The sweet grass baskets made in South Carolina’s Lowcountry fascinated Buxton and Manning several years ago, and as they learned more about the intricate craftsmanship that goes into each piece, they became passionate about raising awareness for the dying art.
“Most people don’t know how valuable each and every basket is, and how much work goes into them,” Manning said.
Buxton had always had a knack for design and creating beautiful things, and had the idea one day to use sweet grass weaving technique to make a bracelet out of her children’s air-dry clay. The concept worked in clay, and she and Manning took the prototype to a silversmith in the Raleigh, N.C., area, who agreed to give it a try.
The two women spent three years researching the jewelry market and talking to people in the industry before launching their first collection in 2009.
Sweet Charleston Designs pieces are made from sterling silver, gold and pearls using the same weaving techniques used in creating sweet grass baskets. Manning said it takes a silversmith one day to weave a single bracelet.
“It’s extremely labor-intensive, but the end result is this amazing creation,” she said.
Both Manning and Buxton have ties to the Augusta area. Buxton was born and raised in Augusta. Manning and her family lived in Augusta for years and still keep a home in the area. Their Savannah River collection was inspired by the Augusta region, using pearls grown with mussel shells originating from the banks of the Savannah River.
Each of their collections is named after a waterway, from the Cooper River to Bulls Bay. The two women hope Sweet Charleston Designs can cultivate both an appreciation for the sweet grass basket artistry and local businesses. Sweet Charleston Designs pieces are not available over the Internet, and Manning and Buxton have no plans to change that. They believe by making their pieces available only through brick-and-mortar stores, they will drive business for the stores and keep their brand from becoming mainstream.
“A local jeweler is something special,” Buxton said. “We want people to go to a store and keep the local economy going and growing.”
The jewelry is already raising awareness for the sweet grass basket art form. In the past year, Sweet Charleston Designs has given sweet grass baskets and jewelry to the U.S. Embassy in Senegal, a country in West Africa where the baskets originated. Their company also gave first lady Michelle Obama a pendant necklace as a gift and donated a sweet grass basket as a diplomatic gift for the president and first lady to give on their 2010 trip to Asia.
“We love every minute of it,” Manning said. “It’s just so fun.”