Interview with Kiona Williams of Sweet Dreams
Let's kick off our South Anchorage and Girdwood box interviews with Kiona Williams! She owns Sweet Dreams and makes extremely cool dreamcatchers. We talked a bit about how her love for dreamcatchers, the addition of her keepsakes, and more. Let's get this thing going!
Start by telling me a bit about yourself and how you got started with Sweet Dreams.
KIONA WILLIAMS: I am Sugpiaq, an Alaskan Native from Port Graham, AK. I have always been very creative and love to make new things. When I was 10, I learned how to make dreamcatchers from an Alaskan Native elder in school and haven’t stopped making Alaskan art since. I officially started Sweet Dreams in 2014 and over the years I have branched out into handmade jewelry, keepsakes, and clothing. I spend my time learning new trades and my goal in the next few years is to grow my brand and further my business.
That’s awesome! It’s always great when you can take your passion for something and run with it. I really like how dreamcatchers tie into your name. What was it about them in particular that you connected with?
KIONA: Dreamcatchers have always attracted me with their beauty. They're each unique and have so many possibilities when making them. I enjoy every bit of the process, like picking out leathers, choosing beads, and deciding which feathers would fit perfectly to tie it all together. Making dreamcatchers has been such a huge part of my life, just about 2 decades now. I like the idea that something I've made could not only help people relax and get better sleep but they are pretty to look at so they can be put anywhere.
That’s really awesome! I totally get it. It sounds like it gives you a lot of room for artistic expression. And knowing that you’re helping people is definitely a great and irreplaceable thing. So back in 2014, what was the ultimate catalyst that made you want to start Sweet Dreams officially?
KIONA: Honestly, I didn't realize people would potentially pay for my work. It was really exciting to know that people loved my art as much as I do and were willing to commission me for personal pieces.
Yeah, it's got to be a pretty great feeling. What was your first ever commission?
KIONA: The first commission I can remember was 2011 when I lived in Germany. A friend had seen some of my dreamcatchers in a photo I posted and asked me to make her a big one! It was exciting and my mom had just gotten back from visiting Alaska so she stocked up on rings and leathers for me. Looking back at my dreamcatchers then and the ones I do now is fun. The difference is huge and I hope to keep evolving throughout the years.
That had to be super exciting for sure! Let's dig into what you just mentioned about the evolution. Is it just the complexity? Or is it more than that?
KIONA: They have definitely become more complex. I count out the leather wraps to get perfect spacing for the knots and have added so much beading! My earlier dreamcatchers definitely looked more like an at home craft project vs now where I make them to sell or display.
That's awesome! Like you mentioned, it's got to be pretty great and exciting to watch that evolution over the years. You mentioned before that you branched out with other items. What made you want to do that? Just trying new things?
KIONA: I started with jewelry, mostly dreamcatcher earrings and beaded necklaces. I got into those as a challenge to myself to try something new. It went from there to breastmilk and cremation keepsakes jewelry. I became interested in the processes of preserving and spent a year learning how to properly preserve breastmilk through so many failed experiments but it was so worth it. The cremation keepsakes came once I lost my cat and I had a hard time finding affordable keepsakes that I loved. I love finding new challenges for myself and thinking up new things to try. I want to incorporate new things this year starting in the spring.
It sounds like challenges help keep things fresh. Taking a newfound interest or personal situation and tying those into a new challenge. As for those new ideas, is there anything you can tease or would you rather keep it under wraps for now?
KIONA: I can do a little tease. I'm going to be incorporating a lot of florals and focusing on my jewelry. I'm very excited to start back up with gardening and can’t wait to grow the beautiful flowers that will be preserved!
That sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing that. I was reading on your website that you have art on other continents. How did that come to be?
KIONA: I've traveled quite a bit and met some amazing people along the way. Thanks to word of mouth, my art has reached throughout Europe, South Africa, Canada, and the US.
Ah, I see. That's really cool. World renowned! I'm actually really curious about the preservation process and want to go back to that a bit. What's that process like from start to finish?
KIONA: For breastmilk, it gets double boiled and the preservative is added and stirred until the milk becomes a solid. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks to fully cure in an airtight container. Once it's completely dried out, I grind it into a fine powder and add it into the mold or setting that has been chosen by the customer.
Oh, wow. It has to sit for quite a while. Sounds pretty intensive. And you said before that it took several tries to nail down the process?
KIONA: I have tried out at least 5 different preservatives and even more different potential methods. Finding out what actually broke down the milk was tough because breastmilk is full of so many different components. I wish I paid more attention in science during school though.
Definitely sounds like a long and arduous process! A challenge indeed. I just have a few more questions. You mentioned that you’ve done a lot of traveling. Are there still places that you haven’t had the chance to make it to yet and what are they?
KIONA: Once my kids are older, I definitely want to go back to Europe and hit places like Ireland, Greece, and Italy. I would also love to visit Australia someday.
Oh, that sounds amazing! With travel, it always feels like there’s another place to add to the list. As far as The Bear Box, what was it that made you want to be a part of it?
KIONA: I would travel always if it was possible. I love to explore and I'm always up for shopping! As far as The Bear Box, I love the idea of being able to find and shop local small businesses. The chance to become a part of the growing community is exciting.
I’m with you on the travel. New places are always a ton of fun! I agree completely on the community aspect too. Connecting with and helping to support the community has been a big driving force with us and definitely exciting. Before we wrap up, is there anything else that you’d like to mention? Any wisdom to share?
KIONA: Wisdom wise, I suppose all I have is do what you love to do because the happy feeling you get is the best. That feels a little cheesy. :)
It’s authentic though! Well, that’s all I have. Thank you for taking the time, Kiona. Hopefully it was an easy, painless process. :)
KIONA: Thank you! I just want to thank Kiona for being in this month's box and all of the amazing dreamcatchers she provided. If you're interested in those or her keepsake jewelry, make sure to check out her website and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.