Talla Kuperman lived more life in her first five years as an Iranian refugee, and again when she lost her brother to cancer at age 30, than many do in a lifetime. And yet, she radiates joy and immediate warmth—both of which are propelling her entrepreneurial journey as the founder of Love Talla fine jewelry fingerprint pendants—as I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know as my first client, friend in my new neighborhood and fellow food allergy mama.
“I was born into the war and the revolution had already been happening for so long, so that was normal life to me, you know,” she says. “I have memories where we were asleep in our apartment in Tehran and all of a sudden, the sirens would start wailing throughout the capital of the city, and if you looked out the window whoever was awake at that time, or whatever lights were on, would immediately be shut down.”
“My mom would scoop me up and scoop my brother up–we lived in a high rise apartment at the top floor– so she would run us downstairs and into the bottom floor, where it’s the safest if a building gets bombed or comes crumbling down, and she would hide us under the stairs and that’s where we would wait until it was safe again to come out.”
Talla recalls memories of driving by friends’ homes in piles of rubble, and hiding her mother’s precious ring at the airport as her family carried suitcases full of the belongings they were allowed to take out of the country as they boarded a plane for Switzerland.
“I remember walking up to like what we would consider TSA,” she says. “One of the guards took my doll out of my hand and ripped her head open to look inside of her body to make sure I wasn’t taking anything. I remember being so traumatized by it, because I’m like, ‘he killed my doll!’ But luckily, he did not see the ring that I was hiding in my hand so that was a good thing.”
“Still to this day, every time I see that ring in her jewelry box, I remember that night when we left Iran.”
Talla’s family made their way to safe haven upon arrival at the embassy in Switzerland, where they were placed in shared housing with fellow refugees. Her attitude towards the experience is a good reminder of the resilience that kids display in even the most trying of circumstances.
“For me and my brother it was incredibly fun because we got to live in basically a big house with 50 other people and a ton of other kids, and we got to spend the night with our parents every night in the same twin or full sized bed–it was tiny but for us that was so much fun because, what kid doesn’t want to sleep with their parents every night?”
“I think about it from my parents’ point of view, and it just blows my mind, the bravery that they had to escape that kind of a situation and get their children to a country where they can actually have a life.”
Eventually, a two-week hotel stay awaiting approval to join family members that would accept full financial responsibility for her family in the United States turned into three years. In the meantime, Talla found warmth and beauty in Switzerland as she “acclimated really quickly.”
“I remember my mom taking me to the grocery store so that she could ask me questions in Farsi and I could translate for her to the employees,” she says. “I just I never really felt that different. I remember falling in love with my teacher, because I just thought she was so beautiful. I’d never seen blond hair and blue eyes and she was so sweet.”
Talla arrived stateside in time for her ninth birthday, when her family was able to settle in to San Diego after a temporary stay with family in Los Angeles.
“My dad was educated in Santa Barbara, but he was in love with San Diego and he always talked about San Diego as heaven on earth,” she says. “The beaches and the people; it was like a fairy tale in my mind. My mother had another brother who lived in in San Diego in North County in Escondido and so after we wore out our welcome in LA, we moved into his house and then eventually he helped us get on our feet and get our own place.”
Fast forward to her twenties, Talla outgrew her surroundings and traveled the world after getting a degree in biochemistry.
“I told my mom I needed to find myself but all I really found was more partying and more fun and more adventures,” which continued into her next decade as a bachelorette in LA and her “really wonderful career in insurance, which is an incredibly well kept secret, as far as careers go for young people who are willing to work hard—there’s a lot of entertaining.”
Talla started her next decade near her brother’s side as his cancer battle continued for five months beyond her 30th birthday.
“It was a rollercoaster,” she recalls. “One month, he would be so sick and I would be so worried about him and I had all sorts of anxiety and depression over it, because he and I were incredibly close—he was my best friend. Then the next month, we would get news that his tumors had shrunk and he was doing incredible and he was responding to the new chemo treatments.”
“For the people who have been through something like that, you hold on to every shred of hope—one positive thing that the doctors deliver to you—so that we don’t crumble into an absolute mess,” she says. “You can’t really feel joy when you’re in that situation. There’s always this hole in your heart.”
Five years later Talla met her husband Zach in an elaborate setup at a friend’s dinner party. The southern gentleman impressed her with phone calls in the era of text messages and dating apps. They returned to his hometown of Austin shortly after they had their daughter Lexi.
“I remember from all of the times that we talked about his childhood he had this like ideal all-American, homegrown childhood,” she says. “I had a great childhood, I don’t want to minimize my childhood, but it was nothing like his and it was definitely not all-American in any way, shape or form. I love the stories that I would hear from him and I really wanted to provide that to my child.”
Talla’s idyllic vision for her baby was tempered by something else that bonds us together as mothers, which is being traumatically flung into the world of food allergies that doctors initially missed or dismissed.
“Every kid has their thing, and my kid has severe food allergies,” she says, describing the first clues that something was wrong in the first month. “She wasn’t gaining weight and she was a very emaciated looking, eczema baby. I remember talking to the pediatrician about it, and she was like ‘no, this is normal, don’t worry about it, just breastfeed her.’”
“I started cutting out dairy from my diet, but every morning I was eating like piles of almonds and lots of eggs and really nutritious food because I knew I was then going to pass it on to her through my breast milk,” she says. “I wanted that chubby Gerber baby, and so I was just trying my hardest to do that, not realizing that I am eating everything she’s allergic to, I’m touching everything she’s allergic to and then touching her body, and this poor child has like hives up the wazoo.”
Talla introduced scrambled eggs at 6 months old, like many parents do, to which her daughter hesitated. So she tried again a month later at a restaurant.
“My baby started to turn purple,” she recalls watching her daughter’s skin change color. “Within 10 seconds, it was like purple, white, pink blotches, purple, white, pink blotches and around her lips, she started to turn blue.”
Like any of us facing our first allergic reaction as a newcomer, Talla assumed they should rush home to Benadryl and it wasn’t until later that she realized, “in hindsight, what I should have done was rushed her to the hospital.”
“For how allergic Lexi is to the foods that she’s allergic to, seeing the allergist once every eight months to challenge her with the food was not going to cut it for us,” she says, referring to typical food allergy protocol of “challenging” a specific allergen in the form of a muffin or some other small dose and hoping a reaction doesn’t occur over the course of hours sitting in an allergist’s office with your small child.
“We wanted to get her to a point where she could eventually live a normal life as an older kid,” she says. “People don’t think that you can treat a food allergy. What they say is just avoid it. Well, first of all, that’s not a solution. At some point, something’s going to happen.”
Fortunately, the pandemic brought its first of two silver linings for Talla and her family. Originally, she was placed on a 2.5 year-long waitlist for a tolerance induction program at the Southern California Food Allergy Institute, but with people in lockdown and not traveling, she got a call to start the program within a week’s time.
“We threw her on a plane and went to Socal Food Allergy and started our little adventure in using immunotherapy with food to treat her for her various anaphylaxis food allergies,” she says.
The other silver lining also comes in yellow gold and rose gold. While the pandemic stirred up Talla’s grief watching families lose loved ones without being able to hold their hands in the hospital, she was inspired to create a way to stay close to those we love, even when they’re no longer within reach. Love Talla launched with great success shortly after her 40th birthday, thanks in part to Mother’s Day and the many milestones since.
As we’ve all grieved loss in different forms these past few months, Talla’s shining tribute to her brother and his legacy to “love her life” has inspired many. Not to mention it’s also been “an emotional roller coaster, but it has been worth it. It’s worth every single tear,” she recently told the Austin-American Statesman.
Next up, Talla is ushering the return of best friend necklaces, as profiled recently along with jewelry heavyweights like Kendra Scott, in the Wall Street Journal.
The world is just starting to see how much she sparkles.