By Nikki Williams
No offense to TIME magazine, but for us, 2021 belonged to the socially and environmentally conscious Caribbean woman.
It’s a label that aptly fits Jamaican jeweler and artist Kristie Stephenson, whose hand-crafted, 100% sustainable jewelry line, Story & Myth, is now in its ninth year of operations.
The description also matches Bajan Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who, not surprisingly, in late 2021 sported Story & Myth mask chains during a flurry of international, diplomatic events.
PM Mottley – who was appointed Champion of the Earth in 2021 by the United Nations (the world body’s highest environmental honor) – has spent years campaigning against pollution, climate change and deforestation, turning her small island nation into a regional frontrunner through tireless advocacy.
Regarded as a firebrand politician, PM Mottley drew applause with her impassioned speech at the most recent UN climate change conference, COP26, warning world leaders in her commanding contralto. Her remarks grabbed headlines around the globe, and Mottley’s global profile has been surging ever since.
A month prior, her chiding remarks to the UN General Assembly went viral, not least for invoking the Caribbean’s greatest icon, Bob Marley.
Her memorable speech was a call to action centering on sustainability and social responsibility.
PM Mottley also made quite the fashion statement in the last quarter of 2021, sporting a Story & Myth blessing bead mask chain during diplomatic appearances. From sheikhs to General Secretaries, Kristie Stephenson’s creations had arrived among the most powerful heads of state, at forums such as COP26, as well as the United Nations General Assembly.
Kristie, like PM Mottley, is a woman of passion and conviction, a visionary who invokes positive energy and upliftment. Though Kristie’s medium is creative, both ecocentric pioneers are concerned with an assertion of identity. To this end, they’ve each built their brands organically, through equal parts defined vision and gut instincts.
For Kristie, her Story & Myth line is about more than just beads – everything has an energy and a vibration. Job’s Tears, the line’s signature bead, grows by waterways and are recycled into the eco-friendly end products that drive her responsible business model. The seeds are of the earth and carry Mother Earth energy. Kristie harnesses these talismanic qualities, crafting jewelry that feels good to the wearer.
In a sense, Kristie is championing the Earth in her own right, while serving island-chic souls and arm-candy aficionados in the process.
Mixing these locally sourced, indigenous Job’s tears seeds with gemstones, charms and symbols, Kristie has amassed a cult following of singers, CEO’s and everyone in between. A professionally trained architect, she took the leap of faith ten years ago into what has remained a rewarding and purposeful journey.
The lightweight, hard-shelled jewelry is assembled by a small community of artisans, some of whom have a physical disability. As Kristie says, each piece is made with “thought and intent and is meant to bless, guide and protect the wearer.”
Story & Myth is the sort of enterprise that could only come from a spirited, forward-thinking woman. But to hear Kristie tell it, carving out her niche took grit and grind. “I didn’t have anybody, [in the same niche] and there wasn’t a model I felt I could follow,” she stated in a podcast interview. “These were essentially ‘bush beads’ and there were people that would diss them, but I was like, ‘you just don’t see what I see’. I was like, ‘one day they’re gonna be wearing these things’. I’m gonna make them so beautiful, people are gonna want them. It wasn’t the most popular thing at the time, but I just knew I wanted to do something with them.”
In pre-pandemic times, Story & Myth’s sales relied heavily on Jamaica’s tourism economy and related industries, many of which have gone dormant or now function at a reduced capacity. Being nimble was the key to survival, and the way Kristie chose to pivot would usher in a new chapter for Story & Myth. Furthering her people-centric calling, Kristie transformed her social media into a storytelling hub with a historical edge, a means of comforting her customers through the context of uncertainty
“Even though the beads have meaning, since COVID-19 I didn’t want to post my regular content – which was people wearing the beads. I didn’t feel it was appropriate. So, I went to my first love, which is stories. I decided to post stories that would take your mind from what was going on, and give you hope. I also want to share stories that speak to unsaid human feelings. I believe stories can heal us,” Kristie said. A chalk wall provides the portal to her expositions, which have so far covered Attabey: The Taino Goddess, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, The Kendall Crash and many more, each narrated and illustrated by the eloquent entrepreneur.
The move increased engagement exponentially and has led to other projects with local companies Cafe Blue, JACANA and Stush In The Bush. George Floyd’s death would also influence Kristie’s new trajectory; summer 2020 saw the debut of a range of unique, contemporary pieces, crafted with both the emotional and financial climate in mind. Among these was the blessing bead mask chain, an instant hot ticket that would soon be worn by one of the region’s brightest female stars.
PM Mottley was also deeply moved by George Floyd’s murder. She seized the moment to remove a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson that had stood in the Bajan capital for more than 200 years. The same day it was removed, she announced that within a year, Barbados would be a republic. That event came to pass just months ago, an appearance from Rihanna (now Barbados’ 11th national hero) ensuring its viral quality.
PM Mottley is admired the world over as a woman who exudes practicality and relatability, evidenced by her fashion choices.
Far removed from the traditionally staid female figurehead, it’s not uncommon to see the Bajan boss lady rocking classic red lips or switching between pastel eyeglass frames. She’s seldom seen without her curly afro, an homage to her African roots, and her customary collection of scarves always adds a distinctive touch. She’s graced both British Vogue and Essence since her appointment in 2018, and, in a recent feature, UK outlet, The Guardian, called the Bajan premier “very rootsy.”
Story & Myth’s mask chains add to the confident, contemporary leader’s visual brand. Though biased towards more subtle, comfortable choices, Mottley doesn’t hide her flair for unexpected, understated pieces – a rasta colored mask bearing a lion’s head, for instance. Hip yet prudent, the beads are well suited to PM Mottley’s business casual sartorial style.
Story & Myth has no paid partnerships and advertising, so Kristie learned of PM Mottley’s patronage through social media. Regular posts of the Bajan premier with her beads in tow have only added to Kristie’s excitement, a brilliant note on which to end another taxing year, and begin 2022 hopeful.
Kristie and PM Mottley both bring their belief in the realm of possibility to their work, the concept that upliftment comes through looking unflinchingly at one’s past in order to grow into the future. With Story and Myth features popping up as far as Europe (Italy’s TuStyle Magazine) and boasting the likes of Madonna as celebrity clientele, the line seems set for dazzling new horizons in the coming years.