The Interview: Sian Evans, Jewellery Designer & Founder, Sian Evans
Sian Evans is a British jewellery designer, from Dorset who has studied jewellery design, silversmithing and goldsmithing and has won multiple design awards for her fashion and fine jewellery design. For 13 years she was a Senior Lecturer in BA Jewellery Design for Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts. She left UAL at the end of 2014 to pursue her design practice further. She now regularly works as a jewellery design consultant and creates fashion, fine and bespoke jewellery.
Sian’s work is inspired by interests in archaeology, fashion, geology nature and sustainable technologies; the history of tools, materials and making have informed her collections since she started her creative practice in 1986. She tell us more:
Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m a designer, craftsman, artist, academic. I trained as a jeweller and silversmith after thinking initially I would be a fine artist and a stint as an Archaeologist. I taught Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins for 14 years
When did you launch and what was the initial response?
I launched in late 1986 and the initial response with negligible. It took several years of hard work to get going and some lucky breaks. I was introduced to one of the editors at Vogue, who loved my work and began using it in shoots for the magazine. I was also awarded a prize by Drapers, an amazing gift of a free booth at a big Paris fashion week fair, which helped introduce my designs to an international audience and buyers.
How did you become a jewellery designer?
After a year on a foundation course in Bournemouth, I studied jewellery, silversmithing and allied crafts (ceramics and photography) at The Cass college in London. It was an amazing introduction to making things in metal, but not so hot on the design bit. This was deeply frustrating, as this was what I had wanted to study. However during the course I was given the opportunity to do an intensive residential week long business course, one of only two students to receive this opportunity at my art college.
It gave me the confidence and requisite knowledge to set up my own studio and slowly grow into a jewellery designer after honing my skills out in the field, plus …. remember this was the 80s! I was given a small weekly stipend by the government of £40 per week which made all the difference to surviving or not and gave me luxury of time in the studio rather than having to split my time between a job and my passion for design.
You started SE Jewellery in 1986, when you had just completed your jewellery degree course at The Cass. What compelled you to start a business so quickly?
I was unemployable. Stubborn and driven to do what I love. Jewellery design was in its infancy in the 80s and I wanted to change it and as I couldn’t do that from the inside… in a design job, so I did it from the outside instead. The employment opportunities for a novice female jewellery designer back then were virtually nil. It was a largely, male dominated crafts profession. My only option to do what I wanted was to do it myself. I wanted to see my designs sitting alongside my fashion heroes , Katherine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood, so chased opportunities to sell my work in the stores where their clothes were being sold. These new multi brand stores appreciated originality and new ideas about jewellery.
After, you began teaching jewellery design at Central Saint Martins where you taught for fourteen years from 2001 – 2015. Why?
I had been asked many times to teach and turned down the offers. Teaching is a family profession. There are 4 generations of us and I resisted going into ‘the family business’ but I reckon there is something in the genes. I love teaching. I also had an agenda. I felt that since I had studied, the teaching of jewellery design had become largely dominated in the UK by one sector, studio jewellers and their expertise was often only within that arena. What it needed was an international approach. This I could bring to the table after years of selling globally and showing collections at London, Paris and New York fashion weeks.
I was asked at the right time by the right person. Reema Pachachi, who I admire greatly and had met at London fashion week, was giving up her post at CSM to take up the first Creative Directorship at De beers. I happily took up the reins at CSM from Reema and could start to change things…. this time from the inside.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Its a confusing word isn’t it. It sounds so simple, but when you ask a group of people what it means, the level of understanding is surprisingly …..thin. Its complex and is used as a ‘sticking plaster’ word. Use it in your marketing and it means your one of the good guys. Dig deeper and much of what is talked about by brands is greenwashing.
So what I understand it to mean is … do no harm. To planet or people and realising what this means for us as individuals in our daily lives. Its everyone's responsibility to learn about and live by sustainable principles. We shouldn't have anything that we can just ‘throw away’. The Design industries job now and into the future is to solve the problem of overproduction, lifespan and find easy routes for re-purposing and recyclability.
Jewellery design still involves vast quantities of precious stones and metals being mined around the world, what impact does this have on environment?
The stats for the global jewellery industry are staggering. Its a 480 Billion Dollar industry per annum. Predominantly jewellery is made of precious and base metals plus stones. These materials all start life deep within the Earth. Mining is devastating to environment and uses huge quantities of resources and energy. 150 years after the end of the Californian gold rush, San Fransisco bay is still polluted by the tailings, the run off from the mines that seeps into water courses. ‘Tailings’ sounds fairly innocuous until you realise that they consist of two top of the range toxins, Mercury and Cyanide, still used in the process to purify gold today.
Some diamond and gold mines are so big they can be seen from space but are often in remote areas … and as they say… out of site out of mind. The Canadian mines are considered to be ethical….. but you should see the amount of pristine wild Canada they’ve dug up to produce sparkly things for the customers that the diamond companies have convinced that diamonds are rare, OK big ones are, but the small ones that go into most jewels very definitely are not rare.
Diamond companies have to stockpile diamonds to control the price, to keep it artificially high. However there are alternative types of mining to the mining of raw materials, old and broken jewels languishing in jewellery boxes around the globe, your phones and computers.
Do you think ethical jewellery is on the rise?
Yes, there is a lot of chatter and lots of companies are starting to change. Its often the little brands that are making the most radical changes and this is an opportunity for those small jewellery companies to cut through the advertising noise the big brands make. Concerned consumers are looking for authenticity and have the online power to search for it. However, what ethical and sustainable means in the jewellery sector is confusing for consumers.
Ethics and sustainability are two different things, broadly, ethical production is about the treatment of the people and environments while sustainable production is about how resources are used and reused. With more education and opportunities to discuss what this means, we will get to a place where is is understood and importantly which brands are really being more ethical and/or sustainable to what degree. No supply chain is completely transparent, or perfect, unless everything the business produces is made from scratch in the businesses own production facilities.
What is the design process at Sian Evans?
My design process is lead by research, reading, visiting museum collections or exhibitions. I’ve read several books on the bronze age recently and am also fascinated by evolution, plants and phylogeny. My love of geology and archaeology is well known and alongside these interests I’m fascinated by the fashion and it place in society.
Once I’ve collected enough information, I’ll start identifying forms which I feel are important and start to explore these through drawing. I think about how things are made and the purpose they serve…. all the time. Once drawn I’ll make test models and think about how possible processes involved in manufacturing will effect aesthetics. Every process has limitations and leaves a ghost of itself. A hammered object having a different aesthetic from a cast object for instance.
Once a final set of models are made I get a good sense of how a collection will sit together…. if that's what I’m working on. If its bespoke work or design consultancy, I’ll create illustrations of designs for my customer to comment on and we address together any modifications at this stage. Then to creating the final pieces of work.
What is your favourite piece from the current collection?
Its a ring from the Meta Collection…called Cheops after the pharaoh, who’s finger ring resides in the Brooklyn Museum. The meta collection is a series of ring forms , each inspired by a historical ring shape and cast using a bronze age technique rendering the form low-fi as it looses information in the process of casting. The rings are familiar forms, but read as though they are archaeological finds.
What is your greatest achievement so far?
I’ve won lots of awards which are achievements, but I the thing I’m most proud of is being able to influence how a generation of young designers think and create work. It would be teaching at Central Saint Martins
What advice would you give to anyone starting a fashion business?
Whats your USP? Whats different about your work? Identify that and be able to explain this clearly is a good start.
What do you want to achieve? Have a goal.
Who around you can support you with advice that you trust? Your trusted network of experts can help to ameliorate the mistakes you don’t need to make.
How are you financing this? You will need a plan.