Diana, atop Madison Square Garden
"For a short while the highest point of the New York skyline was marked by a girl standing on tiptoe. At night she was also the brightest point, the focus of 66 incandescent lamps and ten spotlights, at a time when there was little electric light in the city. During the day, the sun detonated her gilded surface and she ‘flashed against a green-blue sky’, as Willa Cather described it in My Mortal Enemy." — Diana of the Upper Air, Lavinia Greenlaw
Reader, read it! So very, very good. Like a gust of cool breeze, the sort that would have sent Diana spinning.
The Catbird Giving Fund is so proud to support Kurandza in honor of our new collection with artist Cassi Namoda. Kurandza is a grassroots nonprofit based in Mozambique that provides holistic schooling for over 200 girls and counting! When you give a girl an education, she’s more likely to earn a higher income, provide healthcare and opportunities for her family, and send her own daughters to school someday, breaking the cycle of poverty. This is why empowering girls within their own community has always been one of Catbird Giving Fund's primary areas of focus. Below is the story of Kurandza through founder Elisabetta Colabianchi.
What originally brought you to Mozambique?
In 2014 I joined the Peace Corps and my first assignment brought me to a rural village in Mozambique where I volunteered in the maternal and infant health department at the hospital, Centro de Saúde of Guijá. My work there included counseling HIV+ women on the prevention and transmission to their babies. While I was there I fell in love with the people, the lifestyle and honestly everything about the country and from there I became very integrated into the community. In addition to learning the national language of Portuguese, I loved learning the local language (Changana) and building strong friendships with many of the women in the community, which then inspired me to continue working and living there.
Kurandza originally started as a sewing cooperative in Mozambique. Can you elaborate on how its focus has evolved over time?
We started as a sewing cooperative, but because of our grassroots approach, we’re able to shift with the community needs. In 2016, the drought and hunger crisis hit Mozambique. This propelled us to bring our first campaign to life, raising enough funds to give food aid to a select group of HIV+ women and their families as well as all the women in the sewing cooperative. From this we started envisioning the real possibilities of bringing the community together. Over the years, we assessed the differences between short-term fixes and long-term impact, and we began to recognize that the earlier a girl receives support in her life, the more sustainable her growth, development, and community impact will likely be. And so, we shifted our focus to education. We began with the sponsorship of Lindsey Brianna, and in just three months, she was counting in English, reciting poetry in Portuguese, and had a newfound curiosity about the world around her. In the fall of 2017, we launched the first #IStandForGirls campaign with the goal of sending 100 girls to school. This was the start of Kurandza as we know it today. Since then, we have witnessed the transformative power of education and focused our efforts on providing scholarships, resources, and psychosocial support to all of our students.
How many students does the program sponsor currently and across what education levels does the program span?
Currently we have 200 girls and 5 boys enrolled in our program spanning from preschool through high school. Next month we will launch our partnerships with students at local universities who will come on as interns with Kurandza--serving as “mentor leaders” for the girls in our new mentorship program.
Kurandza takes a holistic approach to each student’s education. Can you talk a bit about what that entails?
Since the start of our girls education program, we’ve come to realize that education involves much more than just school attendance. It’s about access to all of the tools that allow and support someone to actually become educated. To be at the same level as the other students begins with a uniform, but it also includes reliable and safe transportation, proper school supplies like rulers and protractor sets, art materials, textbooks, notebooks, and pencils. Additionally, it involves holistic care, which means helping with the social aspects of their lives, too, since social and home situations are often strongly correlated with academic performance. We take special care with the most at risk girls who are HIV+, pregnant, or dealing with abuse or malnutrition, and offer counseling, mentorship, and social support for all 200 girls in our program, with the long-term goal of supporting the girls through high school, and going on to reach their full potential.
How has the pandemic affected Kurandza’s efforts and the student’s education?
The pandemic has widened the literacy gap globally, especially in the rural villages where we do most of our work. With the schools closed for over a year, we have seen a decline in the girls’ literacy, but now that the lockdown is over, we are finally able to implement our literacy workshops to get the girls back up to the national standard level pre-Covid. A year out of the classroom has also caused a significant increase in the dropout and teen pregnancy rates. In an effort to provide extra support and counseling to these girls, we’ve brought on additional team members who also serve as the impetus to start our waterfall-model mentorship program. Our newest Kurandza team members are part of the 1% of Mozambican women to graduate college, and will be working alongside local college students, acting as mentor leaders for the high school mentors, who will then be placed in groups of 10 younger girls (mentees)-- with each generation guiding the next.
What are you envisioning for the future of Kurandza?
I’m excited about the future of Kurandza! This year has been a year of renewal and transformation, growing our leadership team in Mozambique, and strengthening our programs. I’m looking forward to continuing to build out our mentorship program by involving more women leaders and together creating the next generation of female leaders in Mozambique. Heading towards 300 girls, this year we want to support even more girls in the community, and in the long-term we have dreams of developing a leadership academy and curriculum.
On the US side, we’re looking forward to cultivating community and building relationships with aligned individuals and companies, so that we can work together towards this shared vision. Together is always better!
What is one of your favorite success stories?
The first story that came to mind is 10-year-old Ayanda. She was one of the first babies I met after arriving in Mozambique 10 years ago. When we started our girls education program in 2017, Ayanda was in the founding group of girls as a first grader. Her mother, Gelar, like many of the women in the village, never had access to education like Ayanda does, and knew her daughter deserved to have more opportunities in life. Ayanda was initially so apprehensive about going to school 4 years ago. She was afraid and wasn’t used to seeing other people in her family or her sphere of influence attending school. But once she received her very own uniform and backpack full of school supplies, she gained confidence and purpose in attending school. She is now one of the girls who is always excited and happy to attend school, and she has one of the best attendance records of all the girls in our program. Seeing her flourish has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me.
Where do you look for motivation and inspiration?
I get motivated to push through the difficulties when I see how much this work means to our team in Mozambique (and the US). Our team works day and night to help empower girls to have a say in their future, and they constantly encourage me to keep on working towards our shared vision. Talking with the girls and hearing about their progress also empowers me, because it shows me that we are making a tangible difference and that this work matters. I’m also constantly inspired by the creative community of women I’ve met on Instagram :)
Shop our collection with Cassi Namoda
I'm a longtime admirer of Stacey Nishimoto and her emphasis on elegance, ease, open and quixotic specificity, vulnerability, and the beauty of every day. I've been screenshotting her posts on Instagram for as long as I can remember using Instagram (a mixed blessing, that IG, but oh the glory of peeking into lives!), and I'm so thrilled to work with her and say that Catbird is her first retail account.
What is your first jewelry memory?
My first jewelry memory was watching Dynasty. Jewels that matched the actual dresses worn seared through my tiny brain.
What does jewelry mean to you?
Jewelry means everything to me. Although I own a few key pieces, I wear them carefully daily. Jewelry holds energy. When I slip on a large stone on my finger or a delicate gold chain on my neck, it literally elevates my soul. I feel like jewelry acts like an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence, it does the same thing to my outfit no matter how casual the outfit is.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I find divine inspiration in music, vintage interior books, random people who I come across in my life that become my muses, my city, Los Angeles.
How do you like to wear your jewelry?
I am a minimalist and a maximalist. I switch back and forth with moods. I like to wear one giant ring. Other days I layer with delicate sensual yellow gold. I also like to wear jewelry unexpectedly, for example I like to wear my pearl choker casually like with an old oversized t-shirt.
Can you share with us a challenge in bringing your (very singular) vision to life?
Honestly the biggest challenge is that I am self-funded so I have to carefully release pieces that are without time. Pieces that you could wear easily three years later. My brain is bursting with ideas that I wish I could pour out into the world. I don’t want to clutter the world with a bunch of products regardless, everything I put out will always be practical and forever. Hopefully one day I will be a full on fashion house representing the raw beauty of my world in Los Angeles, the city of angels.
Do you take your jewelry off at night? Leave it on? We know that you are a bather (oh, Instagram!), do you wear jewels in the tub?
I bathe with gold. But anything that has a stone I take off :)
Take us through a perfect day in LA.
A perfect day in LA starts with an iced espresso and a chorizo and potato burrito with a side of pickled carrots and jalapenos. Then heading to the beach with a bottle of chilled amber wine and poké and basking under the beautiful California sun. Night capping at a crazy friend's house in Echo Park.
Shop Stacey Nishimoto
Writer, vintage lover, strawberry admirer: meet Lauren! We met Lauren at our inaugural book club meeting, held last year at our Soho shop. More book clubs, more of our Soho shop to come, but until then, let's join Lauren as she wears Catbird (and some excellent dresses) with great aplomb and joie de vivre.
A passion we share with Lauren: baskets. Oh, and stacks, so many fine and good ring stacks!
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A Full Heart a Baby Pearl Collar, rings rings and more rings, and a boyfriend are Lauren's boon companions for a walk to get some matcha at Secret Garden.
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Before heading out to dinner with a friend (the delight of doing this again!) Lauren has a little moment with a Gumball Ring, the Portraiture Pearl Earrings, a sprig of goldenrod, and an expertly-applied cat eye.
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The sides of the highways are teeming, unshorn, a veritable forest clearing full of bunnies-fairies-wild flowers-butterflies-bees, to city people like you and me. To come: weird greens on the wall, for when the flowers fall. Here, some green as my guest on the car ride home — I've got a pair of clippers and I clip with full decorum from public spaces where all is plentiful. I seek to bring you clippers, too.
My son and I were checking out at our favorite bookstore, Books Are Magic, when I noticed Anthony's perfect Catbird stacks and they noticed my Catbird email! Learning that they and their partner, Austin, get each other Catbird jewelry for meaningful occassions is the best possible thing I could ever hear. We invited Anthony & Austin to spend the afternoon with us and chat about all things jewelry and love!
-- Rony, Founder & Co-Creative Director
Where are you both originally from?
Austin: We moved around a lot growing up, my mom had a restless heart. But, for me Sebastopol, California always felt like my home with vivid memories of misty mornings and ancient redwoods.
Anthony: I grew up on Long Island, we also moved around a lot, my parents are divorced and bouncing back and forth between them unfortunately nothing really felt like home. I do sometimes miss being able to just walk outside to lay in the grass and read.
How did you meet?
Anthony: We actually met on OkCupid. After talking for awhile we decided to set a date to get coffee in the East Village. The day of our date I rushed onto the subway platform and I thought I saw someone who looked familiar, so I turned to them and said “Austin?”. It turned out that we actually lived off the same subway stop in Bushwick, and our apartments were only 4 blocks away from each other. Our date started on the subway platform and fast forward 7 years, here we are. It does seem pretty unreal how much of a rom-com our first date was like, after coffee we started walking around and we happened to walk down a street where they were filming a movie and it was completely covered in fake snow in the middle of summer. We got ice cream at the end and when Austin forgot the word for bench (I guess because he was nervous, something he’ll never fully admit) he asked if we should sit down on the “long chair” which I’ve never let him forget.
What are your jewelry uniforms?
Austin: I always wear a stack of yellow and rose gold hammered rings with a Cosmic Witch Ring, mirrored on the other hand with a Twisted Stacker and an opal and diamond Sleeping Beauty Ring. I love a healthy flow of necklaces so I’ll wear a Sleeping Beauty, Unicorn Horseshoe, and a Tinsel Chain with a Fort Tilden Charm regularly. I love a good anklet so I always wear a Sweet Nothing with a Mermaid Treasure Charm even over my nursing compression socks, it gets a lot of attention on the unit. And as my grandma always said, "A lady always has a string of pearls!" So with that in mind I always wear a pearl bracelet, whether it’s a string of Catbird Sweet Sixteen pink pearls or a Serpentine Delilah Pearl Bracelet. Then there’s earrings I never leave home without at least four!
Anthony: The thing I wear every day, because I can’t actually take it off is my Forever Sweet Nothing Bracelet that matches Austin’s. It’s only ever come off once, after our cat Dorito clawed it off getting a little too rambunctious playing tag. My Gentle Spider Charm crawls to different spots everyday, sometimes I wear it on my 1976 Bracelet or on my Sweet Nothing Chain, or I’ll hook it onto the backing of an earring stud. I never actually take my rings off, I have a mix of different Catbird rings stacked with a Black Diamond Tiniest Ring, Naga Snake Ring, and Moon Guardian Ring from Sofia Zakia.
So you both have quite the Catbird collection!
Austin: It was actually Anthony that first introduced me to Catbird. For our first anniversary Anthony surprised me with a dinner date at Beauty & Essex - and I’d been living as a pretty broke nursing student then so it was pretty impressive! Anyway, towards the end of our dinner, Anthony presented me with my very first piece of my Catbird collection, a Classic Hammered Ring. Now it’s almost been seven years since that day and it’s still my most treasured piece of my collection.
Anthony: Later that year Austin completely surprised me with a Catbird Rose Thorn necklace for Yule. It’s been a tradition to get each other Catbird pieces ever since.
What does jewelry mean to you both?
Austin: For me jewelry is magic, from the inherent power lying in the natural stones to the dedication of the inspired artist that made them - pure magic! I also connect very deeply with jewelry and my grandmother - she had an impressive collection with some original Tiffany pieces to family heirlooms. I recall getting ready with her, trying on some of her necklaces and huge strings of pearls, and sorting through her collection with her to get her jewelry uniform on for the day.
Anthony: I have a deep fascination with medieval alchemy. Gold was one of seven metals they used to represent the heavenly bodies. Gold fittingly represented the sun, and jewelry makes me feel like I’m wearing rays of sunlight.
When did you know it was love?
Anthony: As gushy as it sounds, the first time we told each other we loved each other, I had been reading Austin short stories as the sun was setting and we were just laying in my bed and staring into each other’s eyes, and in that moment I knew it was love. He was able to ground me and know me unlike anyone ever had. That’s when we first told each other “I love you” though he always says that he said it first.
Describe your perfect New York day together!
Austin: Quite recently we had a pretty perfect New York day together this April. First, we have found that every perfect day has to start with brunch with a few mimosas. Anthony then took me to the Brooklyn botanical gardens for the very first time - it was simply incredible surrounded by newly flowering cherry blossoms, a beautiful Japanese garden, and flower petals gently blowing through the air. We then traveled into the Lower East Side, visited a pencil store owned by one of Anthony’s friends, picked up a bouquet of peonies, and a jar of pickles from a newly opened book store. Towards the end of the day I think we had walked close to 12 miles, so we made our way back to our Bushwick home and treated ourselves to some pretty amazing Chinese takeout.
A + A 's Shopping Edit