A world-traveling, globally-inspired jewelry designer, Sophia Forero spoke about her Greek roots, her inspiration and how she got started.
Tell us about you.
I’m originally from Boston. My parents are from Thessaloniki and Patras. We moved to Connecticut, then to Chicago when I was 12. I have a brother, Alex Arzoumanidis, who is a renowned rocket scientist.
My father was a chanter and my mother taught Greek school. I went to Greek school, GOYA, went to Ionian Village two times, and Fanari Camp. I performed for a while with the Apollo Dance Troupe. I was a counselor for Ionian Village, and the Byzantine Adventure program. We spent every summer in Greece, with the exception of the Junta years.
You’ve always been fascinated with cultures.
I grew up in two cultures. I double majored in Political Science and Foreign Languages at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I speak Greek, Italian, Russian, French and Spanish, and studied in Italy. I earned a Masters in International Relations from University of Chicago. I wrote my thesis on South Africa, apartheid and the special cultural boycott put on by the United Nations.
You joined the Peace Corps.
After grad school. It was my intent to join the State Department, but I soon realized that I couldn’t travel all the time and raise a family. I worked in Hungary for two years, teaching English to children in third through eighth grades. Ι traveled all over. I had the best time in Russia, during the first legal Holy Week in 1992.
How did you get started making jewelry?
I’ve made jewelry for years – in high school a friend taught me how to wire wrap – but it was in Hungary that I actually began selling it. In Budapest on the weekends, I sold some jewelry in the markets. Then I began buying beads all over Eastern Europe and Russia, wherever I traveled. I once bought some glass beads from a Gypsy caravan. I still have some.
What inspires you?
My Greek Orthodox heritage. In fact, my mosaic pieces were inspired by the beautiful mosaic icon of St. Sophia at Holy Apostles Church. Knowledge gained during my graduate studies contributed further inspiration. Also, a book called Africa Adorned described tribes and their anthropological histories, and how adornment meant something. The Dali Lama’s visit to the White House inspired my current designs.
How did you end up back in Chicago?
By way of Texas. I taught English to the children of migrant workers. Then I moved to Austin. I worked there as a bilingual teacher, and began selling jewelry in stores. I learned Spanish in a summer. That’s how I met my husband.
Then we moved to Illinois, where I worked again as a bilingual teacher. Everything changed when I won a contest at Marshall Field. I decided it was time to quit teaching and pursue designing jewelry full-time. I began traveling to India, two-to-three weeks at a time, sat with artisans and began to determine how my designs would reflect my global interests.
Your tagline says “Feel Beautiful.”
It’s empowering to make women feel good, more confident. When a woman feels beautiful, she’s unstoppable. Women should feel beautiful, always.
Where is your jewelry sold?
In stores like Bloomindales and Macy’s and in some art galleries. I create different lines for different stores. They sell in Canada, Costa Rica, Spain and Greece, too – in over 300 boutiques worldwide. Celebrities like Nia Vardalos, Sarah Jessica Parker, Vivica A. Fox and Mariel Hemingway wear my jewelry. It’s also appeared in the film “ShopGirl” and in national magazines like Angeleno and People.
Who wears Sophia Forero?
Educated, professional women, 30-60, who have some money to spend, appreciate art. Perhaps they also like David Yurman or Konstantino. They definitely have an artistic sense, tend to shop in higher-end stores and have a distinctive style.
You believe in giving back.
Recently, we teamed up with Christiana Thanos of LuckyGirls Orphanage.We’re designing a unique piece. A percentage of sales will benefit the orphanage. I’ve worked with Thodos Dance Chicago, Chicago Lighthouse and others. I always remember the Parable of the Talents. We’re given talents to help others. It’s my mission. God gave me this talent. I must give back through it.
You were involved with the Gabby Awards.
I designed a special piece for the VIPs.
What’s next for you?
Building my brand. I’m blogging about jewelry and adornment from around the world, and working on some projects with my husband Mauricio, who is an artist. And raising our four kids.