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What I Love: 7 Questions for Jewelry Designer, Pippa Small #ethicaljewelry

Pippa Small, pippasmall.com

Pippa Small grew up in a family of artists and travelers. Spending her childhood exploring the world with her mother and siblings she became inspired by the many fascinating cultures she encountered. Later she completed a Masters in Medical Anthropology, by then her interests in human rights among minorities, indigenous and tribal groups were already well cultivated which led her going on to work with grass roots local organisations in Borneo, Thailand and India, looking at ways of protecting indigenous lands, knowledge and biodiversity.

  1. Tell us about yourself, your story. What are your fashion credentials?
    I was born in Montreal, Canada and grew up in Northern Quebec, and in Spain. I spent the rest of my childhood in England after my family finally settled in the English Countryside. I had a rather wonderful and rural childhood with inspirational travel to far off places with my adventurous mother and many siblings, along with my ponies and chickens at home to keep me company. My early traveling had a huge impact on my life, as I later studied anthropology inspired by these adventures. I went on to earn my Masters degree in medical anthropology at London university SOAS. I worked in Human Rights for indigenous and tribal people in South East Asia for a few years on issues around land rights, the environment, biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. It was a fascinating time, witnessing Asia’s indigenous peoples in the growing movement of a David and Goliath struggle against large powerful governments and operations as they fought to defend their rights.

    I had been making jewelry since I was a child, stringing pieces together to create bracelets and necklaces that were like amulets and held a sort of animistic power for me. As the stones, shells, and buttons were gathered, along the way were reminders of people, places and emotions. Eventually, the designing and making of jewelry turned into more than a hobby. Working with stones which seemed to hold such a power of stillness, ancientness, and a quiet harnessing of all the energies of our Earth in them, became something that I loved doing.

    I started working with artisans in India in my late 20’s, and the pieces that I was making were earthy and raw and soon got the attention of a few wonderful shops, such as Barneys in New York. These pieces also caught the attention of designers like Christina Kim from Dosa and Tom Ford at Gucci. So I consulted and designed collections in collaboration with these interesting brands. This expanded my knowledge and ability, and also helped me start the projects that I had a passion for. These projects included working with remote traditional communities like the San Bushman in Botswana, the Kuna Indians in Panama, the Batwa in Rwanda, the Mapuche Indians in Chile. There were also projects such as working in a slum in Kibera, Nairobi dealing with recycled materials, the 1st certified fairtrade gold mine in the world in Bolivia, in war torn areas like Afghanistan and now Jordan with refuges. I love to use jewelry as a tool to reinforce identity for communities in conflict, provide job opportunities for those areas with little opportunity, keep traditional skills, collaborate on designs to help create new markets and tell their stories to show appreciation for their skills. I have won a few awards for ethical jewelry and social responsibility, as well as a MBE from Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom for ethical jewelry and charity work. I have been showcased at Paris Fashion Week for over 20 years and have sold all over the world.

  1. Why did you decide to start Pippa Small? How is your jewelry being produced, where do the materials come from? Are workers receiving a living wage and working in ethical conditions? Why is sustainability and ethical production so important to you?
    Pippa Small came to be accidentally. Initially, I started a business with the notion that I would write books and make documentaries about human rights. Instead, I started to work with artisans in India to create my designs and found there was a demand for my work. I began to wholesale to shops around the world and opened my first shop in 2007 in Notting Hill Gate in London, and another one in LA in 2008. It’s really important to me that we can provide jobs and self-esteem in areas where people need a sense of stability, security and sustainability. Ethical production is particularly important in today’s ruthless climate, consideration and fairness seems even more essential. We know that the planet cannot support the level of aggressive production, without trying to find cleaner means of extraction and respecting human rights.
  1. How does your design process work? What inspires you?
    If the collection is for Myanmar, Afghanistan, Bolivia or Jordan, the design process starts with researching traditional designs from pre-historic textiles, architecture, painting, and ceramics to find sources of designs and to really understand the roots of local aesthetics. From this I will pick out motifs, symbols and shapes that have a universal feel. People from other cultures who have never been to the country will be able to relate to the piece. The life of the maker and story of that culture will be instilled in these pieces. Similar to most designers, I am inspired by everything constantly taking pictures, doing drawings and making notes for designs.
  1. What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned as an entrepreneur in the fashion industry?
    To be constantly evolving yet remaining authentic to what you believe in your core and not to listen to too many voices. Find people whose opinion you trust, as opposed to listening to everyone telling you to do something else and dictating what you should or should not be doing.
  1. Describe your personal style. Who are your style icons and why?
    When in hotter countries like India and Myanmar I wear lots of Dosa, it has bright beautiful colors, think light cottons and silks, yet modest and acceptable. In countries where this is an issue, I wrap myself in soft Kashmir shawls from the Himalayas, Alpaca sweaters from the Andes (from where I have just returned). During the winter, my style is consequently a little eclectic from local markets and designers like Pero in India who draws on traditional, but creates something new with hand-stitched details and easy shapes. I love simple classic designers like Sophie D’Hore. My icons are Katherine Hepburn and Georgia O’Keefe. They used style to mark themselves out from the crowd yet were comfortable and stayed true to themselves.
  1. What’s always in your fridge?
    Vegetables. I have been a vegetarian since I was 5 years old and I am not a great cook. But fresh vegetables, lentils, and rice are my staples. It’s not exciting but, in my opinion, rather delicious!
  1. What three things can’t you live without?
    My twins Mac and Madu, books, and stones.
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