New Bern artist makes jewelry from Hawaii’s finest treasures

Art

Leone Sutton photo

NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) – Jewelry maker Leone Sutton is taking steps to make a change in the environment one recyclable at a time.

Leone is the owner of OceanKindHi, a line where she makes handmade jewelry from plastic she finds on the beach in Hawaii. Originally from New Bern, she is turning everyday trash into treasure and with every piece, she sells on Etsy the proceeds from her earrings go towards cleaning up the coastlines of Hawaii.

In a conversation, Leone shares all about her passions and purpose for exploring the beach’s most valuable treasures. She even talks about some of the craziest things she’s found so far on her own fantasy island.

What kind of recycled material do you make your jewelry from?

“I do beach cleanups on the coast of Hawaii Island and embed the microplastic in a bio-based resin.”

You’ve been making jewelry from recycled items since 2010. Why did you begin and what is the purpose why you use recycled materials?

“From 2005 to 2007 I went to school for design and focused on sustainability during that time. I then went on to work for a ‘Green’ building supply company as well as learning from speakers that came to our business to speak about green business practices. I’ve stayed in the mindset ever since. Everything that we use in the products we create has an effect on every aspect of our environment, be its air quality, water quality etc.” 

You’re originally from New Bern, what made you move to Hawaii?

“My husband works for the National Park Service. He started at Moore’s Creek National Battlefield outside of Wilmington but was offered a job on the island of Molokai in Hawaii and decided to take it. After being there for four years, a post opened up on Big Island at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and my husband decided to apply for it. He got the position, so we decided to take our chances on a new adventure on a different island!”

Where do you find most of your recycled items?

“All of the pieces that I use are Microplastics I’ve cleaned up from various beach locations.”

You said that you got to wear hiking boots when you do bigger beach cleanups. Is the beach sand in Hawaii deeper than the mainland? 

“It’s a hike out to fine sand. Actually, it’s a blend of terrain. I hike through dirt and lava rock for the most part and then hit the sand in various areas.” 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve found so far?

“A toilet base … then two weeks later I found a toilet seat at another cleanup spot. I’ve also found plastic toilet brushes! More frequently I find toothbrushes, hairbrushes, bottles of all sizes, bottle caps and small plastic toys.”

Is Hawaii really paradise on earth?

“It is, and if the people who come here to visit or live here do it with an educated respect for the Hawaiian culture and the land it will stay that way.”

Has your work been affected by the pandemic?

“Definitely. I have two young boys so with distance education, I was thrown into a teaching position as well as mom/business owner. So we did do a lot of beach cleanups but not as much creating as I would like to have done. The boys did get involved in creating our yearly Christmas Ornaments last year which were ocean waves filled with Microplastics. They did get quite a bit of environmental education which is perfectly fine with me.”

Your jewelry doesn’t at all look like it’s been made from recycled material so how long does the process take to create this work of art?

“From beach cleanup, until the piece is done I would estimate around 5-7 days. Some of the pieces take longer if they need sanding and glazing, such as the rings and bangle bracelets.” 

Click here to watch the jewelry making process:

Leone is proving that we all can be the change our earth needs against pollution.

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