Finding the Future from the Past

Reflektion Designs’ Anitra Terrell looked to Ghana for her store’s inspiration
Published on Jan 7, 2022

In the shadows of America’s “Great Resignation,” more and more people are thinking about their next career or business, and hopefully a more satisfying one. But Anitra Terrell didn’t have the choice of leaving her job when she began—out of necessity—to develop a new career.

To begin her journey, she first went to her happy place.

As she explained in a recent interview, “In mid-2013, I was laid off. It was a very pivotal moment. I was at a crossroads.”

Rather than panic, she decided to “sit still” and think about what had been the happiest moments in her life to that point. A trip she had taken to Ghana a few years prior kept coming up. It was coming up for a reason, she thought.

She had spent eight weeks in Ghana, purchasing textiles for a museum client. She was also a Fulbright scholar and teacher, working with professors at the University of Cape Coast.

“I have to figure the next phase in this next chapter of my life,” she thought at the time. And her trip to Ghana continued to loom large.

During the daytime she would be immersed in academia, working on courses related to marketing and nonprofits. Afternoons and evenings would find her in the marketplaces shopping for textiles for her museum client.

“That is where I felt the most alive, being in the marketplace,” she said. “It was that touchpoint to the community.

“It was a learning place as well,” she continued, “learning the art of negotiation and haggling for prices, and just learning community norms and cultural norms and everything. It was where I felt the most connected to the community.”

She would also take every opportunity to get to know some of the artisans there.

The local artists created everything from paintings to wood sculptures, to textiles and jewelry, but Terrell would also venture out to rural communities where a lot of the traditional art forms were still being taught and pursued, such as weaving circular Raffia baskets, or creating hand stamp patterns on cloth.

Then, back home in South Pasadena one day, she found herself in a store shopping for bedding. And it struck her.

“These things are nice,” she thought, “but not me. They don’t really resonate. They don’t speak to me. That was my light bulb moment.”

She realized that there was a void in the market for authentic African home décor and art “where people can see themselves at home.”

Terrell realized, “They can have art and pillows and tableware that speaks to them, that resonates to them. And that creates a sense of connection. And so Reflektion Design was born out of that experience.”

And the Raffia baskets found a new and appreciative audience.

“The woven Raffia baskets and placemats are probably one of my favorite items offered in the shop,” said Terrell.

For Terrell, the baskets are appealing because as she says, “It’s absolutely stunning to see dried Raffia or Cecil. All of these are natural elements. All these are grasses. To see them dyed and naturally dyed and then handwoven into the most beautiful baskets and placemats and coasters, is really cool, and it’s functional art, which is what I love.”

And, says Terell, functional art is one of the main pillars of what her shop, Reflektion Design, is all about.

“It’s a basket that can hold things obviously, but it’s also art,” she explained. “You can hang the baskets on the wall, which is really popular. You may have seen that a lot lately, with people creating gallery walls with baskets.

“Baskets are art that you can have for years, and use in a different way every time,” she added, “instead of buying something that you might use once.”

Lately, however, said Terrell, she has been “experimenting” with soapstone, and worked with an artisan group in Kenya over the summer.

“They made a capsule collection of soapstone incense holders, which are absolutely gorgeous and handmade,” she explained. “The soapstone is gathered from the ground, chiseled, sanded, then, washed and hand-etched, and dyed.”

Terrell launched a small collection of incense holders for the holidays, and they also proved popular, once again proving her point about functional art.

As important as the art’s function is its cultural tradition, says Terrell, who noted that “Many cultural art forms, if they’re not passed down, tend to fade away, if younger generations aren’t taught.

“So,” she continued, “to be able to see that many of these cultural traditions are still being taught, it was great and it made me excited enough to want to share as much of the art and artistry that I could share with people, all over the US.”

Reflektion Designs, 1506 Mission St, South Pasadena, CA 91030. (626) 460-8745.

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