Empowering artisans: Stephanie Choo, Eden + Elie

by Susannah Jaffer October 26, 2017

 Stephanie Choo, the founder of fair trade jewellery label Eden+Elie

 

Tell us about your life before launching jewellery label Eden + Elie.
I was born and raised in Singapore, but studied in the US and after that established a career there as an architect and design professional. I became interested in the intersection of design, business and social good through my travels, and eventually directed my career towards working for apparel, e-commerce and product design companies. 

When I returned to Singapore about six years ago with my husband and children, I entered the field of experience design, working with companies who wanted to innovate better products, services and customer experiences. I left three years ago to start Eden + Elie, which is a culmination of all I’ve learned.

 

What inspired you to found the company?
Starting my own company is a privilege many women don’t have, and I remind myself of that when the going gets tough. Although I didn't formally train in jewellery design, it's a lovely intimate scale of designing and making, and it feeds my soul.

Eden + Elie is named after my two children. Any woman who has juggled family responsibilities and work will tell you there is no balance; there are only priorities that get tested and stretched every day.

 

Tell us about your work with local artisans. 
All of our jewellery is handwoven, and we train and hire artisans from two communities in Singapore. When we first started out, myself and a few other part time artisans produced everything. I used to design, weave, photograph, write; the whole works. But as our business grew, we were able to roll out what we’ve always wanted to do, which is to offer employment to people from underprivileged backgrounds and special needs communities. While a lot of social entrepreneurs look for these communities outside of Singapore, we found the best fit for our business right on home ground.

Our first group of artisans work out of our new workshop at Enabling Village, and they are adults with autism. We partner closely with the Autism Resource Centre who help us identify, assess and provide job coaching for candidates. Our six artisans at Enabling Village have produced incredible work, and we’re so proud to work with them.

Our second group of artisans are women with low income who need home-based work. We work with an organisation called Daughters of Tomorrow who connect us women we can teach to weave our jewellery. The ladies we work with now also happen to be mothers; some have young children and are unable to work easily outside the home. 

 Artisans with autism at Enabling Village in Singapore sewing Eden+Elie jewellery

 

Where do you draw design inspiration and source your materials from?
Everything starts in my head. I usually go straight to working with materials as soon as I have an idea, sometimes with a rough sketch, but most of the time without. As the materials themselves have finite dimensions, forms and texture, I find it easier to design with them straight away, which leads me to trials and prototypes. 

We use glass seed beads from Japan in all of our jewellery. I love that they are minimal yet modular, and can be built up into exquisite designs with the right vision and execution, just like thread to fabric and clothes.

 

Artisans with autism at Enabling Village in Singapore sewing Eden+Elie jewellery

 

Why is preserving the art of hand weaving important to you?
I’ve always been attracted to making things and I grew up in a family of sewers. My mother, aunt and grandmother sewed too. Even though it’s easier now more than ever to produce something industrially, there is something irreplaceable about hand made design.

When I was in architecture school, I learned to sketch, draw and build models as a way of thinking and working through ideas. When I became a painter, my studio walls had lots of sketches, scraps of paintings, experiments taped up. For me, it’s not so much about preserving techniques as it is about keeping them alive.

What matters to me is learning a stitch, or method or technique before it disappears from our collective history, and then making new things with those techniques. That’s how we move forward collectively – we learn, adapt and re-invent. Each movement in art or design has always drawn from the past but then has been made anew, according to its time.

 

"What matters to me is learning a stitch, or method or technique before it disappears from our collective history, and then making new things with those techniques. That’s how we move forward collectively – we learn, adapt and re-invent. Each movement in art or design has always drawn from the past but then is made anew, according to its time."

 

What key lessons has your entrepreneurial journey taught you? 
It's important to always go back to the “why”. Remember why you started. If you lose your compass, you’ll never last.

Secondly, do something native to your soul. I’ve found that I have the most drive and passion when I do something that is closely connected to who I am. You can run on ambition, but you will run further with ambition, passion and authenticity.


How do you stay inspired and driven? 
I’ve always looked for convergence in my life – of my faith, my values, my abilities and my passions. It wasn’t possible in every season. Some periods of my life were spent learning, training or gaining experience in some other discipline. But ultimately, I want to be in the intersection as much as possible. My faith and values help me discern what is important, my abilities allow me to contribute in ways that I do best and my passions ignite the love and creativity for the work. 

 

What steps do you take in your life to live a little more consciously?  
I think consciousness is more than just being aware of labels on the products we consume. I think it's also being mindful of what sorts of ecosystems are impacted by what you choose to use, buy and support. One way is to supporting companies that are working on making better products, in better ways.

 

Shop and discover Eden+Elie jewellery here 

 




Susannah Jaffer
Susannah Jaffer

Author

Founder of ZERRIN, Susannah is an avid lover of dogs and slowly made fashion. She is passionate about raising awareness of conscious brands who are doing their part to make the retail industry a better place.



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