HOW LUMA QUSUS AWAD GIVES BACK THROUGH HER JEWELRY DESIGNS.
By Jonnica Hill
An unidentified hand draws a pair of lips onto a shiny metal sheet with a pen, and the next thing you know, there’s a hammer in that hand. Although you can’t see her face, her colourful shawl and large heart necklace give Luma Qusus Awad away. She strikes the sheet again and again and then joins in a wire, defining the spot where the two lips touch. After just a few more hits with the hammer, the final piece is unveiled. Like lipstick blotted on a tissue made of metal, it hangs proudly around her neck. Although all this seemed to take place in less than 40 seconds, it actually took Awad over two hours to dream up and bring this project to life. For over 20 years, Awad has been making jewelry inspired by the vivid world she sees around her, drawing from her Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern heritage.
Full of colour and stories, Awad’s business, inamullumani, was born in 2000, a mirror image of the word lumani, combining Awad’s name with her husband, Hani’s, and resembling the Arabic word for the artist’s fingertips. Like the connections within her business name, Awad is driven by a desire to connect, support and inspire others. As her daughter, Czara, puts it, she is a humanitarian at heart and jewelry is simply the means through which she tries to make a difference in the world.
But it wasn’t the first method she tried. In Jordan, Awad was born an artist, but her parents advised her to leave her hobbies behind and study law. She loved the idea of helping people, but after meeting her husband in Canada and moving to Greece in 1997, the language and legal barriers meant essentially going back to school. “I have to know the language, know the rules and laws, so I have to study all over again, do the exams,” says Awad. “It was impossible for me to do that all over again. When I went back to Jordan, my colleagues at that time had their own law firms, and I felt intimidated starting all over again.”
With the gift of a jewelry course from her husband, taught in Greek, Awad’s career changed entirely, but her goal of helping others remained the same. With the encouragement of her fellow nursery school moms, Awad decided to take her hobby full time, making her business official in Jordan in 2006 and moving it, with the family, to Canada in 2017. Usually available at pop-up events and in a few stores in Greece, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Awad’s pieces are only being sold from her website.
All of inamullumani’s designs are uniquely handmade and often customized, with a hint of Awad’s style in every chain link. It’s hard to just call these designs jewelry when they are really more like art. With vivid strokes of colour and elements from shells to tassels and gemstones, Awad showcases the heritage that made her in the form of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, mask chains and wall-hanging décor.
Karina Fernandez, Awad’s friend and fellow entrepreneur, had an instant connection with a pair of red feather earrings on the day she first met her. “Those elements that, to us are completely different, they captured my attention in a way and also because I’m Latina from Venezuela, it’s actually very similar to what I see in my former country. So, I think I connected right away,” says Fernandez.
When Awad sits down to design a piece, in a studio full of music, these kinds of personal stories and connections spin around her mind. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and human connection was harder to find, she had to travel deep within herself for inspiration. Those metal lips hanging around her neck came out of this process. “I was like, ‘I miss kissing my daughter, kissing my friends, hugging.’ This feeling was very empowering,” says Awad. “So, I started smashing and hammering and bringing these lips to life.” While looking within herself, Awad was also inspired to create a self-compassion collection. Using words of affirmation that many no longer hear from their peers in-person, she engraved necklace pendants to say you are loved, needed and unique, as a reminder each time you catch your reflection in the mirror.
Beyond creating jewelry that tells stories and connects people through art and heritage, many of Awad’s pieces are custom designed to support charitable initiatives. Back in 2008, in Jordan, Awad created a collection to help improve the experience of childhood cancer patients by fundraising for TVs, PlayStations and other clinic renovations. She also created a bracelet collection with seven positive words dedicated to the awareness of breast cancer, promoting mammogram screenings and helping less fortunate women access them. “It’s not enough for me to be a jewelry designer creating pieces for women to wear, I want them to be more meaningful. I want my pieces to tell a story, to raise awareness,” says Awad. “It was fulfilling for me as an artist to see more people wearing the pieces and understanding that it’s a piece that tells a story.” More recently, while living in Oakville, Ont., Awad got involved in the fight against human trafficking. One piece, a necklace featuring a red heart, helps raise awareness and supports the Canadian non-profit called Free-Them, which is honoured on the necklace in the form of a knot in the organization’s official purple colour.
Growing up watching her mom creating art for social causes has inspired 21-year-old Czara, teaching her the importance of giving back and helping others. “There’s so many times where we can feel helpless in the face of big problems, like, ‘Oh, human trafficking, that’s just too big for me to solve,’ but then she comes around and goes like, ‘OK, but what if I create a necklace and then have people buy it and have it turned into a symbol?'”
It is not just her family that she has inspired. When Awad is not busy creating jewelry, she teaches others to create their own. When she first started out in the male-dominated jewelry industry, Awad had to fight to be heard. As a woman, she was seen as the consumer, not the creator behind the bench. Because of this, Awad is excited about helping other women to enter the field and learn how to make jewelry, especially those in countries where they have limited opportunities.
Many women around the world are told that their place is at home and in the kitchen while men work and earn a living for their families. “Unfortunately, sometimes we’re born with a talent but it gets covered up with judgment, expectations, society, fear, busy life and then you forget it,” says Awad. With the help of technology, her jewelry courses empower refugees and women in places like Jordan and Yemen to create their own home-based business and improve their lives emotionally and financially. Currently, she’s teaching a one-month program for women in Yemen, using Zoom and WhatsApp to communicate 12 hours a week.
Awad also helps empower her fellow small business owners, especially during the challenging time they face with the pandemic limiting store hours and customer demands. During the holidays, she sold products from other Oakville businesses that couldn’t stay open with her friend and fellow business owner Fernandez. Awad came up with the idea for the Love Local Baskets market, and while Fernandez worried about the logistics of how the pair could possibly get all the products, sell them and then give the money back to the creators, Awad pushed on. “She’s so professional and business-oriented, but with this kind heart,” says Fernandez. “She’s a go-getter.”
Customers could buy baskets full of products from each business. When a health inspector came, everything was under control, and when the line got long and the building close to capacity, Awad went outside in the cold to process everyone’s payment without even putting on a coat. From connecting to her community and supporting those in need to inspiring others to create, it’s clear the desire to help others comes naturally to Awad and if she wasn’t creating jewelry she would just find a different way to make a difference.