Connecting with culture: One bead at a time

Delaney Thiele is the owner of Cloudberry — a handwoven beaded jewelry business that was inspired by an Alaska Native Beading Traditions class. (Photo by Sam Davenport)

Delaney Thiele is the owner of Cloudberry — a handwoven beaded jewelry business that was inspired by an Alaska Native Beading Traditions class. (Photo by Sam Davenport)

After taking an Alaska Native Beading Traditions class from elder Shirley Kendall at UAA last summer, Delaney Thiele fell in love with beading. Now, she has a business of her own creating handwoven beaded jewelry: Cloudberry.

Thiele, who is Yup’ik and Athabaskan, was always inspired by Native beadwork, but was never taught. A political science student with a minor in Alaska Native Studies, Thiele had initially signed up for the class to fulfill a degree requirement.

Thiele started an Instagram account in October to test the market — less than a year later, she has close to 1,500 followers. She realized she had a successful product when her earrings were selling faster than she could make them without putting any money towards marketing. Thiele says she’s fortunate to have family members to help her — like her cousin, who owns Northwest Strategies, and her uncle, who owns Mad Dog Graphx.

Thiele’s biggest advice for fellow entrepreneurs is not to stress over the little things.

“Looking back, I wish that I would have put less pressure on myself,” Thiele said. “While I do believe customers appreciate those little details, and I’m thankful I have family members who were able to help with that, I think I could have figured that out gradually.”

While most of her work is sold primarily through Instagram, Thiele hopes to create a website and Etsy page to sell her jewelry on, and is currently in the works to showcase her jewelry in some local Anchorage boutiques. She says one of the hardest parts of maintaining her business is balancing her life and schoolwork, but she manages to make it work. 

Depending on the project, Thiele says a pair of earrings can take anywhere between one and five hours.

“It’s a process. Everything is bead by bead,” Thiele said.

Thiele says she’s always been passionate about Indigenous issues, and working towards a degree and minor in her respective fields has helped her recognize how she wants to utilize her education. She is currently interning with First Alaskans Institute and hopes to eventually work in tribal law or Indiginous rights.

(Photo courtesy of Delaney Thiele)

(Photo courtesy of Delaney Thiele)

“I’ve become more connected with my culture and my identity and who I am as a Native person,” Thiele said. “[My Instagram] can be a platform for Indigenous rights and advocacy. I want to highlight that as much as possible.”

The switch to become more involved in the Indigenous community stemmed from one of her former professors — Dalee Dorough, who now serves as the international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, where she represents 165,000 Inuit individuals.

“[She’s] an Indigenous queen,” Thiele said.

While she doesn’t consider herself a master beader, she seeks inspiration from other Indigenous artists in Alaska — whether they are beaders, ivory carvers or painters — and hopes to collaborate with creatives from other mediums on future projects. 

“I think the biggest lesson in this process of starting Cloudberry has been learning about the Indigenous creative community, and seeing collaboration over competition in this community, which I believe is tied to our shared Native values,” Thiele said. “I see these artists lift each other up and share each other’s work… All of us Indigenous artists have such a passion for our people and communities.”

Thiele will be at the Little Fish Workshop Makers Market July 27 from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.