UCLA student celebrates Indigenous heritage through handmade beadwork business

Cheyenne Faulkner takes life one pill at a time.

After sharing her beading business on social media, the sophomore in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics said she’s gone from owning an Etsy store — her original way to sell items — to running her own business, Beads By Chey Designs. Faulkner said she learned how to deal with the onset of the pandemic through books and YouTube tutorials as a way to fill her spare time. Despite the popularity she has gained, she has said that the connection she has with her heritage remains the main motivation behind her continuing in her profession.

“I really wanted to be able to live my culture on a daily basis,” Faulkner said. “It’s a way for me to connect with my culture outside of going to a party or going to a powwow.”

Faulkner said she got financial support from her family when she first started decorating. Her parents bought supplies and helped her choose business cards for her. However, as her TikTok client base has grown and gained more experience, Faulkner said she has learned to run her business more independently, from tracking sales to online payment methods. She has also expanded into selling in person and in stores, she said, acquiring stalls at events such as the Vista Farmers Market and Dancing Bear Indian Trader.

Faulkner said she highlights her heritage through the colors in her designs, such as black, yellow, red, and white, the colors of the medicine wheel of the Lumbi tribe. (Courtesy of Cheyenne Faulkner)

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Faulkner said her heritage comes from the colors and design of each beadwork. The Lumbi tribe, of which Faulkner said her mother was a part, uses red, black, yellow, and white as colors for the medicine wheel, which is associated with health and healing, and which Faulkner herself incorporates into her work. Another recurring turquoise color in her beadwork, she said, is turquoise, due to its popularity in local communities in general. Depending on a particular tribe’s seal, Faulkner said, an animal that represents it could also be incorporated into the design.

Since her craft is rooted in local culture, Faulkner said she often receives questions about cultural appropriation and who can wear the beadwork. The answer to this varies from person to person, but Faulkner said anyone can wear beadwork — as long as they wear it appropriately and learn about the history behind it. Beadwork is more than just a product and a trend, and she said she appreciates it when clients take the time to ask her questions about the importance behind her craft.

Faulkner said, “[Cultural appropriation]is not about what the element is.” “It’s about the meaning of the item and how that person is going to portray that item to someone else.”

Cheyenne Sparks, a Faulkner mutual on social media, said she first found Faulkner’s job through TikTok. As the head of her own, one trait that Sparks said sets Faulkner apart is how traditional indigenous elements, such as the colors of the medicine wheel, are incorporated into funky things, such as hoop earrings. The two were in similar Facebook groups, and Sparks said they often met online to share business and sewing tips, such as how to sew feathers with peyote stitch.

As another student, Desirae Barragan said that seeing Faulkner’s success inspires her and her business. A third-year American Indian Studies, Human Biology, and Society student said she and Faulkner began beadwork around the same time, playing color groups together and selling jewelry together. Despite Faulkner’s increased presence on social media, Bargan said Faulkner continues to provide assistance to individuals who are considering starting their own businesses in ways such as giving shout-outs on social media.

(Courtesy of Cheyenne Faulkner)
By shouting out on her social media and creating educational lessons about decorating, Faulkner helps people grow their own businesses and learn more about the process and cultural value behind decorating. (Courtesy of Cheyenne Faulkner)

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Faulkner also offers lessons on sewing, which Bargan said makes beadwork accessible to anyone interested in learning. While beadwork is often prevalent in local communities as a tradition, Bargan said Faulkner’s fame has enabled non-indigenous communities to learn more about the beadwork process and the cultural value behind it. For Faulkner, tutorials are also a way to preserve crafts and beadwork tricks for future generations.

“One day, old people will not be here to teach[beadwork],” Faulkner said, “and we want to make sure we can teach our young people.”

Looking to the future, Faulkner said she hoped to expand the beadwork to include sacred items. Her current business focuses on earrings and ropes, but Faulkner said she also wants to expand her beading business to include medical bags, moccasins, and clothing worn during traditional dances. Despite her popularity on TikTok, Faulkner said she wants to use her success to continue putting her legacy first.

“I’m upping my culture,” Faulkner said.

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