It's Only Natural

Eau Claire duo creates unique jewelry from Amazonian elements

Luke Hoppe

STICK YOUR NECK OUT. Juan Carlos displays his handmade jewelry, made with natural materials from Ecuador.
STICK YOUR NECK OUT. Juan Carlos displays his handmade jewelry, made with
natural materials from Ecuador.

Welcome to the jungle; we’ve got fun and games. Well maybe that should be “arts and crafts.” About a year ago Shanti Freitas and her husband, Juan Carlos, moved to the Eau Claire area. Between the summers of 2008 and 2011, the couple had lived in Ecuador: Juan Carlos is originally from a rural part of the Amazon Basin. In recent years the area has become more prosperous because of tourism, and the locals began creating jewelry out of the natural materials from the area such as seeds, wood, and coconut shells.

“The people that live there have known about the medicinal properties of these plants for decades,” Freitas said. “It’s only recent that tourism has come to the area and they now have a viable market to sell these goods.” She went on to say that Juan does all of the design work. Even more remarkably,  he essentially freehands the designs. “Most of the time he’ll create something and show me how to do it and then I’ll help him construct the rest of the pieces, Freitas continued.

“We typically send a portion of our profits back to the leaders of the
projects to go towards bettering their community. It’s very rewarding.”
– Shanti Freitas, on supporting the people sourcing her jewelry materials

All of the designs are unique, down to the specific type of materials and the dyes they use. During our conversation, she told me which material was her favorite. “I really like tagua,” she said. “It’s a seed from the tagua nut and it’s quite large and fairly hard, but also lightweight and comfortable so you can create so many different unique shapes and designs from it. Plus it’s pale in color so the dye really comes out bright and vibrant.”

Another amazing thing that the couple is doing is sending some of the profits back into the community. “One of the projects that the village is doing right now is creating a medicinal plant garden,” Freitas said. “We typically send a portion of our profits back to the leaders of the projects to go towards bettering their community. It’s very rewarding.” There are only about 100 people in the community, she added, so the money can go a long way. The couple travels back to Otovalo, Ecuador, once a year where Carlos grew up to visit and to help give back.

Their jewelry itself is relatively inexpensive. Bracelets range from $8-10, while necklaces are anywhere from $20-25. While the couple doesn’t have an actual store, they frequently travel to the Downtown Farmer’s Market and craft/art fairs around the Eau Claire area. You may also view and purchase their pieces online at amazonjunglejewelry.weebly.com. The couple creates custom pieces as well, so if you do want a particular color email them at junglejewelryamazon@gmail.com or track them down at the farmer’s market or an art fair.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.