Sparkles and Baubles and Doing Good, Too

Local women Sheetal Backliwal and Feroza Mehta in Edina Magazine
Local women combine business with charity
Sheetal & Feroza

Christmas and holiday gift giving can feel like a long list of big questions. We all want to give a gift that will delight the recipient. It is lovely to be able to find something unique, and it is a special pleasure to give someone a gift that seems to be “just right.” But what does all that mean in practical terms? Where might that perfect gift be hiding? And, especially at this time of the year, a lot of us are looking to spend our money in ways that make us feel good not just about the gift but also about where our money is going. Well, Edina-based CurioCities may have the answer to all of those holiday gift questions.

Feroza Mehta—a frequent contributor to this magazine—and Sheetal Backliwal, working with Backliwal’s sister-in-law Garima Backliwal, sell jewelry and other gifts online and at special events around the Twin Cities. Garima is the designer. Working in Delhi, she creates the final designs from ideas that Sheetal Backliwal and Mehta suggest or she works from concepts they all agree on.

Mehta says their designs are guided by the idea of letting the stones speak for themselves. Looking at the pieces, one notices right away that most of them are simple and classic. The colors of the stones are often strikingly vivid. The metalwork is complimentary to other parts of the design and not overly ornate. Some of the pieces are more intricate and use symbolism in a more complex pattern … lotus blossoms are a recurring theme, for example… but many of them are just elegantly simple.

“Most of our jewelry can be worn every day,” Mehta says. “We want you to be able to wear these pieces often and with confidence.”

Value is another point Mehta emphasizes in talking about how she and Backliwal think about their jewelry. One may assume their jewelry is expensive when you read about their exclusive designs, but that isn’t the market the women are positioning themselves in.

“We are trying to get real, affordable jewelry to women,” Mehta says. “I can get you the real thing for the same price you’d pay for costume jewelry.”
Many of the stones used in the jewelry are sourced in India. Backliwal traveled to Delhi and Jaipur earlier this year looking for both stones for jewelry and vendors with which the company might do business. For the last two years, in addition to jewelry, CurioCities has carried a line of scarves in both wool and silk.

“I have also been in touch with other vendors in Delhi and Jaipur to expand our product line,” Backliwal says. We [have] pretty silk and georgette printed scarves as well as some wool-silk scarves with delicate sequence work in our fall and winter collection.” She’s also excited about the group of hand-crafted small items she bought in India that make great holiday gifts. Working in partnership with Indian craftspeople, CurioCities is able to offer special items that won’t be found elsewhere locally.

Partnership is an important part of everything Mehta and Backliwal are doing with their company. They have also partnered with several charities, including an international nonprofit based in New York City called Nazdeek. Nazdeek offers free legal assistance to marginalized communities in India and trains paralegals to make legal advice more easily available… especially to rural women who have historically had little access to the court system. Nazdeek has successfully petitioned on behalf of women who were seeking fair wages and has helped mothers in a resettlement camp get maternity benefits. CurioCities gives five percent of all sales to Nazdeek.

There are also specialty items created by the team for particular charities. CurioCities offers an autism awareness bracelet, for example, that uses the familiar puzzle piece symbol. The idea of creating that piece, to raise money for the nonprofit Autism Speaks, started with Mehta whose family has been touched by autism. (They now offer a pair of lapis lazuli earrings that also benefit Autism Speaks.) The bracelet came into being in the collaborative way that the three women often work.

“It was my idea and Garima made it happen,” she says. “I asked her for a blue beaded bracelet with a silver puzzle piece charm. She made several versions … after seeing prototypes, we selected what we needed.”

They used the same process to create specific pieces for other charities. They’ve recently designed a pink quartz bracelet and earrings that will benefit Hope Chest, a nonprofit that supports women with a breast cancer diagnosis by helping with urgent, non-medical needs like food and transportation.

Buying from CurioCities may make you feel good, but that doesn’t really solve the problem of finding the right gift. For that, CurioCities is offering a holiday gift buying service. The idea is marketed for partners and spouses, but really anyone who needs some advice could take advantage of Mehta and Backliwal’s expertise. There are a lot of interesting things that you may not know about stones and colors.

For example, lapis lazuli has traditionally been associated with self-awareness and clear thinking. And rose quartz is said to have the power to attract and keep love as well as helping to heal heartbreak. Every chakra—or energy center—in your body is associated with a color, and the various colors of the stones are thought to have the power to stimulate or calm the energy of that chakra. Or maybe you just want something green to match her eyes. However you think about it, it might be nice to have someone help focus your search.

In addition to selling jewelry, last year CurioCities started selling scarves from a nonprofit in India that was helping rural women learn to weave and then sell the scarves they made internationally. The women are members of the Mandakini Weavers Co-operative. They live in a farming region that suffered devastating floods in 2013. A lot of people died, and many families were left with nothing after the floods destroyed their farms and their livelihood. A group of women, many of them widows, came together with the help of a local organizer and financial support from the McNulty Foundation and created a new source of income for the area.

Mehta and Backliwal want CurioCities to be the kind of business that gives “whatever we can, whenever we can.” They are hoping to expand their purpose-made pieces to support other causes and charities in the future. And they are always on the lookout for unique hand-crafted art and jewelry made by other artisans.

The women are also happy to be bringing Indian art and handmade work to Edina. Backliwal says.,“My family has been in the arts business for generations and I’ve always wanted to be in it myself. Our venture has allowed us to bring beautiful things from a different part of the world to the U.S. and I’m loving every bit of it!”