Why Ire Aje An Emerging Jewelry Brand Leans On Poignant Symbols Within The African Diaspora


Atlanta-based designer Issa Gray has carved out her niche in the accessories market with her brand Ire Aje, founded in 2021. The brand emerged as a tribute to Gray’s aunt Linda Gray Murray, who served as a catalyst for her journey into the world of design. Drawing inspiration from her Aunt’s teachings of African culture, as she was an educator, Gray intricately weaves the rich tapestry of Adinkra symbols into her pieces, with the Bese Saka symbol taking center stage in most of her pieces. 

The Bese Saka symbol which represents “affluence, power, and wealth” was intentionally chosen by Gray–it serves as a reminder for women of their inherent strength and worthiness, the ethos of Ire Aje. Gray’s designs are a powerful expression of resilience, resonating deeply with Black women across the diaspora. Each garment becomes a canvas, telling a story of heritage, empowerment, and the enduring spirit of African culture.

Issa Gray On Designing Empowering Jewelry With A Message
Ire Aje

Through Ire Aje’s designs, Gray seeks to inspire and uplift Black women, fostering a sense of pride in their roots. The use of Adinkra symbols goes beyond mere aesthetics, it connects customers to a heritage that spans continents. Gray’s dedication to infusing her designs with meaning conveys a commitment to fostering cultural identity and celebrating the beauty of diversity. Gray’s brand stands as a testament to the enduring power of heritage.

We recently caught up with Issa Gray to learn more about Ire Aje following her inclusion in our SOKO Market. She shared her largest inspirations, the story behind her brand, and more.

What was the path to launching your brand?

I launched Ire Aje in 2021 at the passing of my Aunt Linda Gray Murray, who was an educator and a custodian of African culture. She taught me the importance of cultural representation and she also inspired my style with her love of jewelry. When we were encouraged to wear African-inspired attire for her homegoing services, I felt a calling to incorporate Adinkra symbols, Ghanaian symbols that convey thoughts ideas, and concepts of the Ashanti people, in my attire because she taught me about them and showed me how being raised in New Orleans, I was surrounded by these Adinkra symbols in the ironwork that ornates many homes in the city. She taught me about their power as amulets in our lives so I created Ire Aje in her remembrance, to illuminate her and all our beloved ancestors’ teachings. 

ESSENCE.com: What is your brand ethos or mission?

Issa Gray: Our primary mission is empowering Black women of the diaspora through our jewelry. We strive to create adornments that resonate positivity, spirituality, and empowerment. 

Who are you designing for? 

Our designs are specifically created for the Black [woman] who desires to adorn herself with luxury while maintaining a strong connection to her cultural roots. We understand and appreciate the unique experiences and contributions of Black women, and our designs are tailored to celebrate our identity and heritage. Whether it’s through incorporating traditional African elements or using materials that hold significant cultural value, our aim is to provide a platform for Black women to express their individuality and showcase their worth. Our mantra “wear your worth” encapsulates the belief that every woman deserves to feel confident, empowered, and appreciated for her contribution to the collective.

Issa Gray On Designing Empowering Jewelry With A Message
Ire Aje

What do some of the symbols in your jewelry designs mean?

Our company logo features the Adinkra symbol Bese Saka, which holds significant meaning to Ire Aje. Bese Saka represents affluence, power, and wealth and was intentionally chosen to empower and remind women of our inherent strength and worthiness. In addition to this powerful symbol, we incorporate a variety of other meaningful symbols in our designs. These symbols embody values such as love, hope, protection, and peace. The newest Adinkra we have called upon is Gye Nyame which means “supremacy of God.” We are proud to showcase these values through the diverse range of products we offer.

Who or what are your inspirations when it comes to your work? 

The bulk of my inspiration comes directly from the aphorisms or meanings of the adinkra symbols. For example, the Adinkra Sankofa’s aphorism “go back and fetch it” reminds me to continually learn from the past. So truly the ancestors are my inspiration. The specific ancestors that inspire my creative journey are my Grandma Clarice who adorned herself in Native American jewelry and my Aunt Linda who adorned herself in African-inspired clothing and jewelry. I am also inspired by the fabulous women I see every day like AJ Johnson who wears Adinkra proudly and boldly, and designer Tory Burch who caters to women who desire affordable luxury. They give me inspiration to present these ancient symbols with a twist.

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