Summers on Sanibel Island meant one thing to the jewelry designers Elizabeth Stafford White and Jacquelyn Stafford Buckner: following in their grandfather’s footsteps as he led them along the Florida sand, pointing out shell after shell by name. Called “Rail” for his lanky stature, Robert Brinson, Jr., was an air force captain in World War II who turned to hunting shells as a meditative way to quit smoking. Over the years, he amassed hundreds of specimens—junonias, fighting conchs, lion’s paws, some of which would be donated after his death to the Greensboro Science Center, in North Carolina. But his love of nature triggered more than a museum-worthy collection. It inspired the distinctive natural materials the sisters use for Twine & Twig, one of the most successful Southern jewelry line launches in the last five years.
White and Buckner both loved wearing bold statement jewelry when they decided to make the style their own in 2013. They added comfortable suede straps to support the organic adornments they obtained from all over the world: shells, African trade beads, horsehair tassels, and shed antlers. The earthy pieces were immediately eye-catching—within a few years, what began as a lark turned into long nights stringing necklaces and bracelets at White’s kitchen island in Charlotte, a sell-out pop-up shop, boutiques calling from across the country, and mentions by Vogue, Glamour, and Martha Stewart Living.
The jewelry’s ability to elevate an outfit “without having to resort to glitz,” Buckner says, proved key to Twine & Twig’s avid following. And the love of the land behind each piece resonated. “Every collection is inspired by something we’ve seen outside,” White says, “be it the way the sun hits the sand at dusk, or the mushrooms our kids were playing with out in a field.”
Lately, the sisters—who now have a full-fledged studio and staff in the Queen City—have even more fully embraced their home turf. The Indigo Collection, launched last August, for instance, takes its cues from the Southern heritage of denim and indigo. And they recently released a new line of necklaces crafted with oyster shells from South Carolina’s Wadmalaw Island, a place they often visited with family while attending the College of Charleston. The sisters gathered the shells themselves to get just the right look. “We’re not going to pick up the prettiest oyster,” Buckner says. “We’re going to find the one that’s funny looking and flawed, because we think it’s special.”
Proceeds from necklaces created with those distinctive shells, along with the likes of carved bone, conch, and beads, will be donated to the Lowcountry Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting that stretch of the South Carolina coast. “We draw so much inspiration from the land and its beauty that if we’re not protecting it, then that’s not serving anybody,” Buckner says. “What better way to do it than bringing in our grandfather and everything he taught us?” Sounds like Rail would approve.