What does “handmade” give you that “mechanized” doesn’t?
It was the year 1995 and I had just graduated from the Jewelry Arts Programme at George Brown College in Toronto. Eager as I was to take the world of Jewelry & Gemmology by storm, real life necessitated a fairly low key starting job. Each day was a new experience, exposing me to every area of the business, from designing to production and marketing. While absorbing all this I was steadily accumulating a small collection of my own designs, which I lovingly handcrafted in my spare time.
Fast forward to the birth of my beautiful son in 2011, and my life changed. I wanted to spend every possible moment watching him grow. But what of my career? I had my “aha” moment, and decided to launch Ashanti – my very own brand. Of course, investing heavily in a mechanized factory was not an option, given my limited financial resources. But come to think of it, ‘machine manufactured’ was never my thing anyway.
I had grown up in Sri Lanka watching and appreciating the immensely talented crafts-people work their magic with every imaginable material – be it stone, wood, brass, fabric, beeralu (a type of crochet) and even gold and silver. I felt privileged to own and wear any of these items. Each one was the result of a strong desire to create something beautiful. Feeding material into a machine and pulling out thousands of identical finished items at the end of a production line was a spot that never marred the beautiful canvas that was the creative process of these talented artisans.
Working from the heart
Starting a business from scratch is an uphill task as any entrepreneur will tell you. However, with each new design and every sale my confidence grew. And then one day I realized that I couldn’t keep up with the required volume of production.
The solution was an obvious one to me. I found young people from underprivileged backgrounds in Sri Lanka who had acquired the basic jewelry making know-how. I provided them with materials and trained them to produce my designs in their homes. No pressure, no strict deadlines, beyond reasonable payment – this was the employment package I offered them. Attractive, wouldn’t you say? And they agreed.
Time has flown. We’re closing in on our fourth year and it’s been an amazing journey. Each piece turned out by me or one of my extended artisan family is the result of ‘I want to do it’ as opposed to “I’ve got to complete this by tomorrow”. And the realization of this has been tremendously humbling.
Nurturing and developing my brand has become rewarding for me in more ways than one - growth means I can offer more work to talented artisans in Sri Lanka and enable them to uplift their lifestyles and carry on their craft.
Can you really place a price tag on a lifetime of talent and experience? However it’s got to be done, because the real world demands it. The bright side is that you, as a customer and wearer of the jewelry will receive much more than simply an accessory to enhance your wardrobe. Included in that package will be talent, experience, hours of devoted labor and a host of heartfelt sentiments. It’s our gift to you…