Black creators are setting the trends, moving the needle and informing where the worlds of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle are headed. In our series, Shop Black, we talk to entrepreneurs about their journeys, their brands and the realities of being Black business owners. Through ‘Shop Black’ you’ll be introduced to some game-changing style stars and have the opportunity to shop and support their work.
The literal meaning of Lingua Nigra is “black hairy tongue” and that quirky name informs the eccentric sculptural jewelry brand Alicia Goodwin is watching bloom after launching in 2003. Based in Chicago, Goodwin’s gold and silver handcrafted earrings, necklaces, rings, and bangles are conversation starters for sure. Alicia spoke to ESSENCE about her journey to full-time entrepreneurship, what it means to be a Black woman in the jewelry space and her favorite pieces right now.
Describe your journey to Lingua Nigra:
I’ve been creating jewelry since I was a child, but didn’t think of it as a “real thing” until I switched my major from Fashion Design to Jewelry Design while I was at The Fashion Institute of Technology. After I graduated from F.I.T., I worked for a lot of different jewelers, all the while learning and working at home on my own thing. One day my boss’s sales rep at the time landed me an order for a store in Japan. From then on, strangers on the street were requesting to purchase my bracelets because I wore them all the time. I realized I had a small group of work ready to sell. I started off really slowly, very slowly, but after over a decade and with social media, I feel like the brand is finally gaining steam.
Describe Lingua Nigra with a song title:
“Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing” – Stevie Wonder (this got me through 2 evictions during college and a whole lot of other things!)
“Psycho Killer” – Talking Heads (how I sometimes feel about shows and deadlines )
“Live in the Light” – Fertile Ground (a forever jam)
What has been your biggest victory as a Black woman entrepreneur thus far?
Honestly, making a profit and being able to pay my rent and bills is pretty huge — but having my work displayed and sold at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is pretty great.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of your career?
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, you aren’t taken seriously. When you add on having brown skin, no one thinks your work is even good. I’ve gotten my share of “Oh, you made that?” or “Oh, you do make jewelry!”, as if I was just playing around. Another challenging aspect is just finding time and money to do it all and do everything well. I only have a small budget for developing new things, so I have to use it wisely.
Advice to aspiring jewelers?
Focus on being skilled at one thing and do it well.
Be nice to other jewelers, especially black ones, there aren’t a lot of us around.
Learn — work for another designer, just don’t get “inspired” by their style. Work at big companies. Learn how to run and not run a company.
Don’t go crazy with expensive materials. I wasn’t able to afford silver in college and had to experiment with nickel silver and brass, which ended up being my favorite metal to work in.
Who or what has been your biggest creative inspiration?
Honestly, nature is my biggest inspiration. I have a thing with beetles. They are positively the most beautiful group of living beings in the universe. I mean, we have yet to classify all of them and we never will.
Shop her favorite pieces below!
I love how the ‘Shower of Faith’ earrings look on everyone. They aren’t too big or too small and they are just funky for all.
I currently am wearing extension twists in my hair and love, love, love wearing my ‘Frame of Rays’ hair adornments! It’s jewelry for your hair and I’m not kidding when I say I get compliments all the time and constantly have people want to try them in their own hair.
When I came across dentalium shells at a shop in Seattle a year back, I knew I had to find a way to incorporate this into my line. I came up with the ‘Lost Hope’ earring, lightweight and just different from other “simple” jewelry out there.
Beetles and other gentle bugs have always been a part of my life and I create really fun jewelry incorporating my work with the beautiful green of the beetle wings. The ‘I Can See the Light’ earrings are a bigger hit than I thought they would be. I can’t keep them in stock and try to make as many as I can, because when I sell in person, they usually sell out in an hour!