Larchmont resident Heidi Schuster Helfst—a 10-year veteran of the jewelry industry—has combined her passion for world travel with her knowledge of the jewelry industry to create the unique online venture, Trunkation. Heidi travels the globe in search of original handcrafted “wearable art” as she calls it, from indigenous artisans and cultures, and now she is proudly offering them online to her growing list of discerning clientele.
Schuster Helfst spent the decade prior to launching her own business working with world renowned jewelry designers such as, Robert Lee Morris, as well as other jewelry icons like David Yurman and John Hardy. Of the last designer she worked for, Schuster Helfst said, “He [Morris] travels a lot and he is very into finding artifacts and having jewelry with a soul and a meaning—it was inspiring to me.”
The mission of Trunkation is to celebrate and preserve the world’s amazing indigenous cultures—many of which have no other outlet to bring their goods to the world—while filling a gap in the U.S. retail market. In a press release announcing the online launch, Schuster Helfst commented, “There’s an incredible void in today’s jewelry and accessories marketplace. So much of what we see in retail is mass-produced, low in quality and impersonal. We’re here to change that.”
A series of small trips spread over the last four years has taken Schuster Helfst and her husband to such exotic locations as Argentina, Bhutan, Ghana, India, Nepal, Niger, Tanzania, Peru and Thailand in search of adventure and exotic hand-crafted “wearable art.” In fact, the recent newlyweds took a working honeymoon in late May of this year to Bhutan, China and Thailand; you better believe that Heidi had her official Trunkation shopping hat on the whole time!
As much fun and excitement as these trips are, Schuster Helfst admits that they are often equal parts entrepreneurial and humanitarian in nature. A recent trip to Tanzania allowed her to witness Maasai artisans creating amazing necklaces and cuffs, for which she placed a modest order. Afterwards, the tribe leaders explained, “They had been praying to the gods for somebody to come and buy their goods.” Apparently, the Trunkation purchase provided them with the funds needed to develop a dependable source of clean water for their village.
Schuster Helfst said that sometimes she really has to “dig to find the unique stuff.” Too often, what she finds are tourist-centric pieces that the indigenous tribes have produced in the hopes of attracting limited tourist shopping dollars. Unfortunately, these pieces are too often “what they think we want” versus truly unique expressions of their wonderful tribal customs and histories, she said. Schuster Helfst avoids this type of western-influenced jewelry and has even been prepared to leave a country without a single purchase.
During a recent trip to Cape Town, Schuster Helfst was very disappointed with the selection she was shown, when she spotted a small streetside vendor out of her taxi window on her way out of town. She yelled for the taxi driver to stop, and ended up purchasing several pieces of truly unique jewelry. Perhaps the satisfaction is in the hunt…I know my wife would agree.
On a much larger scale, the highly successful (RED) campaign has generated over $170 million towards HIV/AIDS research since its inception in 2006, demonstrating that people all over the world not only like to buy nice things, but they like to do so with a cause in mind. Patrons of Trunkation will be able to learn more about the actual indigenous people that their purchases have helped thanks to Schuster Helfst’s blog, photos, and video chronicles of her numerous trips abroad.
Currently the Trunkation website features over 75 pieces of wearable art jewelry from seven different countries. With pieces starting around $15 and going up to approximately $400, there is sure to be something for every budget. There are plans in the near future to expand into private trunk shows, fairs, and tables at local events. If you like the idea of finding that one-of-a-kind piece of artisan jewelry while helping others, check out Trunkation.com and keep your eyes open around Larchmont-Mamaroneck for that iconic red elephant.