Having worked as a textile designer, and later making designer jerseys, Kim Atkins now runs Kim Atkins Jewellery, selling beaded and sterling silver jewellery. Her ranges draw from inspiring and encouraging Biblical themes that speak to the inner beauty and dignity of women. She carries this view into her business, using students and young jewellers to make her pieces – offering opportunities to learn and earn in an industry notoriously difficult to get started in.
It all began the day He said, “Put it down.” I had been happily restoring ceramics until I heard Him say: “You will miss what I have for you.” This started a white-knuckled roller coaster journey into the Lord’s heart for justice.
After slamming all my restoration materials into the cupboard and rather irreverently saying to the Lord, “And now what?”, I got a phone call that changed the trajectory of my life. A friend took me on a trip to visit bead shops, all the time saying she felt a prodding to tell me I needed to start working with beads. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to agree, but my opinion changed the moment I was given a cheque to buy beads. The Lord had my attention. On returning home from our shopping trip, I was reminded of Isaiah 61:3, that “[the Lord will give us] beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning”. Since I am tactile and visual in nature, beading turned out to be very satisfying, and also fitted in well with having two young children at home.
The next prompting came to take a physical thing and turn it into a prophetic declaration, like Noah’s rainbow. Out of this grew my first range Jewellery That Speaks, inspired by Psalm 19:1–3: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words” (my emphasis).
I also felt a calling to ‘adorn His bride’. On being given, or even seeing my jewellery, people would often begin to cry. Not quite understanding their reaction, I asked God: “Why?”. The answer was that it is speaking the truth of who He is to their innermost being, somewhat like consecrating them.
I pottered along like this, sometimes being invited to speak at ladies’ meetings and such events, until the most fundamental shift in my business came. One day, the Spirit asked me a question: “What is the currency of slavery?” I intuitively knew the answer. Beads. I decided it was wise to do some more research to confirm my feeling. My research showed that the currency of the African slave trade had been beads.
Shortly after this I was invited to an art exhibition at Freedom Park in Pretoria, addressing human trafficking from a redemptive perspective. Modern-day slavery. The curator put my piece called INTO the LIGHT in the entrance to the exhibition. It was my very first sterling silver piece, having just started an evening silver-smithing course at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). The curator pointed out that in Nehemiah 3, jewellers had been involved in rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem. This I took to mean that jewellers have some role in economic development, but at first, I did not know what part I would play.
On further exposure to the industry and hearing in my spirit that if beads (and by extension, jewellery) can take someone into bondage, so too can it provide a way out. I wanted to start addressing some of the inequalities prevalent in the industry.
A skills-based industry should be a meritocracy and not be dependent on the providence of one’s birth. Yet, sadly, two parallel economies exist in South Africa – an affluent first-world economy that commands attention, and a barely subsistence economy which those born into it cannot hope to escape. I wanted to address this issue in and through my own business, having a conviction that paying a living wage, not charity, is the only way to ultimately change people’s economic circumstances.
I became involved with DUT, after meeting members of the faculty while completing the silver-smithing course. They told me of the challenges faced by the student jewellers – that many come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, struggled financially while studying, and then found it almost impossible to become a ‘brand’ in their own right. After graduating, often their only options were relatively low-paying jobs – either with no relevance to the qualification they had worked so hard to achieve, or with little hope of building a gratifying career as a jeweller.
As my eyes and heart were opened to these structural inequalities, God told me to lay down making the jewellery myself, and start employing student jewellers to do the work. Over time, this turned into a mentoring role, pertaining to different aspects of the industry, along with providing a steadying, almost parental hand for the some of the students. I provided an opportunity for them to gain actual work experience, which included them learning to adhere to deadlines and quality control.
Generally, it is easier for students from privileged backgrounds to enter the market successfully after they graduate, while others seem to languish in a state of deferred hope – despite having God-given talent. Sometimes the obstacles are just too big to overcome. Even something seemingly trivial can present an insurmountable challenge – for example not being able to take out a long term data contract forces them to rely on exorbitant pre-paid mobile data rates to run their business.
So I set up a non-profit organisation called the Legacy Jewellery Project, with the aim to build a jewellery studio for graduates to begin their working life, and to provide business mentoring along with a sales platform. Covid somewhat delayed the anticipated timeline, but we are planning to run an inaugural workshop and exhibition later in 2021. People ask me why I would want to create more competition for myself, or state that it is not possible to change the status quo. But I do not believe we serve a God of lack. We are not competing for a smaller slice of the pie when we help others – we are baking a bigger pie. If we stand shoulder to shoulder and ask God for wisdom, we can change the lives of those that come across our path.
The plaque above my desk states, “It seems impossible until it is done” – ancient wisdom perhaps, but more latterly attributed to Nelson Mandela. On the days the vision seems overwhelming, when I think that it is not possible for me to bring change to a whole industry, I read it and remind myself – it is not me alone, but me in the hands of my big God!