Jewelry making is a hobby that most of us probably took up as a child, creating interesting ornaments by weaving together different colored strings, and adding bead works to them. However, in the professional world, jewelry design is a complex field to venture in, as there are always challenges such as fierce competition and lack of innovation. There are jewelry brands in Malaysia which we might recognize in the industry and one of them is The Straits Finery. We caught up with the talented young ladies from The Straits Finery, Foo Chia Chern and Amira Yahaya, in order to discuss their design inspirations, their humble beginnings, as well as the next step for their brand.
What evoked your passion for jewelry making? Is there anything else you wanted to do initially?
AY: I’ve always felt that how a person accessories herself is the best way to understand who they are. Jewelry is probably the most personal one as it’s closest to you. Every piece of fine jewelry is always chosen with the greatest care as a reflection of the person, not their clothes or trends.
CC: Never in a million years would I have thought I’d become a jewelry designer! We both wanted to be business owners but the “what” always eluded us until we realized that we had an appreciation for minimalist fine jewelry and noticed a gap in the local market for this category. We both came from completely different industries but our passion for jewelry drove us to learn and understand the technical aspects of jewelry design.
What are some of the inspirations behind your designs?
AY: Every collection has a specific theme that has inspired their designs. But generally, we take inspiration from our surrounding environment and our life journey. The feeling and inspiration are then expressed through the forms that we feel best represents every idea we have.
Check out the collections with their specific themes here.
CC: As Amira said, we begin our collection design process based on a single theme. This helps guide our design direction we build permutations of a single idea into a cohesive collection. For the new collection that we will be releasing this year, we took inspiration from the ocean as it’s something we feel very strongly connected to and concerned about.
Has minimalism and delicacy always been your aesthetic? How do you strike a balance between minimalist and simplistic?
AY: The very core of the brand is about having classics that are more minimalist in nature, to allow wearers to layer, mix and match as they please – to enable them to have that sense of creativity in the way they accessories. The Straits Finery pieces are made to allow a woman to be either minimalist or to just layer to their heart’s content to change the aesthetic of their accessories to be almost maximalist.
CC: We’ve always gravitated towards minimalist designs because it makes styling and complimenting your outfit very easy to do. Also, most importantly, more comfortable than chunky jewelry. However, because our pieces are modular, the wearer is able to stack the rings to make it as maximalist as they’d like and break it down to single pieces when they feel like making less of a statement.
What are some of your favourite materials to work with and why?
AY: We only have pieces either made in Sterling Silver or 14k Solid yellow gold. We have been very specific about the type of gold we use as 14k gold is both more sturdy than the typical locally used gold (18k and above), to allow for the designs to be as delicate as they are; and the tone of 14k yellow gold is one that flatters most skin tones. It’s almost champagne in tone and more subtle than higher karat gold. Silver was chosen to provide an alternative colour as well as price point. The upcoming collection will not be produced in silver due to the difficulty of care for silver – in our humid weather, it oxidises easily and needs regular polishing – making it quite the effort to upkeep!
CC: What she said!
What sets your designs apart from others in the field?
AY: The Straits Finery straddles between designing with art in mind, but also the wearer. For every design, we ask some key questions: is it beautiful? Does it layer and pair well with previous collection pieces? Is it life-proof (will it get caught in clothes, get in the way of getting things done)? We make pieces that are not only beautiful and compliment a person’s style but also slides seamlessly into their lives.
CC: I think offering the flexibility to stack the rings to one’s own style is appreciated by our customers. It’s a delicate balance between form AND function because it’s light, easy to wear AND it allows for a myriad of stacking options. Most importantly, we take pride in the metal’s durability and quality of production of our pieces. Tiny jewelry is incredibly hard to make!
What, in your opinion, is the most important skill for any jewelry maker?
AY: To not fall prey to too many fast-moving trends. I think that especially with jewelry like ours, made of precious metal, the designs need to stand the test of time. As a brand, we believe that jewelry shouldn’t just be seen as fashion, but an accent to who the wearer is. With this, it’s important to have a point of view as a designer and to stay true to what your design principles are.
CC: To think about what your customers want, how they go about their day whilst wearing it. I guess it all depends on the jewelry category one is in also and their positioning. Also, take pride in your work. But then again, that’s more of a value than a skill, but still important!
What are some of the personal values that have helped your business grow?
AY: Curiosity about the world around us. I would say that Chern and I always try to stay engaged not just in design trends, innovation in the jewelry industry, but also the bigger picture of what goes on in the world. We observe and imbue cultural shifts, global issues that we feel strongly about into our brand.
CC: Discipline, hard work and resourcefulness! Also because we came from different industries, we see jewelry design without the confines of “rules” and “typical practices”. I was previously in a marketing role and before that, an ad agency that also did some interior/product design so I learnt to draw inspiration from those experiences as well.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
AY: As a young brand, and as two people who were not born and bred into the jewelry world, there are days when everything can be challenging. We are a small team and keeping each other going, motivated and pushing forward can sometimes be one of the hardest things to get through.
CC: Running our own business! We’re 5 years in and it’s been a steep learning curve but an incredibly rewarding and satisfying one!
What is the one piece of advice you would give to upcoming designers?
AY: Get a partner in crime. Ask for help when you’re stuck and find ways to collaborate with different people to keep things fresh.
CC: Yes! A partner always helps to bounce your ideas off. And don’t be afraid to speak to people. Ask as many questions as you can to as many people
What is the next step for the Straits Finery?
AY: World domination! (JK). We’re really excited about the upcoming theme for 2020: Ebb & Flow. This collection is our design response to an issue very close to our hearts that is ocean conservation. Each piece takes an element of the ocean to serve as a reminder that we can choose to make small changes in our everyday lives to contribute to ocean preservation.
CC: Retail store presence across the world. That and releasing our new collection.
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