’s something to be said about the gentrification note. In recent years, along with resident, Black-owned businesses have been pushed out of the neighborhood. CURA’s website proudly states that social impact is put before all else. What about local social impact, then?
“Am I fully aware yet of what kind of impact I can make? No. I just moved in,” Eisner-Waters says. “Am I planning on being a part of the conversation? Absolutely.”
Opening the store in the CD was an obvious choice, she says: “I’ve always lived on the South Side in Seattle, and I love it. There’s a level of authenticity here.This is the last neighborhood in Seattle that hasn’t been overcome by tech.”
“However, I do think that the CD has learned a lot from the gentrification of the other neighborhoods in Seattle. I think that what’s going to happen here is going to be a lot more thoughtful. Africatown Association is vocal about the businesses that are coming in here.”
Though she has a sublease, Eisner-Waters says she’ll probably stay here. She hopes to expand the concept at some point. Meanwhile, she is working on launching a clothing collection, which will be made in Seattle by the Refugee Artisan Initiative, a Seattle-based organization that employs immigrant and refugee women to sew clothing and make jewelry. “I thought I’d take a little break from apparel,” she says, “but I can’t help myself.”
Cura is open in the Stencil Building at 24th and Union Wednesdays through Fridays, 12 to 5:45, Saturdays and Sundays 11.30 to 6 PM. You can learn more at thecuraco.com.
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