Erika Backberg of Tea Tree Designs: 100 Creatives

Erika Backberg of Tea Tree Designs: 100 Creatives
Photo by Mandee Johnson

Number 49: Erika Backberg, Tea Tree Designs

City: St. Paul (Saint Anthony Park) born and raised, then crossed the river to Minneapolis, and lately a bit of time in California.

Years spent living in MN: Well if I tell you, you'll know how old I am...

Some folks may be wary when they hear the term "organic jewelry." But just because something is better for the environment doesn't mean that it's bad for the wardrobe. In fact, eco-jewelry's look is entirely up to the designer. Take Erika Backberg of Tea Tree Designs, for example. The local artist uses recycled precious metals, organic elements, and up-cycled materials to create her sustainable jewelry lines. The results are surprisingly versatile. Pieces range from colorful to industrial to bold to delicate, and pair as well with office attire as they do with feminine, date-night dresses. Tea Tree Designs have been featured at local runway shows, and currently are available at Minneapolis boutique Cliche. 

In addition to jewelry design, Backberg has also worked in cinema. Birthmarked for Death, which she served as production coordinator on, won 2008's 48 Hour Film Project and even went on to the Cannes Film Fest.

Erika Backberg of Tea Tree Designs: 100 Creatives
Photo by Stephanie Hynes

Name three things that are inspiring your work right now:

1. Classic First Ladies like Jackie O. and Michelle O.
2. Bright, bold colors with simple lines
3. The desert

Name three things that inspired and/or motivated you as a budding creative type:

Road trips, road trips and road trips. I love packing up the car, heading down the road, and combing through roadside antique malls, garage sales, and flea markets. There's a certain flavor of America hiding out there. You can feel the history each piece has captured in time.

What was your last big project?

I love collaborating with artists!! I recently created two jewelry collections for local clothing designer Jenny Carle's 2011 summer and fall lines. I love the challenge of custom work and designing accessories for particular outfits.

What do you have going on now or coming up in the near future that should be on our radar? 

I will be launching a new eco-jewelry label. Stay tuned...

Erika Backberg of Tea Tree Designs: 100 Creatives
Photo by Erika Backberg

Creative/career high point (so far)?

In addition to designing eco-jewelry, I am an independent film producer, among other things. I produced two short films that screened at the 2008 and 2009 Festival De Cannes. Taking in the culture of France and being a part of the festival was a very exciting time for me.

What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?

Sticking to my mission to revolutionize the social and ecological impact of the fashion industry, one design at a time. The jewelry industry is one of the most toxic. It has a tarnished history of exploiting, displacing, and polluting communities all over the world. I believe I can make environmentally responsible  jewelry without compromising its beauty or quality.

How has the Minnesota scene changed since you began your career?

Erika Backberg of Tea Tree Designs: 100 Creatives
Photo by Stephanie Hynes

Over the past five years I've enjoyed being a part of the growing local fashion community. There is a great group of artists and businesses collaborating, supporting, and shaping regional trends.  

The eco-fashion movement is slowly but surely expanding locally, nationally, and internationally. The days of sustainable fashion being limited to solid color, organic-cotton outfits and stone necklaces is no more, and that is exciting. Don't get me wrong; there have always been designers who believe reusing is the only way, and they have been pioneers. However, I see now more than ever an immense amount of new creativity and desire to sustainably design when it comes to new local designers: Amanda Christine, Kjurek Couture, Jenny Carle, Sarah Holm, Bionic Unicorn--to name a few.

If you could create pieces for any celebrity who would you choose?

Erykah Badu or Dita Von Teese. Both are feminine beauties and iconic role modes of our time.

Is there any jewelry trend that died out that you feel should come back into fashion?  Which one, and why?

Growing up, both my grandmas would sport bright oversized earrings, necklaces, and broaches from the '60s and '70s.  As a child, they were eye-catching and seemed to be trademarks of the wonderful women who spoiled me. They looked so flashy and fun to wear.  It was these pieces that defined my grandparents, and as a child I couldn't wait to wear them. It would be so exciting to see that back in style.

Do you have a suggestion for someone whose work we should be checking out? Feel free to leave your top picks in the comments.

Past creatives, so far:

100. Jennifer Davis
99. Sean Smuda
98. Chuck U
96. Amy Rice
95. Kara Hendershot

70. Tim Sievert
67. Dessa
66. Heidi Arneson
65. Erin Currie
64. Jayme Halbritter
63. Amy Buchanan
62. Kimberly Jurek
61. Kenna-Camara Cottman

60. Joan Vorderbruggen
59. Amber Preston
58. Jenny Carle
57. Mad King Thomas
56. George Moskal
55. Gregory Euclide
54. Stacy Schwartz
53. Joshua English Scrimshaw
52. Courtney McLean
50. Andy Sturdevant

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