Andrea Usai comes from a village of 4500 people in Sardinia, off the coast of Italy. He learned the ancient art of filigree from his uncle who in turn learned it from his father.
The art of filigree is one of the oldest and most beautiful art forms developed by man. It has been rooted in Sardinia since the 8th century BC. Its magnificent arrangement of delicately interwoven wires have patterns and intricacies more in keeping with the natural world of vines than that of manmade jewelry. The complex twists and weaves of its dainty metal work introduce the element of space in what would otherwise be a solid object.
In Sardinia, the number of filigree artists has been dramatically dropping. Andrea and his family are fighting a battle to keep this dying traditional art alive to support as many Sardinian filigree artists as possible.
KOKKU was born with the vision of “preserving by promoting” traditional artisan crafts by giving them a new life and personal meaning to people around the world.
How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
More than interested in sustainable fashion I got dragged into saving our family roots. My uncle is fourth generation filigree artist and when in 2010 he told my wife and I that he may have stopped the activity we felt immediately the need to get involved, learn the art of filigree and promote it to find new markets.
What is KOKKU?
KOKKU is a way of living where traditions are valued, family is the priority and life is about helping each other in small communities to live a better and more serene life. The “kokku” is in Sardinian traditions an amulet which is gifted to new born babies to protect them against the evil eye. It is hung over the crib after birth and stays there to protect the child until later on when she/he is ready to wear it. The kokku is normally made of silver with a black stone (obsidian or onyx), the black of the stone attracts negativity and the sheen pushes it back.
What inspired the title of the organization?
The name was chosen when our son (aged 1) was unwell. He had lost appetite and nothing could have made him eat. After several days with this problem my wife Ansula took the kokku from the crib and put it around his neck and suddenly he re-gained appetite and felt better again.
What are some of its feature products?
All KOKKU jewelry is inspired by the traditions. Sardinia is a land full of history, pride and culture which is mainly due to the colonization of the island by different populations. Each population has adopted and developed the culture found in the island. All the pride, the culture and history is reflected in our pieces which are an infuse of Phoenician, Arab, Byzantine, Roman, Greek, Spanish and more jewelry found in Sardinia.
Who designs and manufactures the products of KOKKU?
My wife Ansula designs the pieces, my uncle, my family and I work on the hand-crafting of the pieces and my main role has more and more become finding new markets and opportunities to make sure that my family and my community’s work is appreciated and adopted around the world.
What is the customer base – the demographics?
Our customer base is simply people who value traditions and cultures. They are most normally educated people, culturally inspired. They travel, love art and they like quality things. They look for something different, they appreciate the work behind the pieces, the uniqueness of the design and the quality of the jewelry.
What is the greatest emotional struggle in business for you?
The greatest emotional struggle in business is the uncertainty of tomorrow. We think that our jewelry and the techniques behind them are culturally valuable and to be protected but the risk of extinction for our type of businesses is still very high.
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
We appreciate very much the opportunity that an interview like this offers. We always find more people interested in our initiative as an outcome of these opportunities. We also find that more people get inspired to do something for their communities when they hear about our initiatives. We hope that more and more initiatives will be taken to save ancient skills and professions that risk to disappear forever otherwise.
Thank you for your time, Andrea.