Last year, 43-year-old Dru Chackee was homeless, beading bracelets to sell to tourists in Tohajiilee, New Mexico, a community that currently has an unemployment rate above70 percent. As each day grew to a close, Chackee, who has been beading since she was 13, would lower her prices from $25 to $10 per bracelet, simply to come away with "something." This year, however, Chackee is one of three Native American artisans beading luxury bracelets for a newly launched jewelry and social enterprise called Etkie, which brings marketing, sales, and financial resources to talented—but often underemployed—female beaders across New Mexico.
Stocked in high-end boutiques like Colette in Paris and Alchemy Works in Los Angeles, each Etkie piece, priced between $168 and $595, can take up to eight hours to make. With an estimated 30 percent of American Indians identifying as practicing artists (and one in four living below the poverty line), Etkie is the first jewelry brand to bring their specialized skills to the mass market.
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