For the first year of Eden + Elie's life as a jewelry brand, we did not talk about our social mission. For one thing, we were still assembling the pieces of what this would look like and we didn't want to talk about something that we meant to do but hadn't done, or at least not at scale.
This year, we are embarking on that first chapter.
After many many months of visiting and talking to organizations, including those working with poor urban communities in Southeast Asia, we've arrived at a decision to start our work on local ground, here in Singapore.
With the dedicated support of job coaches and staff at ARC (the Autism Resource Centre), we are currently working on training and hiring individuals with autism from ARC's network to become bead-weaving artisans for Eden + Elie.
While we have only just begun, early results from the assessments and training conducted by ARC staff have been very encouraging and deeply humbling.
We are also recruiting under-privileged women who need flexible home-based work because their circumstances present high barriers to employment in the regular job market. We have one woman training with us now and are looking forward to a couple more joining us soon.
How did we arrive at these two very different profiles of artisans-in-training and why such different social causes?
Well, for one - I didn't have a fixed social cause in mind when I started Eden + Elie.
I've been working in design-related industries for most of my life - in architecture, teaching, product design, management and most recently in consulting and Experience Design.
But to start, I had an inkling for a product. And for a way of making that product that would involve hours and hours of labour. Those hours of labour are key to what makes our product unique and also instrumental in allowing us to hire people.
People, who may have time, but no jobs. People who need flexible, independent and autonomous work. People who would thrive in making something so fine, so meticulously and exquisitely crafted that it would be their way of being seen, heard and uniquely appreciated for their work.
This love for making can be shared by all and it is part of our humanity. Granted, our product takes a long time to make. And training and hiring artisans out of Singapore where the living wage is high presents business challenges that we must meet.
Stay with us for the next chapter as this story unfolds. We will share about our journey to building a different kind of business. As for the question, "Who made your jewelry?" We will soon have an answer, that'll be him or her.
(The sea at Changi, because my father loved to fish and I've always loved living close to water. )
I come from a family of sewers. My grandmother sewed. My mother sews. My aunt sews and now, I suppose I do too.
When I was 12, I learnt sewing from my grandmother while she was bedridden from cancer. We had a simple embroidery project in school - back in the day when it was considered useful to teach girls needlework (an unrecognisable time in Singapore now).
My friends all had simple drawings of flowers to sew. But my grandmother took one look, and insisted that we up the ante. There was no point, she said, making a hanky with little flowers. If you want to bother to learn how to work with needle and thread, learn it properly. So I ended up with a bodice full of flowers to embroider on a blouse, and the only one in my class with such an elaborate project. She was definitely the original overachiever in our family.
I spent hours next to my grandmother, who was confined to her bed. We visited her every weekend until she passed. I would bring my project and she would correct my stitches.
Since we were Chinese, none of the grown-ups talked to us kids about her illness. She had a colostomy bag, but no one explained what it was. And I didn't dare ask.
Sewing became a way for her to teach me something, and for us to spend time together, despite what was unspoken and painfully obvious - her cancer.
This year in 2016, my father died from cancer. It took him quickly. In a matter of months, he lost his strength, his appetite, his ability to speak, swallow and finally, breathe.
In the last days of his life, though we did not know he was so near the end, my mother, sister and I stayed close. In between tending to his needs, which were numerous and unpredictable, we kept our hands busy beading with needle and thread, even as our hearts were troubled.
Beading is like sewing - one stitch, one bead, joined by needle and thread, woven like a tapestry. It is a way to be present, without words. To make something tangible out of the intangible. To cultivate the ability to bear the moment, whether that moment brings joy or grief.
My dream for EDEN+ELIE is not to create symbols of meaning or to make jewelry that represent significant relationships or milestones. I don't believe things in and of themselves can fully bear the true weight of what people mean to us.
It is and has always been about the making. The actions taken over time that accrue to something bigger and something beautiful. Actions that strengthen our souls, that allow us to be present for our loved ones, that help us to build our spirit to endure.
Next year in 2017, I look forward to building EDEN+ELIE social - which is the direction we are taking to create social impact from our business. We are looking to train artisans, to create meaningful employment for marginalised individuals and communities and to continue to offer pieces made with sincerity and soul. Here's to more faith in being able to do good, more hope in what has yet unseen, and courage to take the next step.
(Our blog features real stories by women who share their journeys and their experiences with courage and honesty. This first post is written by my friend, Catherine Curtis, who is going through a life transition involving moving countries, jobs, relationships and home.)
When I moved across the world to follow my heart, there were two objects—aside from my camera and clothes—I made sure to bring with me: one, a weather-beaten wind chime (always the first piece hung when I made a home and the last taken down when I left), and the other, a bracelet.
I bought it after a year abroad for college, on a trip to Agadir, Morocco. Gazing at that bracelet, a young woman of 21 standing quietly amidst a bustling bazaar, I contemplated the importance of craftsmanship for what may have been the first time.
While its silver filigree detail and multicolored enameling are still exquisite to me, perhaps most significant is the fact that each time I look at it I am inspired to adventure and dip my toes in unfamiliar waters. What was initially purchased as an accessory ultimately evolved to symbolize something I value greatly in my life.
Assigning meaning to a bracelet is in no way unique to me; archaeologists date the practice back to prehistoric times when shells coated in red clay were strung together and worn to physically identify people, and associate them with a group or a geographical locale. A person’s safety and survival may have even depended upon wearing them.
The symbols and significance with which jewelry has been imbued over time are myriad, and meaningful for either individuals or the populace of a culture and era. Everything deemed important can be found reflected in things treasured: life, love, good fortune, safety, bounty, death... If only every story could be known.
I’ve held my Moroccan bracelet dear through many life chapters. During the mundane, it has served as a reminder of the extraordinary, and a beckoning distraction; a wink and a nudge that things could shake up at any moment, and also a talisman when I have questioned where I came to rest in the world.
It’s hard to believe that nearly a year has passed since my heart’s leap and landing. Though its subsequent fall was imminent, I know every adventure has its risk, as does every love. Some risks are higher than others, and some more worthy of the stakes.
As I bundle my wind chime for the journey home, wherever that may be, that feeling of freedom is again tiptoeing at the periphery, awaiting the invitation.
Aside from the meaning it holds for me, the beauty of my bracelet’s story is that it does not have to bear the weight of lessons learned; it remains light, simple and clear of message. As I slip it back on my wrist, it whispers again: There is always more, there is always different. This journey now, this is the most important.
(photo credits: Catherine Curtis)