Sunday, December 5, 2010

An interview with SeaWeb's Ocean Voices

A Touch of Asian Culture to Help Coral

"The origins of [our design] philosophy was an homage to life—that it was far from perfect and yet beautiful. ... Coral was a perfect inspiration."

—Choo Yilin

Lemon quartz cabochon drops hang from organic coral vines and embellished with rhodolite garnets. 99.9% reclaimed sterling silverChoo Yilin Artisan Jewellery
Leading fashion designer Choo Yilin launched her coral-inspired line of jewelry that was recently featured in various international publications after becoming a supporter of SeaWeb’sToo Precious to Wear campaign. Born in Singapore, her style reflects her own culture combined with her discoveries during her travels, from exploring Europe during her college summer vacations to her recent experiences learning the centuries-old culture and traditional art of the Karen hill tribal people of northern Thailand. As such, Yilin says that her company,Choo Yilin Artisan Jewellery, has set out to “fuse sustainability and luxury.” Yilin wants her customers to know how sustainability and jewelry can go together and how the ocean inspires her, so she shared her story with SeaWeb.
SeaWeb: Please tell us about the Karen people, how you knew about them and what about their culture inspired you to integrate their traditional art into yours?
Choo Yilin: The company is constantly on the look out to deepen our commitment to sustainability. We started with our work with the Karen people, a traditionally marginalized group. I had initially heard about them through the expatriate circles I was doing developmental aid with. Then we started utilizing reclaimed precious metals and flawed gemstones that would have otherwise been discarded. It turns out that our next eureka moment came when we realized that art had been historically used as a vehicle to communicate important cultural, social and political messages. We thought that it seemed only natural to use jewelry design, a bona fide art form, albeit a little unorthodox, to convey similar messages. Thus, our “Alternative to Coral” collection was born.
Asymmetrical bangle with coloure sapphires.  99.9% reclaimed sterling silver gilded in grey rhodium and 18KT yellow gold
Choo Yilin Artisan Jewellery
SW: What about corals made you wish to incorporate them into your collection?
CY: Our design aesthetic has always been heavily organic and asymmetrical from day one. The origins of the philosophy was an homage to life—that it was far from perfect and yet beautiful; that we could do very well to learn to appreciate the beauty in flaws and not attempt to strive for artificial symmetry and unfettered perfection. Coral was a perfect inspiration, given our sustainability themes as well as our existing design philosophy.
This collection, done up entirely in reclaimed sterling silver and luminous gemstones, in designs heavily inspired by organic coral forms, aims to convey that while coral is indeed beautiful, it doesn’t need to be used in order to be appreciated as jewelry. The collection also works with nonprofit campaigns such as Too Precious To Wear to illustrate the potentially disastrous consequences of using real coral in fine jewelry. The collaborations also help us build awareness among the public.
SW: Why is sustainability important to you and how do you infuse it into your business practices?
CY: Working in a developmental aid capacity in Thailand opened my eyes to marginalized groups that struggled to get by. While I saw firsthand the impact of our work, I came to believe that while aid was sometimes needed, working with communities to ensure self-sufficiency through viable economic choices was much more sustainable in the long run.
Our future collections will have similar stories of social and environmental conservation, all done up in the label’s signature design philosophy of organic asymmetry. We know that partnerships are deeply important in disseminating these messages, which is why we will continue to collaborate with campaigns like Too Precious to Wear and the media. All of this will be done while deepening our research into greening the supply chain of the creation of jewelry as well as our continued work with the Karen and possibly other communities.
Coral polyp rings in 99.9% reclaimed sterling silver and fancy sapphires. Gilded in black rhodium and 18KT yellow gold
Choo Yilin Artisan Jewellery
SW: Is sustainability a fairly recent trend in Asian products? Do you feel it has a growing market there?
CY: Sustainability in Asia is a growing but still currently a niche priority. We, together with my peers and the media we’ve spoken with, are extremely optimistic about the expanding consciousness in this regard. It is through partnerships like the one we have with Too Precious to Wear that will help with this growing awareness. We are extremely honored to be the first Asian collaborator with this ingenious campaign.
SW: What would you tell other fashion designers who are not aware of Too Precious to Wear about why they should support coral conservation and raise awareness through their designs?
CY: Designers desire their own autonomy in deciding the vision and goals for their art. I would simply share with them the stories of the work we do and hope that they’d be inspired to create their own impact through their art.

Choo YilinChoo Yilin was born in Singapore and graduated with an honors degree in the social sciences. She started work in an academic environment, which she enjoyed, but the intense left-brain focus left her creative side unfulfilled. This, in addition to the acute missing of the Europe she explored while in college, prompted her to launch of a range of semiprecious jewelry at the age of 23. In 2007, Yilin moved to Thailand, where she strove to recreate herself professionally while contributing to her new community. She decided to utilize her jewelry designing skills, first working with the Karen hill tribe artisans and then venturing out to other forms and styles of fine jewelry.

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