Holly Ryan On Handcrafted Jewellery That Is Built To Last

by: Rosie Dalton | 6 months ago | Features

Image: Holly Ryan handcrafting jewellery in the studio.

Local jewellery designer and artist Holly Ryan splits time between her Sydney and Sunshine Coast studios, where she and her team handcraft the sculptural jewellery for which she has earned a cult following. This small team of artisans includes Holly’s mum Denise, from whom she first learned to make jewellery.

And it was also Holly’s parents that instilled in her a passion for sustainable practices from an early age. Which is why the designer is today committed to using recycled metals and encourages her customers to return their pre-loved pieces as part of the brand’s Recycling Initiative.

Between preserving the environment and supporting the continuation of traditional jewellery making techniques like lost-wax casting, Holly Ryan proves that ethical fashion is a journey, rather than a destination. So to celebrate Fashion Revolution Week this week, we asked Holly to share the journey behind her pieces and what ethical fashion means to her.

Rosie Dalton: What does ethical fashion mean to you personally? 
Holly Ryan: Protecting human rights and being responsible for the ways my own staff and suppliers are being treated. Also being conscious and responsible in terms of the clothes I am wearing myself and the brands I support. I am proud to wear brands that are doing something right – even if they aren't perfect – because putting my money towards them doing more good is better than feeling overwhelmed and doing nothing.

Rosie: Why is sustainability of particular importance to you? 
Holly
: I am very conscious about creating pieces of value; pieces that last and that won't end up in landfill. When I design, I am considering factors such as recyclability, repair-ability, and durability. Among the most direct ways we can limit ecological impacts is with goods that last for generations or can be recycled so the materials in them remain in use. Designing timelessly and creating quality products is how we can help to save the planet. 

Image: Holly Ryan handcrafting jewellery in the studio.

Rosie: How is this reflected in your brand and in what ways has this evolved over time? 
Holly
: All of our metal is recycled, we buy it already recycled and also melt down metal scraps within our studios to reuse it in new designs. Our stones are sourced ethically through Fairtrade in India, as well as directly through local Australian suppliers. And my jewellery is handmade-to-order in Australia by my team and myself. We also have a Recycling Initiative, so if customers find that a piece of jewellery is not serving them anymore, they can return it to us to be melted down for store credit, or to be polished, restored or turned into something new.

We recognise that there is always more that we can do and we are redesigning our packaging to be compostable at the moment, as well as phasing out gold plating and encouraging consumers to buy more of our bespoke designs. I want to use my voice for good, to encourage others to ignore the naysayers. “Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.”- James Baldwin. I think that those who say it can't be done are currently being overtaken by those who are already doing it. I truly believe that it is a risk not to have sustainable practices in place within your business right now – the ignorant will be left behind and their emissions will become a liability. It is a risk not to act now.

Rosie: Can you take us through the journey of your jewellery pieces, from concept to creation?
Holly
: Most often I just pick up my tools and start creating. I use a mixture of traditional jewellery making processes as well as lost-wax casting, which means there is variety in the way I approach creating. When using traditional techniques I am generally setting stones, however with the lost-wax casting technique I am hand-carving wax to be cast to metal and these designs are always far more sculptural. I don't always have an exact end goal in mind; I let the work evolve naturally. I let my subconscious to do the talking and there is always a conversation of wearability, durability, recyclability and timelessness.

Image: the jeweller’s bench. 

Rosie: Why do you believe it is essential that we preserve traditional craftsmanship like hand-making jewellery?
Holly
: Personally and selfishly, it is because I just love what I do so much. I think there is so much sentimentality to jewellery in the way that it is given and received and that it means even more to know exactly where that piece came from or who made it. It keeps the option for customisation and bespoke design a possibility and it keeps makers and designers like myself responsible, transparent and conscious. 

Rosie: And why are we still in need of a Fashion Revolution? 
Holly
: We cannot afford to be selfish any more; designers need to adapt to the new norm of circularity. We need urgent system redesign. We need to take notice of our impact on the planet and implement changes that will limit the devastation. What we do right now affects not only our own futures, but those around us. Design is the answer and waste is a design flaw.

Image: Holly Ryan handcrafting jewellery in the studio.

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