Rashana Miller is the beauty and the brains behind Free Maiden Jewelry. We loved working with Rashana last year as part of our Ma'am Made market, and wanted to check in and see how 2020's been treating her. Read about how she got her start and the launch of her new project, ReWorked.
Tell us about your background and how you got started making jewelry.
My background is actually in education and personal training. I played basketball in college for Penn State, and I worked as a college and high school basketball coach for 10 years. After realizing how much I loved working with young people, I got a Masters Degree in Youth Development and started my career in education. I had the wonderful opportunity to work at my former high school in West Philadelphia as an administrator and was appointed Vice Principal in my last year there. It was a really proud — but short-lived — moment. Not too long after that, my husband was offered a great position in Richmond, Virginia. So I moved quickly, but reluctantly. I think it took me a couple weeks until I had a conversation with him that consisted of more than grunts and one-word answers. Even with all my kicking and screaming, it turned out to be one of the best things we’ve ever done.
After moving to Richmond, it took me a while to find a job and my community. Even finding opportunities to volunteer was difficult. In the meantime, I decided to take a class at the Visual Arts Center. I’ve always loved jewelry, so I decided on the Beginners Metalsmithing class. It wasn’t long after that first class that I knew I wanted to make jewelry — and I wanted to be really good at it!
How would you describe your style and who or what has influenced it?
I love this question! Ok so at 40, I would consider my personal style to be Tomboy Chic. I loooove denim button ups, vintage jeans, and leather boots — and I envision my jewelry to be a striking juxtaposition to that. I’m attracted to primitive forms with a modern twist. I like to say that I want my jewelry to enter the room before I do — making bold, organic, abstract pieces is my life! I tried to do dainty a few years ago and it just didn’t move, and it honestly didn’t move me. That was a good lesson for me; you want to give the people what they want, but you also have to give the people what is authentically inside you.
The biggest influences on my style, creativity, and jewelry obsession were my mother and grandmother. My mom’s favorite line has always been “Make A Statement.” She gave the green light to absolutely ALL of my fashion choices — even the cardboard fingernails I painted red and the large trash bag I tied around my hair for a longer ponytail. My mother would hold fashion shows for us when my sisters and I were young and she would snap Polaroids of us like we were in a real photo shoot. Even now, I still love to play “Fashion Show” with my husband...even though it’s just me strutting around the living room in different outfit combinations while he feigns interest.
I used to go shopping with my grandmother a lot, and she’d always tell me what to look for in garments. She’d point out the stitching if something was cheaply made and talk to me about quality fabrics. She also had the best jewelry collection. She kept everything in a wooden box on the top of her wardrobe closet and every time I’d visit (which was often) I’d grab that box and dump all of the contents on the bed — I found something new every time! I still have that same box for my jewelry and I think about her every time I open it.
"Ok so at 40, I would consider my personal style to be Tomboy Chic."
Re-Worked is the newest arm of Free Maiden; tell us about it and what led to the addition.
I’ve always had the habit of altering my clothes to make something different. Initially, it was born out of necessity. I’m 6’1, and I was always the tallest girl in my class. While other girls got to wear just about anything off the rack, there I was — tall, skinny, and awkwardly trying to pull the hem out of pants so they could just reach my ankles. I started cutting the sleeves off shirts or rolling them up when they didn’t reach my wrists. I got a bit savvier as I got older and eventually grew to love having items that were unique to me. When you’re younger you want to fit in. But as I became more self-aware and self-assured, I wanted to stand out more and more. As I began my love affair with thrift stores (thank you RVA) I began to re-envision what garments could look like. How could I breathe more life into a piece? It’s also becoming more and more important to me to keep clothes out of landfills and change the paradigm around how we shop. For Re-Worked, I customize clothing by using sashiko threading, patchwork, and paint. It’s a really exciting process in terms of the choice of medium because I get this one chance to make a piece really stand out.
What’s next for Free Maiden?
For a while, I’ve wanted Free Maiden to be an umbrella for various creative ventures. My goal is to offer a space for young artists to showcase their work in front of different kinds of people. While I’m extremely grateful for all of my life experiences, I wish somebody told me that I didn’t have to put the creative stuff down in order to make a living and be happy. I want young artists to feel like what they do matters and that their gifts can be used to work towards self-fulfillment and the enrichment of other peoples’ lives.
"When you’re younger you want to fit in. But as I became more self-aware and self-assured, I wanted to stand out more and more."
You can keep up with Rashana and the evolution of Free Maiden on her website.