Malvika Vaswani uses unconventional techniques to inspire traditional artisans into creating unique jewelry
How has formal design education impacted your career?
I majored in industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design in the US. Having a formal design education has definitely helped me be rigorous, understand process, and make, document, and create products where the form follows function. I learnt that prior to making anything the function of it has to be looked at and this helps me create viable products with their own identity.
What drew you to jewelry design?
I have grown up watching my mother making fine jewelry, and though I always told her I would never do that, it was in my blood! I loved the fact that jewelry could be sculpted and molded and literally take any form and yet be a piece of wearable art. I enjoyed the scale and the fact that it could be mixed media and thus very organically started designing and making jewelry using traditional crafts, traditions and also alternate and sustainable materials in my practice.
What brought you back to India?
I worked very briefly in the US and was a designer at an entry level there. I very quickly understood that the kind of work I was doing wasn’t something I wanted to do lifelong. Since making anything within the US was so expensive, most of the products were outsourced to China and mass produced, thus removing me as a designer from the actual making aspect. I felt very disconnected from the making process and being a hands-on designer, this was a little problematic. I knew I wanted to work in the craft sector in India so I came back in late 2011. In 2014, I started Malvika Vaswani Design Studio in Mumbai. It is an industrial design studio that is experimental and socially responsible.
What does it take to be socially responsible design studio?
To be socially conscious, you just have to be aware, look at the little things. Be it the environment you work in or the materials you procure and where they come from, ensure fair payments, and just constantly stay updated.
Tell us about your brand.
Malvika Vaswani is a lifestyle design brand. I design personal and home accessories along with occasional furniture. I don’t specifically identify as a jewelry designer. Jewelry happened very organically for me. I just kept my values as a designer intact and applied it to forms that could be worn as jewels. We try to re-imagine contemporary jewelry design. Every piece is hand-made locally using ethical manufacturing practices along with unconventional materials and techniques – such as recycled stained glass in jewelry – completely out of context, yet effective.
We experiment with using technology as a complement to the orthodox techniques in a bid to increase a bit of efficiency. Using technology where relevant without taking away from craft is a fine line that needs to be balanced.
How do you come up with a jewelry collection?
I am very inspired by shapes and architecture. I tend to look back at stories and visuals from my travels, study about movements and locations, and then allow the creative process to flow. I take a lot of risks with material as well as product – so every time, I dig deep into my creative process, I know a surprise comes out!
What challenges have you faced since setting up your studio?
The biggest challenge was the lack of organization and structure in India. It took a lot of legwork, patience, initial failure and struggle to set up a network of craftsmen. It was also a challenge initially to get many of the workers to comprehend the fact that a young kid also knew how to operate machines and make things and was giving them suggestions on how to make designs they were unwilling to even try, due to the lax mindset.
Give us a glimpse into the Jiyoproject that you’ve undertaken with the Asian Heritage Foundation.
Jiyo is a World Bank funded project to help train artisans in rural parts of the country and develop products that fit in the lifestyle accessory space. This involved taking project lead from design to costing and marketing. I’ve visited Odisha, Bihar and MP, all part of the red corridor, and have worked with natural materials to develop some really exciting accessories. Spending time in the villages was not only humbling but also enlivening.
What trends do you foresee for Indian jewelry in the next five years?
Jewelry will be made out of sustainable, recycled materials, and metals and natural stones. There will also be a lot of tech jewelry and unconventional jewelry.
How do you plan to expand your brand?
I believe I’m working on something very relevant to our present day requirements as a global society. If we can make luxury, or some aspects of it, actually sustainable, I see what we do growing to wide audiences. I would like the brand to grow internationally, with well crafted sustainable products indigenous to India.
This article was originally published in POOL 106.
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