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SFSU student expresses themselves through handmade jewelry from reused materials

Kylie Choi is a small business owner and artist who creates a “whimsical” interpretation of style in jewelry
A+customer+taking+a+look+at+Kylie+Choi%E2%80%99s+handmade+jewelry+at+the+Fall+Queer+Art+Faire+in+San+Francisco%2C+California+on+Sept.+24%2C+2023.+%28Ryosuke+Kojima%2FGolden+Gate+Xpress%29.
Ryosuke Kojima
A customer taking a look at Kylie Choi’s handmade jewelry at the Fall Queer Art Faire in San Francisco, California on Sept. 24, 2023. (Ryosuke Kojima/Golden Gate Xpress).

Families and community members roamed around Lakeside Landing looking at prints, ceramics and jewelry while attending The Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco. A kid in a pink helmet rolled up on a scooter stopping at The BB Boutique table. They leaned over Kylie Choi’s table and screamed, “Oh my God, that’s so beautiful.”

Choi is a student at San Francisco State University. They make high-quality, handmade jewelry for the Sunset District community they come from. Choi, who uses she/they pronouns, is a queer Asian American majoring in race and resistance studies and minoring in studio art. They run the BB Boutique, or the Butterfly Beb Boutique, where Choi creates, markets and sells their jewelry and wire wraps.

Vending at The Queer Arts Fair gives Choi the chance to connect with other queer artists and community members, while also working in the Sunset District, which is right where they grew up. Most of all, Choi expressed wanting to evoke the exact emotion the kid in the pink helmet had in all of her customers –– a whimsical childlike feeling.

“I feel like that moment reminded me of why I want to make my art. I used to be that kid,” Choi said, smiling at the thought of the moment. “Making jewelry and art is a way that I connect to my inner child. I’ve been doing this since I was young, and it’s something that really brings me joy. It’s something I’ve always carried with me and it’s brought me so much joy.”

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The Queer Arts Fair is a perfect example of the spaces Choi hopes to promote their jewelry in. The event started last year and organizer Michel Lurito aims to create an open safe space for queer artists with all levels of experience selling their art.

“The fair’s mission is to create community spaces for local artists and queer community,” Lurito said. “We aim to offer a curated experience of sharing your art that emphasizes friendliness and welcoming hobbyists and first-time vendors.”

Choi loved working at The Queer Art Fair because of how community-oriented it is.

“I really enjoy going to events showing my work, meeting people and meeting the other artists,” they said. “I was looking for queer spaces specifically. I really like supporting other queer artists and just being in that communal space.”

Victoria Yee lives in the Sunset District and is friends with the organizers of the fair. She looked over each piece intently and said, “They’re all so beautiful. I really like the ones that have crystals. I don’t even know how she can do that with the wire by hand.”

Plenty of customers bought items at the fair and Choi said attending is what matters. The community aspect of events like The Queer Art Fair gives a reason for artists like Choi to show up and have fun. Many of Choi’s customers are SFSU students.

Choi was an artist from a very young age. They say they were always encouraged by their mother and described a childhood filled with creative freedom and expression. Choi has and continues to do many forms of art, like drawing and painting. In high school, Choi began expanding their creativity by making jewelry and pendants.

“I originally would see pieces and say to myself, ‘Oh that’s cute, I can recreate that and make it more my style’,” Choi said. “But then I had too many materials, so I decided to start making things for my friends and selling really simple stuff to people like bead necklaces and bracelets.”

Kylie Choi poses for a photo at the Fall Queer Art Faire in San Francisco,
California on Sept. 24, 2023. (Ryosuke Kojima/Golden Gate Xpress) (Ryosuke Kojima)

Over the next few years, Choi began honing their craft and developed a following on social media and eventually decided to open The BB Boutique as a business selling to friends, community members and fellow students. In 2021, Choi began working specifically with crystals and gems.

“I was getting into spirituality, crystals and learning about their properties,” they said. “Everyone has their own style and I should incorporate this into my work. It’s definitely a lot more intricate and detailed. Over time I’ve developed my own style.”

Choi described how SFSU was the perfect choice for school because of its location, affordability and communal values. Their passion for social justice and youth outreach initiatives led them to pursue a degree in race and resistance studies while focusing on art as a minor. They hope to continue developing these two areas, forming a socially conscious and artistic approach to working in the San Francisco community.

“I only decided to minor in studio art when I took ceramics last semester. I really enjoyed actually being in person after COVID,” they said. “I like feeling like an art student, especially with the people in ceramics. I feel like it’s a very nice community of people who you get to collaborate with, and that’s a big part of school. There’s definitely a lot of students that make art here, and I’ve made connections with some of the people that I’ve met.”

Choi mentioned that customer recommendations are very important when trying to sell their art. While they do run the @butterflybeb.btq Instagram account and attend events such as the Queer Arts Fair, word of mouth is a very efficient natural form of marketing.

Miranda Martinez is a friend and customer of Choi majoring in Criminal Studies at SFSU.

“Anywhere I am, I pop it out and people say, ‘Oh my God where’d you get that from?’ It’s something that sparks other people’s interest.”

Martinez bought a ring that can hold small objects like pens and vapes.

It’s great I get to support a friend, a small business owner and the product that I received is something that I use on a day-to-day basis,” Martinez said.

Choi is balancing school, family, work and making the art they love. Finding a balance between enjoying making the art and selling it while trying to focus on classes is an issue they deal with daily.

“Sometimes it is hard to think of new projects and it can feel forced, but nowadays I just have so little time and am so busy with school,” Choi said.

More than anything else Choi described the joy that she gets by making her art and providing the world with her “whimsical” interpretation of style in jewelry.

This story was originally published on GoldenGateXpress on October 2, 2023.