The Four Key Kora Materials
Get down with Maxandra Short’s essential components.
For Kora, it’s all about sustainability. Maxandra Short, the talented, continent-hopping designer, and all of the based-in-Africa artisans behind the jewelry line have become pros at making necklaces and cuffs from repurposed goods. From shattered glass to old pans, she gives us a start-to-finish guide to how Kora shape-shifts these once-discarded materials. —carlye wisel
"Horn is byproduct of the food industry. Beef is a staple of Kenyan diets, and all the cows have these massive horns. When we started about three years ago, the horns were being burnt, just like trash, but then the butchers realized they could start selling the horns. They’re a real pleasure to work with because there are just these beautiful natural variations."
"The Of a Kind edition is a new version of our Polychrome Ruma Bangles, in which we combine Greek leather and brass wrapping with horn. For this, we wanted colors that felt really fresh—the mint is my favorite thus far."
"We actually use brass two different ways: We cast in it, out of recycled scrap metal sourced from around Tigoni—a semi-rural area outside of Nairobi. We also use sheet brass that is hammered and texturized to create wide cuffs and, most recently, chain links that are new to our fall 2012 collection."
"Our wide brass cuffs have been a big hit. I designed them to be worn in a pair, one on each wrist, for a Diana Vreeland-meets-Wonder Woman look. What’s great about the hammered brass is that it’s really lightweight, allowing for a lot of flexibility in designing. And this piece, the Chevron Brass Cuff, is one of my favorites."
"The aluminum is cast by that same workshop in Tigoni, also from recycled scrap metal, often old pots and pans and junked car parts. The advantage of aluminum is that it’s really lightweight, so I can design bigger pieces like cuffs out of it. "
"Our Tri Wrap Aluminum Lily Cuff is a great example of our aluminum use. What I particularly love about this cuff is the contrast between the aluminum and brass. It seemed to be a bit of a taboo, mixing silver and gold, but I decided to chuck that aside because they really are so beautiful together. "
"The glass is hand-fired—it’s all made from broken, recycled glass shards. The glass is best for smaller shapes, like beads, so we started with amorphous, tear-like shapes and moved into more geometric shapes. One thing we’ve just begun experimenting with is color. I love the light aqua, natural color of glass, but it’s always good to be ever-evolving."
"With the Aztec Tetra Necklace, we were shooting for a high-impact statement necklace, and I love the contrast between the translucence of the glass and the rawness and solidity of the brass."
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Kora’s Insider-y Tour of New York’s Chinatown
There’s more than dim sum.
When the rad gal behind Kora’s earthy-sleek bangles and hammered brass cuffs raved about a candy shop below Canal Street that she calls her “happy place,” we were desperate to know more about her downtown hangs. Ends up Maxandra Short’s love affair with Chinatown goes all the way back to her childhood—she spent her formative years growing up in Southeast Asia. From tea wonderlands to kung-foo shoes joints (seriously), here’s her tour of the neighborhood’s coolest—and possibly weirdest—spots. —carlye wisel
Aji Ichiban: “I am a candy freak. So is my brother—we can both chart the course of our childhoods through candy. Middle school for me was all about these Japanese gummies that I’d get in Jakarta, and I was also obsessed with Polo mints. Whenever I see them, I am brought right back there. Whenever I go to Aji Ichiban, I’m literally giddy with the thought of so much sugar. I always stop here after dim sum and stock up on strawberry sour belts—which they sell by the pound—crystallized ginger, and Pockys.”
Sunshine 27: “Dim sum is a pretty constant Sunday family ritual—and has been since we lived in London, ironically enough. There are a few in our rotation. This is the best and most authentic, food and atmosphere-wise. It also gets insanely packed, so you have to get there early, or wait an hour. It’s not for the faint of heart—the dim sum carts whip around the room at a frenetic pace, so sometimes you have to throw yourself in front of them—but it’s well worth it.”
Nom Wah Tea Parlor: “They serve dim sum all day, which is good if you’ve gotten a late start. It has a lovely vintage vibe to it and is much calmer than Sunshine 27.”
88 Optical: “This has been my go-to eye place for years now. I either get my glasses here or have them fit lenses to vintage pairs I bring in, and they do an incredible job.”
Nyonya: ”Nyonya is the best Malaysian restaurant in the city. I also love people-watching from one of the window tables. Get the Hainan chicken rice and the roticanai, a warm puffy pancake that you dip into this amazing curry.”
Ten Ren Tea Time: “My place for bubble tea. And two doors down, Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Co. has every kind of tea imaginable. I’m particularly fond of their loose-leaf jasmine tea.”
Grand Sichuan (Canal Street): “To my utter horror, I discovered recently that Grand Sichuan is currently closed—but only temporarily, thank god, while they build a hotel above it or something. This chain is, hands down, the best Sichuan food in Manhattan, and the Canal Street location is the best of all the many Grand Sichauns. People will want to fight me on this, but I’m sticking to my guns. I love to come here with massive groups of friends and share a hot pot, insanely spicy Sichuan dishes, and a lot of Tsingtao.”
Bok Lei Po Trading: ”This is a martial-arts supply store on Mott Street. I go here for Feiyue sneakers—apparently a favorite of Shaolin monks & kung-fu masters—and black slip-on slippers, but if you’re in the market for ninja stars or swords, this is the place for you, too.”
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For Kora’s Maxandra Short, life has been one big ol’ happy accident. When co-founder Amy Walker’s public health gig in Africa took an unexpected turn towards handicraft development, the duo discovered horn and decided to build a jewelry line around the material together. Following the smashing success of the trunk shows unveiling their Rwandan bracelets, Maxandra left her film job in Los Angeles behind and never looked back. “That’s the best time to start your business—when you really hate your current job,” she laughed.
As a kid growing up in Southeast Asia, the designer moved around between places like Seoul and Jakarta, collecting antique and Indonesian jewelry and making her own, too. Though her childhood interests weren’t supposed to evolve in a career, her passion for overseas travel, business development, and craft made it a perfect fit. “My absolute favorite part has been when I’m in Kenya and I’m at the workshop, working on the piece together and trying to tweak it with them,” she said. “When you get it, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
For the past four years, Maxandra and Amy have focused on building a line from four sustainable components: brass, recycled aluminum, glass shards, and, of course, the one that started it all. While it’s probably easy for Maxandra, who has been alone at the helm since a few months ago, to get distracted by collaborating with Rooney Mara or seeing her designs in Vogue editorials, she has committed big-time to economic development in foreign countries—a passion that keeps her bopping around the globe as much as possible. —carlye wisel