Homegrown: Stephanie Kantis
Jewelry designer Stephanie Kantis creates objects of beauty that reflect and respect the natural world. The St. Louis native says she draws inspiration from colors, textures and materials that define various cultures, and she is working to ensure all of the earth’s treasures can be enjoyed by future generations. Now based in Palm Beach, Florida, Kantis made the leap from interior and furniture design to jewelry several years ago.
Her Kantis Fine Jewelry and Kantis Couture Gems creations have appeared in magazines such as Vogue and InStyle, adorning celebs like Reese Witherspoon. Kantis also founded and operates Kantis Cares Foundation, an organization that promotes living plastic free and using safe products for the environment to maintain the health of the planet. “I want to show that we have choices in what we buy,” she says. “We can have beautiful things and be responsible toward the Earth.”
What’s your St. Louis story?
I was born and raised in St. Louis. I graduated from Ladue High School, then went to college in Kansas and Florida. I’ve been back to the area for jewelry shows, including one at Saks Fifth Avenue last November.
What was your previous design career like?
I opened an interior design firm in Dallas at age 23 and operated it for 20 years, first specializing in children’s furnishings. I created my own collection of cribs and other pieces for kids’ rooms and custom-designed baby furniture for families of NBA and NFL athletes. Later, I started offering pieces for other rooms in the house. I had about 50 employees and a 20,000-square-foot warehouse, but I felt exhausted and wanted to get back to my ‘artisan self.’ I’ve always been very high energy, but the work was taking a toll on my health. Sometimes I’d have to lie on the boardroom floor during meetings, and my staff would have to get down there with me. I needed a break.
What was your next move?
My husband Anthony and I sold our house in 2010, put our belongings in storage, and high tailed it to Mexico with our suitcases and cats. We rented a Spanish Colonial hacienda in San Miguel de Allende. It was a major awakening for me! There were cobblestone streets and locals walking by with donkeys. I just wanted to wear bandanas and sarongs, paint, create ceramics and sculpture, and take cooking and art classes. We were supposed to stay for the summer but ended up living there two and a half years.
What pushed you to explore jewelry?
I was making tiny sculptures in bronze, and my art instructor said I should take a jewelry class. I had been making little paperweights with stones and gold, and some of them made nice pendants. I loved creating something artistic that people could wear using beautiful gems from the earth. I started out making jewelry for myself but later began doing trunk shows. I had to learn everything about precious stones and metals in a short time! Eventually, I started my jewelry company, and my designs are featured in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.
How do you develop ideas for your designs?
I get inspiration from nature, travel and cultures around the world. Each season, I focus on a different concept, from the beauty of Asian design to celebrating women’s empowerment. I’ve also been inspired by things like tile colors and patterns and rough gemstones from Mexico. Each piece of jewelry is responsibly sourced and carries a message, and I enjoy using that to show freedom and independence. It’s very soulful to create something that a woman can wear to bring out her best self.
Tell me about your foundation.
I’ve always wanted to use my work to do something rewarding for the planet, so I started the Kantis Cares Foundation to help children, animals and the environment. We raise awareness of their needs and the dangers of plastic pollution. Single-use plastics like packaging, straws and utensils are the worst offenders. The material leaches into our food, ends up in landfills and water, and harms animals. I’m also designing personal care products and packaging that are organic, sustainable and a good alternative to plastic. If we continue to have an unhealthy environment, we’ll all be unhealthy. This is a calling that will continue for the rest of my life!