If you didn’t catch last week’s feature on Seattle Siren Designs, check it out here. Similar to my Little Green Dress series [ which you can peek at here, here, or here ], I’ve started a new series spotlighting eco-friendly jewelry designers that I stumbled across on Instagram. Because this is my favorite part of having a blog – getting to connect with incredibly skilled and beautiful people who are part of making eco-friendly the rad and practical thing that it is.
Jewelry is like confetti or sprinkles on a donut. That little extra something that adds a little fun, sparkle or spunk. It’s art for your body really. And there are some seriously talented artists creating beautiful pieces that are eco-friendly; whether they are using reclaimed materials, recycling, upcycling or sourcing new materials that don’t come with a hefty environmental impact. So I told a few of them how incredibly rad I think they are, and asked them to be in my spotlight. This week we’re checking out Baolyfe, their process, and all the little pretties in their shop. Don’t miss the special offer they’re giving us too [ scroll down to the bottom for a time-limited discount code to their online shop at https://www.baolyfe.com/ ].
What made you start an eco-friendly jewelry business?
I guess you could say I sort of fell into it. I began creating bags first. It was 2010 and I was completing my thesis at OCADU in Sculpture and Installation; It was the first time that it had come into my awareness that things in the fashion world were not as they seemed. I learned about the negative affect it was having on the environment and on people. I wanted to find another way to adorn myself and provide another option for others too, that fashion feel good again.
I ended up in Italy, studying leather bag making at Scuola de Cuoio. It was there that I became great friends with one of my classmates, who happened to be from Nairobi, Kenya. She very graciously invited me to stay with her in Nairobi, and to meet the skilled artisans there and see what they were doing.
When I first arrived, I was struck by how much of our clothing and unwanted stuff, had been dumped in Kenya, from leather jackets, to sheets, to clothing, to pots and pans. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of it and that it had all come from the West. At the same time, I saw many people making things and repairing old things, from items that would have been considered trash at home. This really inspired me to consider repurposing items into jewelry and accessories.
I went to Kenya with the idea that I would be making bags. I did that, but along the way I began to meet artisans who worked with cow bone and horn, making beads, and bangles, or artisans creating with up-cycled brass. There is an amazing lodging house in Nairobi, where a bunch of West Africans have imported crafts, fabrics and sculptures from their respective countries. I was mesmerized by the recycled glass beads that they were selling. It was the first time I had encountered these types of materials and the artisans certainly showed me that up-cycling is the way of the future.
What or who inspires you?
Ruth Abade, of Blackfly Designs, in Nairobi, Kenya, has been a massive influence on me. She really opened up my world in terms of what is possible in handmade, up-cycled fashion, and she’s introduced me to many amazing artisans. She began her own clothing company, with one tailor, and now, makes her own batik fabric, and has expanded into bags. She currently has plans for her own brass studio. She now has nearly 15 employees and has provided stable and consistent income for them.
Ruth introduced me to Grace, the Maasai tribeswoman, who makes all of the Maasai cuffs. I had just made my first order from her, and as she was delivering it, she said to me that she had worked very hard to make everything well, so that I could do well, and in turn, she could do well. The fact that she embodied that everything makes a difference, and that everything is interconnected, brought me to tears. She showed me that this is the new attitude we should have in all things we do.
What do you hope to inspire in others?
I am very aware that many of us, including myself, feel that there are so many things that need to change in this world, towards a more positive, and beneficial direction, for the people and the planet. I would like to inspire a sense of hope that one person can make a difference, and it could be something as simple as smiling at someone during the day, to deciding to purchase ethical, upcycled, or sustainable items, or to riding a bike instead of driving.
Do you have a green living motto or philosophy?
I have been inspired by Kenya’s recent ban on plastic bags. They were used for everything, from buying groceries, to buying fries for lunch, and now that has been outlawed entirely. Over the past few months I have made it my mission to eliminate the use of plastic and to cut down the amount of waste I produce. I am certainly not perfect, but its definitely worth the effort. I suppose it would be “No plastic and less waste!”.
Are there any other green-heroes that you think we should know about?
Brother Vellies is an amazing brand. It was started by a Canadian woman named Aurora James. She designs shoes, and has them made by African artisans from South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Ethiopia. Her designs are extremely unique and her eye for sustainable detail is very exciting. She recently teamed up with Ethical Fashion to ensure that the tanneries she was sourcing leather from, knew how to properly treat the waste water left over from the tanning process, and even dyes the shearling for her bags with plants. Its incredible.
Aurora James – photo credit to Glamour
In terms of green heroes, I am honestly so inspired by and in awe of North American Indigenous people. They really know what they are doing in terms of the environment and have their priorities straight. They care about humanity and the planet, and have such a vision, that many of us can learn from.
Do you have any favorite pieces from your shop?
I love the cube cow horn or cow bone chokers. I’ve always had a strange obsession with cubes and to wear them as a choker, is just so sculptural.
The Jua Collar in Kati Kati is one of my favourites. Jua means sun in Swahili and kati kati means in between. The shape of the collar was something I drew, and then Freddy, one of the brass artisans I work with, cast it from recycled brass pieces, and hammered the dimples into it. All of the spikes are handcrafted by Jared, from cow bone (a byproduct of the meat industry). I had seen him dye bone before, but wanted to get a grey tone, and only dye half of the spike. Jared is fun to work with because he loves creating new styles, so when I asked him to make the dyed spikes he became so jazzed and told me he had never seen an effect like that in the market and set out to figure out how to do it. The entire necklace was inspired by Cleopatra and ancient Egyptian jewelry.
I love everything that Grace makes. She’s the Maasai tribeswoman and she handcrafts all the Maasai cuffs. The Maasai patterns are so modern and the colours they use are very striking. The process of making them are incredibly labour intensive. She hand cuts old plastic buckets to form the spacers between the beaded columns. She pokes holes by hand, through the spacers, to feed the wire through, that holds the beads. She is also very particular about the glass beads that she uses, since many of the cheaper beads are glass, but are painted and, as a result, with wear, the colour comes off. However, she sources beads that have been cast with the pigment in the glass, for longevity and quality. All of the patterns are traditional Maasai patterns and colours that are directly from the Maasai tribe and their culture.
What is your favorite part of your day / creative routine?
I love that I can be creative everyday and use my hands to make things. I love being immersed in making, that sense of extreme focus, to the point where you lose track of time and hours have gone by.
I also enjoy the process of creating a new idea, when you get a vision in your head, and then going through the process of making it come to life with your hands. That conversation between head and hands is always interesting.
Also the interactions with the artisans really fuels me. So many Kenyans have such warm hearts and great senses of humour, you never know what to expect and every day is different. They have taught me so much about how to live a good life. And at the end of the day, when we can combine our handy-work and create one beautiful product together, it gives me hope for the future and what we can all accomplish together.
When or how did you realize you could do this?
I think, like many other creatives, I am still trying to convince myself everyday that I can do this. I’ve always loved making things and figuring out how things work or how they are made. Friends and family always encouraged me to be creative and hoped that I would do this full time. I was serving and bartending for a long time but realized that there was this void that could never be filled without creativity. I felt like I was living without oxygen, so I took the leap and dived in head first.
I think seeing some brands like Brother Vellies come up and do so well, made me feel like it was time, and that it is possible. There is a big shift happening. I think we are still in the early stages, but people are catching on and its very exciting to see. The future can be bright!
We are so grateful for Amanda from BaoLyfe who shared the shop’s story and her own story with us and [ also very exciting! ] is now sharing a special discount code for her online shop which has totes, purses, sandals, and jewelry [ happy shopping ] :