An Oxford woman pours her artistic talents into hand-beaded, hand-sewn work and lands a spot on the runway during Paris fashion week.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
The stitches that have bound together the moments of Timber Heard’s life have not always been straight or without some fraying. The Texas-born Heard moved with her adoptive parents to Mississippi when she was 2, but she became part of the foster care system at the age of 12. She has, at one time or another, called many Mississippi towns home, but only temporarily.
She ended up in Oxford more than a decade ago. She has one class left to take before she will have completed coursework for a degree in anthropology. But that degree has not come quickly or easily. Heard was homeless for about four of her Oxford years.
“I’d sometimes sleep on a bench on campus,” she said. “And there was a kind lady who worked as a janitor who would let me sleep inside the Union when it was really cold.”
In addition to feeling that she was pretty much on her own since age 12, Heard had received a variety of mental health diagnoses at a young age.
“As I’ve heard it said, depression runs in the family until it ran into me,” said the 32-year-old.
Heard is not one to shy away from the mention of mental illness or her own several unsuccessful attempts to end her life. And Heard made a decision that part of the mission of her life would be to welcome conversation on this important topic in order to help others who suffer.
“After trying and failing at suicide, I kept wondering why,” Heard said. “I finally realized God must have something he wants me to do in this life.”
When she was 8, Heard received a lesson from her adoptive mother that would positively affect her life for years to come.
“She taught me to sew,” Heard said. “By hand. And I started making teddy bears and dolls.”
As a teenager, she traded the handcrafted bears and dolls for jewelry and handbags. Later, in a Jackson group home when she was 17, Heard picked up the art of beading — again by hand. She knew creating the one-of-a-kind bags and jewelry pieces was what she wanted to do, but needed one thing first.
“I couldn’t start a business without a name,” she said.
Finally, on a Sunday morning, Aug. 16, 2020, Heard woke up with a name in mind — Talitha Kumi Jewelry & Handbags. The young woman, who professes a big faith and possesses glorious green eyes, takes no credit for the name. She fervently believes it was a gift from God.
Talitha Kumi is the transcription of an Aramaic phrase found in the New Testament, Mark 5:41. “Talitha Kumi” were the words Jesus said when he raised from the dead the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, a synagogue ruler. The words mean, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.”
Heard took Jesus’ words to heart that Sunday morning, moving forward by building a website for her handmade bags and jewelry. Through the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council’s Big Bad Business series, Heard received a grant that helped with her business.
She has shown and sold her work through a few pop-ups, but most of her business is done through her website, talithakumijewels.com.
In September 2022, Heard saw an ad on Facebook looking for makers to come show their work during Paris Fashion Week. The opportunity would be a dream come true for Heard, who has been long fascinated by models on catwalks and the idea of creating things for them.
“I applied,” Heard said. “When I found out I made it to the second round, I think I screamed.”
Of 4,000 applicants, 70 were chosen, including Heard. It was her first trip outside the United States. In Paris, Miss Sri Lanka was one of the models to walk the catwalk showcasing jewelry and handbags made by Heard in Oxford. However, she wants people to know Paris was not her first runway show.
“That was a fundraising event at University of Life Church in Oxford,” she said. “I modeled my own work.”
It’s no surprise her favorite things about her week in Paris were the runways, the catwalks. She was not fond of the food, but she did think the city was beautiful. And she was invited back. She’s not sure what’s next except she’ll continue making her artistic creations completely by hand. Someone gave her a brand-new Singer sewing machine. She tried it, but now it’s back in the box. “I just love working with needle and thread,” she said.
And Heard is determined to make ministering to others who suffer from mental illness and depression part of her business and her life.
“I was a foster kid from 12 to 18; I went to seven high schools and still graduated on time; I’ve had poetry published; I’ve seen my work modeled on the runways in Paris,” Heard said. “I have been blessed. I have truly been blessed.”