Sunsets in New Orleans are peaceful. Elderly couples sit out on their porches, watching over their neighborhoods as Spanish moss hanging from the old oaks wisps in the Southern breeze. Families wrap up their dinners, street artists pack up their brushes, and the sound of the French Quarter’s ever distant trumpet becomes softer and softer. Suddenly, the sun sets on Lake Pontchartrain, and the city goes wild. Parties spill out into the street, the music goes zero to one hundred, and the never ending supply of booze keeps the night owls content through the night and into the early morning.
But behind all the din are the local businesses that make New Orleans unique. Behind every delicious dish there’s a cook who prepped for that meal the night before. Behind every ghost tour there’s a tour guide reciting hundreds of ghostly facts in front of a mirror. And in Uptown, in a studio out of her home, you’ll find Ash Marquardt, who owns Twiga, a local jewelry store on the rise. She designs and creates every single piece by hand, which not only allows her to develop as an artist, but also the freedom to carry out her own vision.
Marquardt moved to New Orleans from California and started Twiga as a hobby, selling her pieces through a friend’s boutique. But before long she had created a website, and struck out on her own.“I love making jewelry,” she said, “so I made a business out of it.” Her pieces mainly focus on natural subjects, coming in all different sizes and shapes. In her Winged Collection, you’ll find honeybees, owls, and even cicadas, in true New Orleans fashion. Her Eye of the Beholder collection features earrings with tigers dangling inside brass hoops, and a mini plastic tooth feature on the bottom. These were designed as “an open rebellion against repetitive cycles that no longer serve us,” according to her website, twigadesigns.com. These hoops are not only stylish, but also remind us that we are absolutely capable of breaking bad habits and destructive cycles in our lives. That is Marquardt’s specialty: showing us our own reflections through nature. As humans, we don’t always notice just how similar we are to other animals, but the gems sold by Twiga remind us of just that. When asked about her particular style, Marquardt said, “I like to create interesting pieces that spark conversations when you walk down the street. Basically, wearable art.”
But with the summer comes new ideas, and new projects. These days, Maraquardt is focused on anatomical pieces, such as eyes and hearts, and even faces. She also intends to begin work on a pearl line very soon. This is all part of what owning a business means to her: exploring her own creativity. But it’s no secret that every artist draws inspiration from their surroundings. When she came to New Orleans from California, she brought with her an aesthetic she developed thanks in part to her time on the Left Coast, but she admits, her new home has rubbed off on her too. The vibrant colors and free flowing movement of the Big Easy’s art scene compliment her style. “I can really feel the boho vibe here blending with that classic Southern taste and I love it,” she said. But it’s not just the art, or the streetcars, or the old Cajun cottages that have inspired her, it’s also the people themselves. Marquardt explained, “New Orleans has this amazing human-to-nature link. People aren’t afraid to be themselves here, they’re true to themselves. With all the interesting faces I come across everyday, sometimes, I feel them coming out in my work.”
Marquardt may love what she does, but that doesn’t mean running Twiga is a walk through Audubon Park. She oversees every function of her business, from designing to creation, listing items on her website, shipping, and more. As to how she handles it all: “Lists, lists, and more lists. I really love being able to cross items off my lists, because that’s how I know I’m not wasting time.” For an entrepreneur, wasting time is like flushing money down the toilet. But Marquardt also takes time for herself. “You have to, sometimes,” she said. Luckily for her, she lives in the perfect place to do just that. But she isn’t the only one who has noticed the opportunities in New Orleans. Entrepreneur Week, the city’s week-long collaborative effort to encourage startups, has gone from a small event of 100 or so to a festival of entrepreneurship that saw over 2,000 in attendance in 2019. In the midst of a revitalized startup culture, new small businesses can now be found all over the city. Marquardt’s advice to rookie entrepreneurs: “Use each day wisely, know that the world is working in your favor, but most of all, if you love it go for it.”
Yes, life as an entrepreneur isn’t easy. But Maraquardt will be quick to remind you just how rewarding her life is. She lives in an amazing city, doing what she loves, surrounded by inspiration. Ask her what the most rewarding part of her work is, though, and she’ll answer, “the pride I feel sharing a gift with the city and the world.”