Written by Cesca Janece Waterfield. Photographed by Thomas Roberts.
House of Lukaya, doctor a local boutique in Shockoe Bottom, recipe offers funky and youthful handmade and vintage clothing, view natural body care products, art, jewelry even craft classes. Here the term “local” indicates more than a business located down the street, but highlights the commitment of owner Lucretia Jones to supporting the surrounding community and to offering environmentally-friendly and ethically-made products. Several local artisans sell their work here, and she recently introduced live music to the shop. In several ways, House of Lukaya seems to promote people and a lifestyle rather than simply peddle products.
“I think sometimes that’s the catch 22 of it,” Lucretia says. “You can’t be in business not to make money. You want to do all these things that are helpful. But if you can’t be sustained, how are you going to help anyone else? I like making clothes, but it’s [more interesting] making people healthier and happier.”
Growing up in Chesterfield, Lucretia recalls, “I was always making things, because my mom sewed.” She graduated Open High School and Virginia Commonwealth University with a Sculpture degree. Then in 1999, she moved to New York.
But there wasn’t much room in her city apartment to make sculpture. On the subway one day, she saw a woman’s handbag and tried to recreate it. Soon she was making them for friends. “I thought it was a way to still use my hands and make things and make a living until I had space to make sculpture,” she says.
While Lucretia made a life in New York, her father Mitchell, a diabetic, became seriously ill here at home. “The way it was handled, something didn’t seem right about it,” Lucretia says. “Doctors weren’t asking questions about home and diet or lifestyle.”
When he died three days before 9-11, she says, “I knew I had to figure something out and be responsible for my own health because no one else was going to.” She reevaluated the ingredients of health and beauty products and began experimenting with some formulas of her own.
In 2005, she moved back to Richmond, weary of the big city and hoping to be closer to her mother Lucy. One afternoon at the 17th Street Farmer’s Market, she and two artisans discovered they all aspired to owning a store. So they found a storefront in Shockoe Bottom.
But soon after, her partners backed out for health and personal reasons. They remained on good terms, but with the lease signed and bills coming due, Lucretia admits, “It became survival time.”
Along the way, she might have brought in inventory that ignored her values, and eased the operation of a new business. She resisted, and two years later can say, “I’m much tougher. I’m much more able to speak up for what my needs are than I was.”
Ellwood Thompson recently began carrying her body salts and face scrub in their bulk section, as well as her hair and body products “Buttah” on the shelves. Chances are you haven’t seen Buttah before. “I use an infused oil that’s blended with shea butter,” Lucretia explains. “The infused oil comes from a fresh plant material that’s soaked in olive oil for six weeks. It’s kind of simplified,” she says. “We try to keep the ingredient list to a minimum because I think you need to know how different things are going to react with your body.”
With its eclectic inventory, House of Lukaya would be at home in Washington D.C.’s vibrant neighborhood Adams-Morgan, or in Brooklyn. But after two years, it’s become an anchor of Shockoe Bottom retailers and of the community.
“If you think about places in town to buy gifts, support those places where it’s coming from a sustainable place [where] there isn’t this legacy of duress,” Lucretia asks. “Whatever that item is, there are places in town, like this one, where you don’t have to worry about that, where it’s actually easy to be thoughtful.”