We had the good fortune of connecting with Binita Santra and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Binita, let’s talk legacy – what do you want yours to be?
I’d love to be remembered as a daughter whose parents would be proud of the woman she became; a thoughtful, generous, and loyal friend; a compassionate, imperfect, purposeful, unconventional, adventurous free spirit with a quirky sense of humor who lived bold, dreamed big and did a bit of good in the universe.
I believe what makes people, places, and things inherently valuable is how connected they make us feel. Think of the last time you shared a good laugh with your BFF, or wore the necklace your grandma gave you, or met a talented new artist at your local craft fair. It’s moments like these that can spark new connections or nurture those that are important to you. Founding Twentynorth was a natural extension of this idea and my medium was handcrafted jewelry.
What I love most about my work is shining a light on the craftsmen and women behind the brand and sharing their stories with the world. Through these insights my customers often discover they have a lot in common with the artisans. Similar hopes, dreams and challenges that transcend cultural boundaries. That sense of connection can make wearing twentynorth jewelry feel extra joyful. And the connection is complete when I share with my artisans how much their work is loved and appreciated by people clear across the world. Creating and nurturing meaningful connections in this way through my jewelry is the legacy I hope to leave behind.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Twentynorth is a labor of love born out of my passion for preserving traditional crafts from Odisha, India, and the strong bond I feel with the artisans who work on my designs. My journey has been quite a winding road across three continents. I was born in the U.S. to Indian parents, grew up in Ghana, and spent my teen years in Odisha where I learned the local language, culture, and traditions, and discovered its rich variety of traditional crafts. I still remember the exact moment I saw the most beautiful, intricately crafted pendant for the first time; I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of twentynorth.
Fast forward to college in the Midwest, various jobs in technology and an impromptu move to LA. My mind kept going back to that gorgeous pendant I’d seen as a teen. Odisha was calling! So I headed back there to learn everything I could about traditional crafts. I found a local organization that introduced me to the artisans with whom I now work. I was fascinated by their craftsmanship, and deeply moved by their warmth, generosity, resilience, and strong community bonds. The times I spent with them in their village were some of the most joyful experiences I’ve ever had.
Jewelry making in Odisha has traditionally been done on a very small scale. Using simple materials and tools, artisans work out of their homes and pass along their knowledge and skills to their children. I was dismayed to find that due to waning demand for their creations, many of the artisans I met were no longer teaching the next generation. These ancient crafts were at risk of fading away. Artisans were losing the ability to make a living doing what they loved. I just couldn’t let that happen! And so, inspired by local tribal motifs, I designed some pieces and worked side by side with the artisans to create a collection of handcrafted jewelry. Back in California I introduced the pieces to friends at private trunk shows and began to showcase my pieces at local venues. I was thrilled to see how much people loved the designs and appreciated the beautiful craftsmanship. Twentynorth was coming to life!
Jewelry isn’t just about a beautifully crafted piece. It’s a way to express yourself. It can make you feel empowered or playful or elegant. It can transform an outfit; take your style up a notch. Jewelry is also very personal, and I find a lot of joy in doing little things to let my customers know they’re special to me. Like sending a handwritten note with a shipment. Or giving personalized style tips. Or spending a little extra time polishing a piece before shipping. Naming my jewelry line twentynorth tribal was quite intentional; it represents both the tribal inspired nature of my pieces and the fact that the jewelry connects us. When you wear twentynorth you’re automatically in the tribe; you’re family.
From design to creation to delivery and beyond, what I think about every day is how I can enhance the product line. My artisans work in brass and copper using simple tools to hand craft beads, charms and pendants which are then hand strung on cotton yarn. I put a lot of thought into choosing the right gauge of wire, the perfect shade of thread and the ideal pairing of beads and pendants. Many of my designs feature tribal motifs with a unique, bold, modern vibe. I’m continually re-imagining existing designs and dreaming up new ones to keep my collection fresh. And I’m a bit obsessive about quality of materials and craftsmanship. My goal is to offer customers jewelry that’s both beautiful and high quality.
One of my biggest challenges this past year was going digital. When I meet customers in person, they can see, touch, and try on the pieces. We also have an opportunity to learn about each other, share our stories and build a relationship. So when the pandemic hit in 2020, I struggled with how to achieve this virtually. Marketing on social media was new territory for me. It required a whole new way of thinking. Many weeks of research. Learning new skills. Figuring out how to highlight the beautiful craftsmanship of the pieces while retaining the personal touch in a virtual world. On a small-business budget, no less! I was fortunate to find some great resources in the SoCal business community and together we got to work bringing my vision to digital life. A few months later came one of the most exciting (and terrifying!) days in my life – the online launch on social media – and I’m happy to say twentynorth now has a virtual world stage on which to showcase my jewelry line and the artisans behind the crafts.
When I look back at the past couple years there are so many emotions! I’m proud of my artisans in Odisha, who have weathered the pandemic storm with dignity and resilience. They aren’t quite out of the woods yet and we’re still working out some challenges, but things are starting to look up. I’m grateful for the talented SoCal creatives whose hard work and expertise helped me take twentynorth from dream to reality. And I’m happy to say I can check off a few things on my bucket list: self-taught jewelry designer; minority-woman-owned, self-funded, small business owner. It’s been an amazing ride so far!
Twentynorth is always going to be a work in progress and I’m looking forward to what the next chapter will bring. I can’t wait to work on new designs with my artisans and add more beautiful crafts from Odisha to my product line. I’m also excited to get back to in-person sales, with all the possibilities of new connections. And I’m looking forward to growing a following of friends, fans and customers who can relate to my brand mantra of living bold, dreaming big, and doing good!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Mountains, desert, wildlife, dining, shopping, art, hiking, golf, tennis. You name it; we’ve got it all out here! It’s almost too hard to choose but here are some of my favorite things to do:
Nothing like some pool time to get into vacation mode! Soak in a bit of the local art scene at Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden in Palm Desert and Palm Springs Art Museum in downtown Palm Springs. Lulu California Bistro for their Chicken Wings Diablo, refreshing Cucumber Coolers and people watching, of course! Early morning hike at Joshua Tree National Park. Brunch at Si Bon in Rancho Mirage. Window shopping on El Paseo. Kitchen 86 for their signature small-plate cuisine. The trails at Coachella Valley Preserve to burn calories amid serene desertscapes. CODA Gallery at El Paseo Square for contemporary art, photography and sculpture exhibits. The Venue Sushi Bar for melt-in-your-mouth Salmon Sashimi. Villagefest on Thursday evenings in downtown Palm Springs for live music, food, and lots of locally made artisanal goodies. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up Mt. San Jacinto. The 10-minute ride leads to stunning views, scenic trails and much cooler temps. No trip to the desert would be complete without a “wild” afternoon at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens; I could watch the meerkats for hours. And the Bighorn Railroad, featuring model trains running throughout the day. Round out the week with another relaxing day poolside, followed by dinner and live music at Woody’s in Palm Springs.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
It really does take a village! I’d like to say a giant thank you to all these folks in the twentynorth tribe:
• Gifted artisans in Odisha, India, for welcoming me so warmly into their community and sharing their gorgeous crafts;
• Customers who share my love for one-of-a-kind, handcrafted jewelry;
• SoCal creatives for bringing my vision to digital life – Hailley Howard, Kristina-Jean Venker, Monette Punzalan, JPVisual, Ruth Marie Photography, Kaminsky Productions, Rickey Gold, Adam Karwowski, Amanda Rouse, Sandy Swett
• Business mentors at SBDC and SCORE who provide invaluable guidance and support – Jacqueline Scott, Elizabeth Hauer and Steven Baker;
• Friends from all corners of the globe who cheered on my labor of love. A special shoutout to my BFF Stina, whose warm, generous, fun-loving spirit can brighten anyone’s day;
• And most of all my parents, who have passed on but whose unconditional love I feel to this day.
Hailley Howard Ethan Kaminsky Ruth Slankard Sandy Swett