TALENT Q&A: Lynette Ong of Edge of Ember Jewelry
Jeweler extraordinaire Lynette Ong’s new collection SARAT (from the Khmer word for Beauty) supports inspiring local charity projects that benefit women. The line also features inventive, awe-inspiring details such as featuring reclaimed landmine metals in many of their pieces. Will you join us on Wednesday September 5th at POP242 and welcome Edge of Ember designer Lynette Ong to New York for their US debut?
Women’s Mafia: How did you get started in design? When did you start Edge of Ember?
Lynette Ong: EDGE OF EMBER launched early this year, but the inspiration for EDGE OF EMBER first came to me two years back when I was in Ubud, Bali where there were tons of silversmiths and art workshops. Most of them had an open workshop concept where customers could see the artisans working on these uniquely handcrafted pieces. I found these gorgeous works of art absolutely amazing. Yet with the overwhelming trend in the marketplace towards mass production, customers get either machine-lasered fare from factories or designer handmade items that were exorbitantly priced.
Living in Hong Kong, I travelled extensively in Asia and would often buy locally crafted accessories on these trips. I thought that with proper retail channels and commercial expertise, the craftsmanship of these smaller artisan groups could be well appreciated by a global audience, and their livelihood would also be supported through this.
So I was inspired to start an ethically produced accessories label that brings the stories and skills of these local artisans to the rest of the world. As I developed this model, it was important to me that my new venture carried a socially responsible message. Unfortunately in the current market, everything needs to be done cheaply and efficiently, thus producers often disregard the welfare and development of those who make their wares. And in the wake of mass production, traditional craftsmanship is also often thrown out the window. It would have been easier and cheaper to simply have my designs made in a China factory but I didn’t want that.
I have always loved jewelry. I think accessories complete an outfit and showcase an individual’s personality. But it was only when the EDGE OF EMBER idea came to me that I started dabbling with jewelry design. I have not had formal design training; the brand’s aesthetic is just a reflection of my personal style. I love combining simple, classic pieces and bolder jewelry to create a look that is versatile enough to wear for both casual and formal occasions.
The essence of the EDGE OF EMBER brand is ethical commerce i.e. fair wages and opportunities. Certain organizations that we work with focus their employment on disadvantaged groups, for example Rehab Crafts, the Phnom-Penh based group that we collaborate with, employs victims of landmines. Also Mahaguthi, the organization based in Nepal, endeavors to provide women with more work opportunities through flexible home-based arrangements, in an otherwise male dominated workforce.
When educated and given the choice, I think consumers want to purchase ethically produced goods. In addition to a fair trade philosophy in production, I also felt it was paramount to allow customers to contribute, through their purchases, to the communities of the artisans who are creating the EDGE OF EMBER line, hence the 10% of contribution through the EMBER PROJECT.
The concept of using up-cycled materials, such as recycled brass bombshells in Cambodia and discarded buffalo horn in Vietnam, complements the ethos of the EDGE OF EMBER brand. I hope to, wherever feasible, continue to employ this concept in more jewelry pieces going forward. In Cambodia, the artisan group we work with gets raw brass bombshells from organized demining efforts (Halo Trust, Cambodian Mine Action Center), cleans and melts the bombshells before reusing this material for jewelry making. I love this sustainable repurposing of genocide remnants, and the meaningful concept of turning an ugly reminder of their history into beautiful works of art.
Where do you get your design inspirations?
Everywhere, really – from architecture to fashion or just the “vibe” of different places I go to. I travel a lot especially around Asia since I moved to Hong Kong five years ago, and I love pairing the more traditional, ethnic aesthetic in Asia to a contemporary urban style.
The current collection SARAT (the Khmer word for “beauty”) showcases jewelry pieces handmade in Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia and Vietnam, with organic hand-hammered metals, bold geometric studs and ethnic-inspired tassels that are accompanied by an elegant mix of crystals and pearls for a sprinkling of luxury. It is influenced by a variety of moodboards. The studs and spikes give an edgy and raw feel that I translated from bustling developing cities like Phnom Penh and Hanoi, the crystals set in antique-plated bezels show a hint of vintage and Art Deco with, and the pearls and tassels add a touch of old school glamour. I also like to contrast the edgy and feminine, the ethnic and the contemporary in pieces.
Can you tell me about your charitable Foundation, The Ember Project, and what are some of the initiatives you are most proud of?
10% of all proceeds from EDGE OF EMBER jewelry are channeled into the EMBER PROJECT, the philanthropic venture of this business. Funds are then donated equally to the five organizations we support, twice a year.
We select philanthropic projects that focus on women and children, and charities that address the problems women face because of the inherent gender inequality in these developing countries. Two of the initiatives (Daughters of Cambodia and Shakti Samuha in Nepal) tackle the issue of prostitution and sex trafficking, while the specific Room to Read program that our funds will get directed to, the Girls’ Education Program in Vietnam, helps young girls to complete their secondary education.
I feel very strongly about empowering women in developing communities so that they can escape situations that involve abuse, trafficking and discrimination. Daughters of Cambodia has a great model in that they not only rescue women from the sex industry but also provides them the skills and tools (job training, legal advice and counseling) to sustain their new lifestyle choices. The Girls’ Education Program run by Room to Read in Vietnam encourages and enables young girls to finish secondary education, thereby addressing gender inequality at its roots. We also work with Children’s Surgical Center in Cambodia, Shakti Samuha in Nepal, and Bali Kids in Indonesia.
Where do you see Edge of Ember in 5 years?
I want EDGE OF EMBER to expand internationally in the fashion world, while keeping true to our ethical and philanthropic roots. Through our story and projects, I would like to raise awareness of local artisan craftsmanship and the plight of disadvantaged groups that we support, and through the business becoming more economically viable, I hope to contribute and make a larger difference in the lives of individuals we impact.
Do you see yourself collaborating with other brands or starting new endeavors?
We will have two jewelry collections a year, and are also looking to expand into other accessories like scarves and cuff links in 2013. I am also open to going into other products like bags in future.
I would love to collaborate with other brands; like-minded ethical labels or mainstream brands that would like to have a line.
What kind of woman do you love to see rocking your looks?
I see these pieces on a confident, stylish woman who isn’t afraid of having fun or taking risks. The EDGE OF EMBER wearer can throw together a perfect outfit from seemingly disparate elements and is assertive, intelligent and socially conscious.
Visit www.edgeofember.com for more details and rsvp to the press and VIP preview on September 5th at POP 242 today! email@example.com