I’m a born and bred Tulsan rediscovering my birthplace after working abroad. I started making jewelry in college, but only started selling seriously after a woman offered to buy a necklace that I happened to be wearing. She was so pleased, and I thought, I’d like to make a lot more people that happy. Now that I’m back in the heartland I want to use my business as a way to connect to people, to enrich and be enriched by the community into which I’ve returned.
The name Petunkalunka is a Carib term of endearment, like “pumpkin” or “sweet patootie.” My Trinidadian father has called me petunkalunka for as long as I remember. It never fails to confuse the reader. I thought about changing it in order to sound more sophisticated, but I like it too much.
What do you create and what do YOU love about your products?
I make beaded jewelry. Jewelry can make or break an outfit, and as someone who wears a lot of solid colors I usually rely on my accessories to make a fashion statement. I’m also fresh from a four-year stint in Japan. That means I speak in passive voice a lot, and that in some ways my designs are a reaction to the strict workplace dress codes I saw there (so much nude pantyhose. So, so much). I love the combination of boldness and simplicity of my finished product, and that they can say “Look at me!” without overpowering an outfit. Basically, my designs are for the professional with a silly streak.
There are a lot of people making beaded accessories these days; it isn’t particularly difficult to get started. I try to make sure that my materials are high quality and that I’m not making anything you could find at a shop in the mall. When is the last time you wore hand-etched sea glass from the Seito Inland Sea, or a bib necklace that looked like a watermelon?
Where do you find inspiration?
Firstly from my mostly monotone wardrobe. I’ll make a piece to compliment a plain black dress or solid T-shirt and wear it as a test. If someone compliments my accessories, I make another in a different color combination. If no one comments I’ll adjust it or tear it up. I’m my own guinea pig.
Secondly and more importantly, I was blessed to know creative people in Japan. Artists, cartoonists, designers, fashionistas—it was tough not to be inspired in some way. I feel that my design aesthetic matured a lot thanks to the friends who encouraged me to try something new, and then let me know what worked and what didn’t.
All the collections on my site now were born from a conversation. “I really like that,” someone would say, “but I’d want it in more wintery colors.” Or, “If you did that, but slightly less symmetric, I would totally buy it.” “Don’t throw it away; you could drill a hole in the sea glass and put it on a necklace.” Some days that’s frustrating, to feel like my original designs aren’t good enough as is, but it pales in comparison to the satisfaction of a perfected product. Maybe that's why most of my sales come from offline custom work. Custom orders are my favorite, because I know that I’m providing something that the customer really wants, and allowing them to put a little of themselves into the design.
This was a hard decision, but ultimately I settled on Thanksgiving. If every day we made a focused effort to remember what we should be grateful for, I imagine we’d be a lot less cranky. Daily feasting would be pretty great, too.
If you could create your own holiday, what would it be and why?
Dancing in the Streets Day! It might be known colloquially as No Shame Day. For just one day, we would all move the way the music takes us, and no one would judge. This holiday would have worked better before YouTube.
Christmas music, hands down. There are two professional pianists, a semi-pro violinist, and a former music educator in my immediate family, so we take our holiday tunes very seriously. My family always starts playing it the day after Thanksgiving, when we stay home and put up decorations. What makes it wonderful is that it’s something to anticipate each year, and everyone can get into. I think the best music ever written was all written about or for Christmas. I challenge all naysayers to a round of fisticuffs. For the record, I have a black belt in aikido. Feel free to just agree with me.
How would you describe your work in three words?
Bold. Elegant. Sassypants.