Creating something beautiful and interesting without harming anyone in the process has always been the goal for Erin Considine, who set up her namesake jewellery line in 2010. From a small studio in New York, Erin and her team create ethical pieces using natural fibres and dyes, and recycled metals. Here she shares her story:
What made you want to start your own accessories line?
I come from an interdisciplinary background, I’m interested in how objects are made and how materials interact together – my work in fibres and metalsmithing have always existed in tandem. After years of working in the industry for other jewellery designers I had a sense that it was now-or-never to get my ideas out there. I also wanted to create a healthy studio environment, one that doesn’t expose workers to harsh chemicals or particulate.
Can you explain what the metalwork process is like?
The process we use most often is lost-wax casting. I create an original model by carving it out of sheet and wire at the bench. Then a mould is made out of rubber and injected with wax to replicate the original design. We work with a professional casting house in the jewellery district that uses recycled metals. Then the pieces are polished by a small family operation.
Where do fibres come into it?
The fibre aspect of the jewellery is near and dear to me, and it’s taken years to develop our signature techniques. The fibres are carefully selected and either left raw or dyed using only natural dyes. The fibre is then braided using a technique called Kumihimo; we do not use any machines and we do not use glues. There are no shortcuts in the assemblage of the fibre pieces, they take hours to braid and each group of fringe is attached by hand in precise knots.
What exactly do you mean by ‘natural dyes’?
Dyes that are derived from plants or minerals. My natural dye practice began in 2009 and has evolved so much. I started out using things you can find in the kitchen like hibiscus and turmeric, but these dyes are not suitable to use on a product with a long lifespan, they fade quickly and do not react well to changes in pH. Now I am on to more complicated and steadfast processes. Each season I focus on a select group of dyes, for SS18 I grew Indigo and Yarrow in my backyard, and am using a beautiful Hollyhock (Black Malva Flower).
Where do you find the deadstock jewellery to repurpose?
I discovered the deadstock warehouse in Rhode Island through my friends at Erica Weiner. Providence, RI was once the jewellery manufacting hub of the US, before the industry moved overseas in the 1980’s. Walking into one of these deadstock warehouses will make you think twice about putting more things into the world, the mass of raw materials-- ceramic, glass, plastics, wood, metal-- is overwhelming but also inspiring. The archive of design alone is a real education. Our current collection uses very little of these pieces in production, but we may return to it again.
Where do you get your ideas?
I am a gatherer, I rarely look at jewellery but draw inspiration from quotidian objects, sculpture, architecture. A curve in an earring might come from a building I admired or a found object.
Do you follow the fashions at all?
Barely. I am more interested in what is happening in design and art, as well as found travel objects.
You have been in business for nearly 10 years. How has your ethos altered along the way?
It’s crazy how fast the years have gone by. Overall, the ethos of the brand has remained the same, the bones of the brand are firm and it’s always interesting to work within the framework that was set up at the beginning. If anything has changed, it’s that I’ve personally let go of certain aspects of the business that I was not good at or reached my capacity with. Mainly this relates to production, hiring an assistant to help with the fibre work and a small family operation with the metal polishing.
Do you ever make bespoke jewellery?
In a way everything that comes out of our studio is bespoke because our output is quite small— we make everything to order and the majority of the production process is executed by hand. However, I make about two or three custom pieces a year, depending on the projects that are presented to me. Mostly, they have been engagement rings made of precious stones or materials repurposed from clients’ family heirlooms. Recently though, people have been interested in customizing pieces from our archive, which I love. Some of the styles were phased out because they were never viable to sell as multiples and were underpriced for the amount of labor that goes into them, but I love reinterpreting them for a specific client, in a new fiber or colorway.
Where do you live and where’s your studio?
I live in the Greenpoint neighbourhood of Brooklyn, it’s about 15 minutes from my studio. I divide my time between the two, and I have a small outdoor studio at home that I use for dyeing in the warmer months.
What’s your community like?
Day-to-day operations happen at the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, a branch of the Pratt Institute. Currently, I’m a Venture Fellow, which means they’re helping me develop the business in all areas of sustainability, the financials, and production. It’s a great community and like a mini-grad school for entrepreneurs. My assistant and I do all of the braiding and finishing work at the BFDA.
Do you have any favourite sustainable haunts in your local area?
The Package Free store in Williamsburg where they have everything you’ll ever need and never need to buy again.
Ash Box is a tiny Japanese cafe at the tip of Greenpoint, their onigiri is the perfect takeaway food with no waste.
Archestratus Books + Foods - aside from having a killer selection of new and second-hand cookbooks, they host weekly dinners and always have the best arancini.
How do you cope with the pressures of life in the city?
This is going to sound insane but I’ve never really found NYC stressful. There are a lot of people and it can be noisy but if you are chill, then the city will be chill. I like to walk a lot and I make a point to hardly eat out as cooking dinner is the ultimate self-care for me, it’s relaxing and creative.
And finally, where do you go to escape?
Fortunately, my partner and I have a car and we drive to New Jersey or upstate New York regularly for hikes. We try to get to Paris and Berlin to see friends as much as we can, but I’m missing Mexico a lot these days. I spent six weeks in Oaxaca in 2016 and would love to return.
Shop Erin Considine here
Words by Daisy Allsup for Antibad