Designers in D.C. work with home in mind — whether home is in the city or a faraway place that adds extra texture and color to their products. Each maker featured in our October Issue is unique, but a common theme persists: a focus on cultural appreciation, sustainability and naturalness. We tell their stories and dive into details of each business below, from cocktail syrups to minimalist earrings to vintage repurposed maps.
Hadiya Williams, owner and designer of Black Pepper Paperie, hand-makes every jewelry and houseware item in her shop, letting design feel like an intuitive practice that holds true to her West African roots.
District Fray: What’s the story of Black Pepper Paperie?
Hadiya Williams: I didn’t truly consider myself an artist until maybe early 2017, despite getting my BFA in graphic design many years prior. In 2017, I designed stationery and day-of materials for a wedding, and I designed collateral and helped with event planning for a nonprofit event. The response to both experiences solidified my desire to create in a different way. I felt like I crossed a personal threshold in my career, and I knew I had to focus my time and energy on more creative projects. Black Pepper Paperie was born out of that shift. The name was inspired by food, Thanksgiving, seasoning and Black culture. I wanted to highlight the “flavor” my art and designs add to your event or life. At that time, I was more focused on stationery and event design, working primarily with paper. But I soon experimented with ceramics and clay. I started making jewelry, small dishes, things I could manage. I began sharing my work on Instagram, and the rest is history.
When and how did you know you found your voice through design?
When I stopped doing client work and started fully creating as a visual artist. My graphic design work had its own fingerprint and was impactful, but my current work is all about experimenting, having fun and doing what I want. After 20 years designing for others, it is very liberating to create solely from my perspective.
Your work focuses on cultural memory, history and ritual. What’s the design process like for these themes?
I draw inspiration from the influence West African art and design had on early 20th century design and aesthetics. It connects the dots of who I am as a Black woman in the United States and within the African diaspora. The more my creative practice matures, the more I realize my work is influenced by a love of historic things. This includes objects, creative practices, art, fashion and lineage as it relates to the diaspora and how we are all connected through space, geography and time. This foundation allows me to create intuitively. I usually start making and enjoy (or loathe) what comes through. I tried the traditional wholesale model and realized I preferred to enjoy the process and make the way I want, so every piece is one-of-a-kind.
What’s your favorite piece you’ve created and why?
Because my work is one long experiment, I am always attaching myself to what’s in the moment. I love it all.