South Charlotte

South Charlotte man’s jewelry making kindles a passion to help others

In August 2011, Jaime Cojac and her father set off for East Africa to take a two-and-a-half-week safari through Kenya and Tanzania.

The trip was a special 30th-birthday gift from Jaime’s parents, Lynne and Stuart Cojac, who live in Ballantyne.

After the safari, Jaime and Stuart Cojac spent a few extra days in Nairobi. They hired a Masai chief to take them to a tea plantation and the Kazuri bead factory, where the beads are made by hand.

“Kazuri means ‘small and beautiful’ in Swahili,” Jaime said.

“We saw the process from the raw clay to the bead formation to the firing and glazing, and finally the packaging,” Jaime Cojac said. “No machines, just women. Lots of women. Single mothers, working day after day to create the most amazing beads my eyes had ever seen.”

Jaime and Stuart “were so impressed by the philosophy of the Kazuri Company,” Lynne Cojac said. “The (company) employs single women and provides health care and housing for them and their children.”

Stuart and Jaime each bought some pieces of jewelry made from the beads. Jaime also brought home a bag of loose beads she thought she would use someday to make something.

About a year later, Stuart Cojac retired after 42 years of owning and operating Imperial Printing. Lynne suggested a new hobby: jewelry making with Jaime, because she knew they both enjoyed that activity.

Stuart had years of experience repairing Lynne’s jewelry and a talent for color, balance and design, earned during his graphic arts career. Stuart, however, did not pick up on the hint.

Several months later, when Lynne and Stuart were in a bead shop picking up a piece of jewelry Lynne had restrung, Stuart saw that the shop offered jewelry-making classes.

“Maybe I should take a class,” he said.

He began making jewelry and became so prolific making bracelets, necklaces, and earrings that he made more than Lynne could wear.

“I suggested we needed to think of some other direction for his pieces to be appreciated and enjoyed,” said Lynne, who offered to have jewelry parties in their home.

Stuart did not want to make money off friends, so he didn’t want to do that; however, he did decide to create stuART designs, sell his jewelry, and donate all of the profits to the Carolinas Breast Cancer Fund.

As a 12-year survivor of breast cancer, Stuart said, it is important to raise awareness that men can get breast cancer.

“I was treated for breast cancer at Carolinas Medical Center,” he said. “Carolinas Breast Cancer Fund is local, and therefore the money stays in the Carolinas. The fund supports the continuing advancement of breast cancer treatment, research, and outreach programs serving thousands of patients who are under Levine Cancer Institute’s care.

“I get a lot of pleasure donating the money to such a good cause.”

Stuart continues to get beads from Kazuri, but he and Lynne also shop for beads when they travel.

“Stu has some favorites in Asheville,” said Lynne. “Some of the beads he uses are natural stone, others are crystals. He stores them in cupcake tins so he can easily view the colors as he blends them into one of his new creations. Usually he checks with his design consultant – me – before he completes his work so I can give input: is it too heavy, is the length good, etc. His favorites to work with are the Kazuri.”

Stuart’s daughter Amy Andrews said, “My dad has always had a creative side, but his spare time has mostly been dedicated to his passion for golf. I can’t say I would have guessed that he’d be making jewelry, but I’m so happy for him that he’s channeling his energy into making beautiful things and giving back to a cause that has impacted our family.”