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An Interview with Matt James

What inspired you to create this collection?

This collection is inspired by a Ugandan woman named Agnes. She is the mother of my best friend Moses, who I met 5 years ago in Kampala while doing some humanitarian work there. Moses and I lived together for a summer in Kabale, Uganda where we organized savings and loans groups and taught business curriculum to aspiring entrepreneurs. During my time there I became very close with Moses’ mother and she welcomed me like one of her own children. Learning about her incredible story of gratitude and strength, even though unimaginable suffering, has inspired me to be a better person. This collection is inspired by the small village where she raised her family, and her story of hope.

Tell us about your first trip to Uganda and how this has influenced your collection years later.

My first time visiting Uganda was completely life changing. I had traveled quite a bit previous to arriving in Uganda, but no where had I ever felt so happy and so eager to learn from. I fell in love with how life was there. Seeing neighbors serve neighbors in incredibly selfless acts, the overwhelming kindness I felt from total strangers, and the deep and meaningful conversations I got to have with people every day made me want to always come back.

I was there for a full summer where I worked on many projects with small, local non-profits that focused on entrepreneurship, savings, and public health. Having the opportunity to team up with some absolutely incredible local leaders, and be able to sit with them in their community meetings was inspiring and and left me wanting so badly to find a way to offer support to these leaders, Agnes is no doubt one of those leaders, and this collection will go towards supporting her and her community.

Tell us about the woman in Uganda who will benefit from this collection?

Her name is Agnus Ngoma Nkundabanyanga :) Agnus and I met back in 2015 through her son Moses, who is now one of my very best friends. Moses and I met in a taxi cab in Kampala, and have lived together for a summer where we started many entrepreneurship and savings groups, and he now manages the orphan school we support. We have become super close and I was even one of his groomsman in his wedding. Throughout our friendship I have become very close with his incredible mother, Agnus. She has loved me like a son and I love her like a mother. 100% of the money we make from this collection will go to support her, and I am so excited to celebrate our birthdays together :)

To learn more about Agnes and what a strong woman she is, read her story here.

How do you want people to feel when they wear a piece from your collection?

The stones and designs that I selected for the collection are all very unique and raw, with many stones being unpolished, exposed, with free form shapes. Each stone is truly one of a kind and their beauty feels natural, like it was always meant to be that way. Agnus’ life has been extremely difficult and full of heart break. But, despite all of that, she has created an incredibly beautiful life and legacy. I want people to remember Agnus’ story, and that rather than fighting and wishing that our lives ought to be different and thinking that we don’t deserve hardship, we can own our own unique stories and experiences, and turn them into a wonderful life. 

Three years later- Where is the Gem Studio headed?

Ya know, I started this thing as a super low-key operation in my bed room. I literally bought a desk from DI to work on, I had just a handful of stones and zero idea what it would turn into. So honestly, who knows where we will be a few years from now! What I am sure of is that we will continue our mission to provide more and more opportunities for people to be creative, get their hands dirty, and make art. In the short term, we are in the process of building out our new Provo location that will be opening later this summer, and will be branching out to offer a few new types of workshops beyond what we currently offer. Long term, we hope to be be seeing the Gem fam spread to most major cities in the U.S and a few abroad :))) 

What kind of creative adventures do you hope to take people on? 

We’ve got some exciting things in the works, but you’ll just have to wait and see ;)

What is on your bucket list/what are some of your personal goals this year? 

My wife, Lauren, and I have BIG plans for this year. There have absolutely been some changes that we’ve had to make to our plans due to the pandemic. BUT our current plans include making a trip to visit the school in Uganda whenever it is safe to travel again, implementing a new nutritional program at there to ensure a more balanced diet for the children, opening our stand-alone Gemstudio location in Provo, Utah, And possibly scouting out some locations for future Gemstudio locations?! Who knows ;)

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