Empowered by a curiosity for design and her travels to create a jewellery label inspired by our human experience of love, Nazneen Aziz-Samson is the founder of PYAR, an ethical jewellery label produced on the magical island of Bali. We chatted to the designer and learn more about her journey, the significance of each of her designs and why she stands by fair production.
You’re a creative soul at heart. How did you know the design world was your calling?
I’ve always been sensitive to colours, textures and forms. I travelled a lot when I was younger. Of all the places I’ve been, I vividly remember one family trip to Kashmir when I was seven. I remember everything was so beautiful. We saw carpets made from scratch and lots of wooden inlaid furniture in the houseboat we stayed at. I always question why things are made a certain way and what the story is behind something. Even some visuals and objects that lift our mood fascinate me. Even the simple act of drawing can still the mind. In the end, there was no question that I wanted to do something in the arts and design world.
I ended up studying Design Communication and worked as an art director for design agencies for many years. I then went on to teaching in the Fashion programme at LASALLE, my alma mater. Through my research in preparation for the classes I was delivering, my approach to design evolved more in the application of fashion branding, textiles and fashion products. All of this led me to the creation of my own jewellery label, PYAR.
But where did the creative spark for the label first come from?
Over a period of time, I created many drawings that could turn into jewellery pieces. After many inspiring trips out to different parts of Bali, I decided to spend a few days in Ubud, mostly on my own — a sort of self-discovery time. More than anything, I was absorbing everything around me and feeling truly inspired. I had signed up for a silver jewellery making class. I remember a funny thing happened to my phone the day before whilst sketching some designs I had in mind to make. While drawing by the pool, my phone was pretty hot and I had a few apps running with music playing on my phone, so it suddenly died! I put it on charge but there was no battery icon, so with no phone, I wouldn’t be able to take any process photos at the class.
The next day, I made my first swivel ring which was the beginning of our heart ring from the LOVE collection. After class, feeling really happy about seeing an idea translated into a piece of jewellery, I wandered into a little zen garden of sorts and sat down at one of the gazebos, where I could hear the magical sound of birds and water. I remember thinking to myself, “am I in a dream? I bet my phone works now.” I tried turning it on and it did! In a way, I think it was good as it was an opportunity to disconnect so I could reconnect fully. I took that as a sign and that kicked off the process of putting a line together and PYAR was born.
That’s such an incredible coincidence! Sometimes when you know, you just ‘know’.
Yes, it was the right time as it felt natural; I was clear about my style and shapes that I found attractive. I liked the idea of movement and I wanted to design a heart-shaped ring that was a little different. Not the typical sweethearts — we’re designing for more of an offbeat individual.
PYAR is really a passion project of mine. It is an outlet to express creatively. I use it to build relationships with the many people I come across through the making process and that feeling of joy when I see it being worn. Jewellery is like the finishing touch to an outfit and I love that it has longer wear, something you can put on without feeling like you’re repeating the same look.
What inspired the name? It’s such an interesting word.
Pyar comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Priya’ which means beloved. It also means love in Urdu, my late father’s language. He came to Singapore from Pakistan and met my mum, fell in love and made a life here. Believing and experiencing that the driving force of all creation is love, it makes perfect sense to have love be the core theme which extends to the ethical production process as well.
A lot of the inspiration came from my own experiences and reflections on what love is. It was upon realising that we are all here to understand ourselves better that help us discover our truths. The kind of love that is healthy and that understands it starts with the self first — that’s sexy. Simple is in the sculptural forms and the overall approach and simple is by no means easy. Soulful is the intention to connect beyond the form, the intangible — like a love song. Jewellery has been the choice for people throughout the centuries to mark and affirm the sentiment of love, either as gifts or talismans. I wanted to continue this tradition with PYAR.
“Jewellery has been the choice for people throughout the centuries to mark and affirm the sentiment of love, either as gifts or talismans. I wanted to continue this tradition with PYAR.”
Can you share more about what each of your collections signifies?
I designed the heart swivel ring from the LOVE series as the first piece of PYAR jewellery, so it’s very special to me. It’s a sculptural piece you can interact with as it has four moving parts that turn at 360 degrees signifying the four seasons of love and it’s ever-evolving nature. The light and dark metals are symbolic of the dualities and the delicate balance of the feminine and masculine within. The ESSENTIAL series are everyday pieces, simple but with a little detail that brings a surprise element. The ZODIAC collection is talismans handmade and stamped on recycled brass with a heart charm, a reminder of how each sign loves – if you believe in the stars. The PARADISE collection is our love for island life translated into a handwoven bangle using palm leaves.
Where and how do you produce the jewellery in Bali?
I chose Bali as it truly inspires me. Through my travels there, I find it to be my happy place. Especially the landscapes — volcanos to beaches, the rich handicrafts, they inspire me. It’s beautiful to see people so connected to the spiritual world. You get to see offerings made so gracefully in the mornings and evenings. The island has given me so much in terms of self-discovery that I wanted to give back too. I thought it would be best to give back through creating with a maker there. Also, for its rich history in silversmithing with influence from Javanese and European techniques. I love how they have evolved and managed to maintain a beautiful balance of new and age-old techniques in their crafts.
I connected with a jewellery manufacturer based in the north of Bali through an article I came across online on ethical jewellery making back in 2014. They’ve been around for over 30 years. From the start, I wanted to work with a maker with strong ethical values as my own. Even since working in print design, I would make a point to choose recycled or environmentally friendly paper materials.
After visiting the workshop and finding out more about their ethical practices and genuine care for their workers, providing safe working conditions, fair and above minimum wage, work training centres, childcare for the working mothers, having systems in place for authorised waste disposal and recycling procedures, I was assured that we were both approaching the design and production with ethical intentions.
Because of the size of the company, they are able to supply certified recycled silver and brass with handmade and casting capabilities. The design process is a collaborative one. I give them drawings, which are evaluated and then the materials and finishing are carefully considered. Samples are made and worn for a good few weeks to judge the ‘feel’ before joining the collection.
More and more companies are starting conversations about ethical production. Why is it important to you?
If I’m creating and adding yet another piece of ‘something’ to the world, then it has to be done consciously. It pains me to see so many mass-produced products out there that result in over wastage. There’s thought in each PYAR piece designed. We choose the materials that are recycled. We support vendors and suppliers who share the same green values will hopefully make ethical production the only way.
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Susannah believes better design can help create a brighter future. A former magazine editor, she now runs ZERRIN and works at the intersection of consumers, brands and sustainability advocacy.