Jessica Ilalaole left Hawaii at just 16 years old. Life on a little island in the middle of the Pacific can only hold so much adventure for a growing girl. Never having known anything but island life and starving to feed her passions and curiosities, Jessica said farewell to mom and dad and uprooted her life to Portland, Oregon. There she was introduced to a faster city pace and dove, head first, into its creative current.
With her new found freedom, Jessica pounced on the opportunity to unlock adventures that had not been available in her small island life. She began covering herself in tattoos, exploring on her motorcycle, and meeting people that were as interesting as the clothing and accessories they wore. She became more and more fascinated by vintage style. At the time, not knowing that something as small as a pair of earrings would make such a big impact on the direction of her path towards her successful, self-made jewelry collection, CobraCult.
“I had bought a pair of vintage earrings that brought me such happiness…until I lost one. I could not bring myself to throw out the heirloom quality one lonely stud I was left with. So, I decided to make a replacement. From that moment on, friends started asking me to make them pieces and I was thrilled. I was having fun and bringing in some extra income, but I wanted to do more. So, I took my first metalsmith class and quickly decided to pursue jewelry making full-time.”
Jessica felt like the noise of the city was not the setting she needed to begin this venture. Knowing that in order to produce her best work, she would need to reconnect with the raw nature of her roots. She decided to move to a setting that could fuel her creative direction.
“I quit my job, broke up with my boyfriend, left Portland, and moved into a cabin in Hayfork, California where I have made jewelry for the last nine years. Not one single regret about it. I’ve never felt a stronger connection to nature than in this place. I’ve got the coast on one side, Redwoods on the other, and the mountains and I are in the middle.”
For Jessica, it’s the perfect place to tether herself to the familiar wonders of nature she once played in as a child; without returning to the isolation of an island in the Pacific. She harnesses the passion she feels in this place to produce pieces of jewelry so special, that they will be able to be passed down and enjoyed for years to come. Just like an antique.
“When I was digging around through an antique shop just this morning I began to contemplate how all these treasures were made by hand, with intent. Everything was meant to last a lifetime and that’s what I am out to accomplish with CobraCult. I am not about creating pieces that are just some fleeting fashion trend. I want you to pass my jewelry down like heirlooms.
To attain that long lasting quality she is looking for, Jessica leans heavily on the social community of Instagram to purchase American mined turquoise from New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona to compliment her collections.
“I purchase these certified American mined stones from the online jewelry community of stonecutters because it’s the only way to access these incredible stones from where I live. Although it is nice when I do travel around the West to pick up some stones along the trail. When it is time to begin a piece, I examine the stone first. It speaks to me. Then I find the best way to show it off in a frame of sterling silver.”
When she is ready to go into her creative zone, she walks into her cabin workshop and meditates on the pieces. The entire place is reflective of her nature and animal influences. Deer graze in the shade of the cabin, her hammock stretches out welcomingly between two towering pines, water splashes over rocks in the stream beside her, and the mountains reach the highest peaks over yonder. She tends to the flame of her wood burning stove, and gets to work.
When she isn’t tucked away in her cabin, she spends her time on a horse ranch or rehabilitating wild birds.
“I’ve been working with the folks of the Shasta Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation Center to help injured hawks, owls, and eagles regain strength to fly again,” explains Jessica. “I wasn’t introduced to these birds living in Hawaii and now I am obsessed. The power and focus in big birds like eagles is relatable to me. In my next life I’d like to be one. I’m wildly connected to birds which is why I often feature them in my designs.”
To all the folks out there worried if their passion won’t feed them and keep the bill collectors off their case. Jessica has this to say:
“Look, I never saw this picture for my life. I started this journey without trying and everything as fallen into play so beautifully. Believe in your craft and never lose your curiosity. Feed your happiness and starve your fears. The world needs more passionate people who aren’t afraid to fly.”
What artisans do you admire? Do you make something unique like Jessica? Tell us about it in the comments below
Check out Two Lanes by Mike Wolfe. American-Made adventure brand for this double-sided off-white graphic tee inspired by a vintage shirt Mike found.