Lifelong jewelry designer Leigh Navarro crafts unique pieces from exotic skins and leathers.
By Madison Matous, Photos by Christina Rodriguez
Leigh Navarro has been making jewelry her whole life. From a young age, she learned how to work with enamel, later selling her pieces at art fairs alongside her artist mother. But as she grew older and moved away from her hometown of El Paso, Texas, her focus shifted from jewelry onto other endeavors.
After college, Navarro managed the Chloe ready-to-wear boutique inside Bergdorf Goodman. Missing home and Texas’ characteristic warm weather, Navarro packed up her life once again and began waiting tables in Austin. Back in Texas, she picked up her childhood hobby of crafting jewelry and discovered she could make a living doing what she loved.
“It was a natural progression of saying, ‘Hey, I could actually make money doing this,’ so, it worked out nicely,” Navarro says.
In 2005, Navarro created Leighelena, and two years later, she began incorporating exotic leathers into her jewelry pieces, something she is still known for today.
“[I] said to myself, ‘There’s got to be a cool way to do a bracelet,’ so I figured I’d put [enamel]on a leather,” Navarro says. “It took some trial and error, but once it worked, it really did, and I’ve been making them since 2007.”
More than a decade later, that first design is still one of Navarro’s favorites.
Navarro sources materials for her jewelry from throughout the world, scouting out companies that follow fair-trade and ethical practices. Her unique pieces are made from exotic leathers like python from Southeast Asia, lizard from South America, ostrich and stingray.
While Navarro admits the skins and leathers are what primarily make her jewelry stand out, she says it’s the hardware that keeps them interesting, like the turn-lock and jigsaw styles on her bracelets.
Leighelena has been featured in magazines like Texas Monthly, Southern Living, Allure, InStyle and Teen Vogue, and Navarro hopes to one day be featured in Vogue as well.
“Truly, my favorite part of the whole shebang is seeing people wearing [my jewelry],” Navarro says. “It really is so satisfying when someone likes it so much that they want to wear it.”
While it wasn’t easy for Navarro to get where she is today, she never let herself feel defeated.
“If you have a bad year or a bad season or make something that you really believe in that people don’t connect with, [that]kind of sucks, but you can’t learn if you don’t try, and you can’t grow if you don’t keep trying,” Navarro says.
It was that passion and persistence that led to her success. Navarro now owns two retail locations, one on Austin’s famed South Congress Avenue and another in San Antonio, at the Pearl Brewery development.
Navarro is currently working on new designs for bracelets, something she says is always on her mind, as well as finding new ways incorporate exotic leathers into more pieces in her collection.