After a two month trip in Southeast Asia, I'm back in California.
My first stop during this trip was Bali, Indonesia.
Since my last time there, I've learned more of the local language: Bahasa Indonesian. This has helped me negotiate better prices, and escape a few Bulay (tourist) schemes. Laughter, smiles, and a little language go a long way!
Every day I jogged in my neighborhood, did some quick yoga, then cruised around on motorbikes to visit jewelry studios, find factories, and buy supplies. This is sweaty business, as it's impossible to escape Bali's tropical heat in the Spring.
I found an amazing studio run by an American who's lived in Indonesia for 13 years. Her factory is filled with insanely talented silversmiths, metalists, and wax carvers. We hit it off immediately and she’ll be handling production in Bali for me.
The only hangup was finding a gold maker. I found the best guy on the island, but he decided I'm not big enough yet. My factory owner has found another supplier for me, but this has caused a delay in the gold production.
I also designed several different packaging systems in Bali, looking for something that is equal to the craftsmanship of the jewelry. I worked with a footwear and handbag maker and we came up with a leather pouch with hand made tassels. We also created a cute leather clutch made of the same soft leather with a beautifully hand woven ikat lining.
The two weeks in Bali flew by. I'm overjoyed to have found such an amazing factory to produce the first Rising Blue collection. I am leaving with the packaging designed and all my boxes checked. This trip was a huge success, although it's always sad to leave behind all the people who I've met. Off to Bangkok!
Bangkok is considered the jewelry capital of the world. They have the highest quality metals and stones. Rubies and sapphires are a particular speciality. The craftsmanship there is of a completely different style than in Bali. I spent six weeks looking for factories to produce new collections that just can’t be produced in Bali's handmade style.
I trekked through the streets meeting with factories, suppliers and craftsman. As a foreigner (or "farang"), I am on the outside. People refuse to work with me. I struggled with getting a fair price and finding handmade craftsman.
Half-way through the trip, I felt like time was running out. One designer worked with me, but his work wasn't up to my standards and I had to cancel with him.
Luckily, my new found friends introduced me to an incredible jeweler who goes my the nickname Pea Pod!
He makes the most amazing outrageous pieces, including earrings made of hair. He agreed to work with me, and together we are collaborating on a new collection! Here are some of the molds we have started.
Once Pea Pod was working, I took a trip to Chiang Mai, a laid back city in the north of Thailand with a small-town feel. While there, I experienced the hottest day on record in Thailand: 105 F with 95% humidity.
A cafe owner pointed me towards Chiang Mai's Saturday Market to find silver. At the market, I met my second jeweler: Eak. He is Thai, but studied jewelry design in Canada and speaks fantastic English! He has been perfecting an unusual technique of soldering silver together to make it look stretched. Together we came up with a modern geometric collection, using his specialized technique.
Finally, on the last day of my Chiang Mai trip I met the third member of my Thai team: Lop Lop. He is a friendly, reggae-loving silversmith. He speaks Thai, but we communicate through pictures and a calculator! We're working on a few raw turquoise designs (his speciality).
Finding people to work with is like dating. It takes a while to see if there's a real connection. I feel very lucky to have found three colleagues during this trip.
Since I found these people late in my trip, though, they weren't going to have samples finished until I was already back in the US, so I extended my Thailand stay for an extra week. It was completely worth it. I reviewed samples, okay'd production, and even met a potential factory for next time.
It’s hard to believe I was gone for two months, but I got so much accomplished! My first shipment of completed product is on it’s way now from Bali, and the next line is already being created. Exciting!