With the launch of her jewelry line, Tiffani Wetherbee has turned her international inspirations into tangible accessories. As far as Tiffani is concerned, it is — in fact — a small world. The word “foreign” is not in her vocabulary. This Gig Harbor, Wash., native has spent more time living out of the United States than in it. She lived in Nigeria, West Africa on and off for 20 years. Another four years were spent in the gorgeous Mexican coastal town of Zihuatanejo.
In addition to international living, she is also seasoned traveler with 40 countries stamped on her passport. Each exotic destination held jewels of inspiration for Tiffani — inspiration she now strings together in a jewelry line she dubs Abeja. Abeja is the Spanish word for bee. “I chose the bee to symbolize this jewelry line because bees are the connectors of the world,” Tiffani said. “Bees are a link, they create, and they have a mission.”
Like the bee, Tiffani is connecting cultures through her jewelry. Her pieces are a fusion of all the types of art she has experienced from her life of travel.
“I remember visiting the markets with my mother,” she said. “My eyes were opened to the beautiful fabrics and jewelry created by African artisans. Vibrant millefiori beads, elaborate brass castings, and incredible weavings and carvings were all a part of what my parents exposed me to. When we’d visit other destinations around the world, we always found a way to scope out local markets or places to discover the fabulous art, colorful textiles, or ornamental jewelry created and usually worn by the local people. These experiences are very important pieces of the puzzle that define my style and who I am. I owe so much to my parents for cultivating that appreciation of the beauty in the differences of cultures. They are the ones who taught me at an early age that we are all very connected as humans. We all love, we all share, we all appreciate beauty.”
In addition to being raised for several years in Lagos, Nigeria, Tiffani made the decision to return as a young adult to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher at the American International School in Lagos. She ended up spending eleven more years there. In her spare time, she developed her artistic talents through painting, photography, and music. She collaborated with people in the Nigerian art world, holding exhibitions of her work in photography and paintings, working with Nigerian fashion designers, as well as collaborating with several African musicians.
She finally settled on jewelry making as her main artistic expression when her children were small. She sold her first pieces in 2008 and has continued to strengthen her line. With the collaboration and encouragement of the L.A. based fashion designer and dear friend Ticci Toneto, Abeja’s first pieces were born. Now the large majority of the Abeja jewelry is first designed in house by Tiffani, then sent to Bali, Indonesia or Taxco, Mexico for production. The artisans and metalsmiths work with Tiffani very closely during the production process, insuring the quality is kept at a very high standard. Also important are the lives of those artisans, and Tiffani has chosen to work with groups that can guarantee that the people she hires to produce her jewelry have good working conditions and receive fair wages.