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Even environmental scientists need their beads.

As Haliwa-Saponi scientist Brittany Turner improves energy efficiency and living conditions for Tribal communities, she wants that extra surge of strength that bold beaded earrings impart. 

“When I wear my earrings, I feel like I'm wearing my culture and it always makes me feel powerful,” Turner said. “But most of my earrings are big, glam and flashy. They hurt and you can’t wear them for too long.”

She said her searches for suitable beaded everyday earrings that were lighter on the lobes proved fruitless. So she decided to take matters into her own skilled hands and make a pair projecting Native pride with comfort, luxury and minimalism in mind. 

“I sat down for the week between Christmas and New Year's 2017 and came up with a pair of freshwater pearl stone studs, and crazily enough, they ended up being my most popular earrings,” Turner said. 

Turner launched a handcrafted jewelry company, Cheyanne Symone, in 2018. Along with running the company, she works full time as associate sirector of Tribal Programs at  Elevate, a Chicago-based environmental nonprofit. 

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With a talented team of artists and administrators, including two beaders who work remotely and new Director of Operations Sarah Moncada, Cheyanne Symone is on the move. 

The brand will release a new spring collection at the beginning of March and is already taking pre-orders. Plus, the growing company is ready to hire new employees. 

“This year I really want to scale the company and one of the big factors is hiring new beaders,”  Turner said.

She added that interested beaders can apply directly through the Cheyanne Symone website, or they can email her.

Turner’s current beaders are Natani Notah (Navajo), based in Tulsa, Oklah., and Rebecca Lynn (Little Traverse Bay bands of Odawa Indians,) based in Ann Arbor, Mich.   

They both have active creative careers outside of their work with Cheyanne Symone. Notah is a contemporary artist and Lynn has her own LGBTQ-focused beading business called QueerKwe Designs

Turner said Notah already had ample beading experience when she started working for Cheyanne Symone, but Becca was relatively new to the art. And that was no problem for Turner, who is always up for non-intimidating instruction. 

“You don't have to be an expert beader. That's a skill that you can learn,” Turner said. 

“Once people are on board, I sit down and teach them the way that I make the earrings because what makes this company unique is that we have to replicate designs. Whoever is beading a certain earring has to be able to replicate it just like the other person beading  the same earring.” 

Lynn said she appreciates the supplemental income,  flexible schedule, and how working with Turner has improved her bead artistry. 

“Brittany took the time to teach me the double needle beading technique back when I first started and I was able to take my own beadwork to a higher level of quality and precision,” Lynn said. “And when I am feeling stumped or uninspired with my own beadwork, I have the option to switch it up and work on something different. Brittany has also served as a small business mentor in many ways throughout the years and made herself available for questions, whether it be about social media marketing, bookkeeping, or where to find certain supplies.” 

On occasion, the beaders also get space to create and conceptualize with Turner. For instance, Turner and Lynn collaborated on a multi-colored Two-Spirit-themed set.

“It means a lot to me to have Two Spirit representation within Cheyanne Symone,” Lynn said. “We workshopped the collaboration piece together every step of the way, and I felt heard and respected throughout the process.”


Turner’s strong relationship with bold beaded earrings extends to her first fashion role model. 

“It really goes back to my great grandma, who always had the most beautiful jewelry and beaded earrings.  She was very elegant and classy and she wanted to show her pride in her culture,” Turner recalled. “She made sure that she wore her native jewelry all the time. And that really stuck with me. “ 

Living in her Native community in North Carolina, Turner immersed herself in her culture. A fancy dancer, she grew up on the powwow trail, proudly dancing the regalia and beadwork her mother taught her to make. 

Turner learned to bead every element of her regalia, with one exception. 

“I always left the earrings to my mom,” Turned said. “I never made earrings because I'm a perfectionist and both pieces have to look very similar. So, it always kind of intimidated me. And then, when I thought about starting the company, I knew I had to overcome this fear and just do it.

Turner faced her fear of making earrings when she sat down to create her first pair in late 2017. Having met the self-imposed challenge,  she then focused on the fundamentals of starting the business. 

Cheyanne Symone Courtesy Turner (bottom left, top center) immersed herself in her Native culture, learning to bead every element of her regalia, except for her earrings, which she left to her mom. Eventually, she started making her own, which led to the creation of Cheyanne Symone. (Courtesy photos)

One of her first moves, and one she recommends for all aspiring entrepreneurs,  was asking for help from her local Small Business Development Center at  Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor. 

“That's how I've learned how to set up the LLC, and  how I met the lawyer that I still work with today,” she said, adding that the center also offers free counseling and webinars. 

As for the initial investment, Turner used money from her savings account. At the beginning, she didn’t pay herself. She said she lived off the money from her full-time environmental scientist job and put all the funds from sales back into the business. 

Evidently, many other women were looking for what Cheyanne Symone was selling, because the company was an instant hit. The demand, coupled with Turner’s investment strategy, resulted in immediate profits.

Still, balancing her environmental scientist job and the new company drained practically all her time and energy. She said her packed days consisted of going to work, eating dinner with her husband and then working in her home office until bedtime. 

“It was very exhausting,” Turner said.  “Then, a few years into the company, I had my daughter and I really needed more time with my family. So now I tried to be really intentional about carving out my family time, especially on weekends.”

Turner recently hired a director of operations who she said has significantly lightened her own workload. 

All of the Cheyanne Symone staff is dedicated to uplifting the Indigenous community. 

Turner said she contributes by donating earrings to fundraising events for nonprofits, including the Detroit Chapter of American Indian Health and Family Services,  and the Faith Hedgepeth Memorial Scholarship, which provides funds for scholarships for local Indigenous women and is named for a murdered Haliwa-Saponi University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student.

Some of Turner’s earrings symbolize the struggles and triumphs of Indigenous women. The Adeline earring is named after the deceased infant daughter of one of Turner’s friends. The earrings include baby blue and pink beads, which are the colors for National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  

“Another way we give back to the community is through storytelling through the earrings. My intention is to empower women and give them space to talk about something that should not be taboo,” Turner said. “I try to balance storytelling and making earrings that people just love to wear.”

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About The Author
Tamara Ikenberg
Contributing Writer
Tamara Ikenberg is a contributing reporter at Tribal Business News reporting on the arts and culture and tourism industries, and contributing to coverage of the Alaska Native business community. Based in Southern California, Ikenberg was a contributing writer for Native News Online and has reported for The Alaska Dispatch News, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, The Mobile Press Register, NYLON Magazine and The Baltimore Sun. She also previously worked as a grant and article writer at Juneau-based Sealaska Heritage Institute.
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