When I first heard about Choo Yilin Artisan Jewelry, I was intrigued by the idea of eco-friendly luxury and using jewelry design as a social messaging tool. Design-driven precious jewelry wrapped up in an environmentally conscious package, an admirable concept.
Since launching in 2009, the label has won two grants to show in London and New York, as well as multiple international design awards. No small feat for a former political analyst from the tiny island-state of Singapore. In a life-changing move to Bangkok, Thailand in 2007 as an expatriate spouse, Choo was left wondering about her next career move.
Between her philanthropic work and small-scale jewelry business to private clients, Choo soon found her calling when she started working with the traditional Karen hill tribe artisans in northern Thailand. The collaboration not only created awareness and support for a marginalized group, it also allowed her to plunge full-force into producing sustainable yet extravagant jewelry.
Each of Choo’s ready-to-wear collection tells a story of environmental or social conservation. Her “Alternative to Coral” collection is crafted from natural gemstones and 99.9% reclaimed sterling silver, with some pieces gilded in eighteen-karat gold and black rhodium. The organic shapes are mostly asymmetrical; a nod to nature’s imperfect beauty.
“The collection was an homage to the beauty and the necessity of the survival of coral reefs,” said Choo. “Instead of using real coral that has been used traditionally in fine jewelry, we created jewelry pieces heavily inspired by coral reefs around the world.”
Choo is the first Asian jeweller to reach out and sign Too Precious To Wear’s pledge- a non-profit promoting marine conservation and awareness against using live coral in jewelry. Driven by the campaigns and missions of non-profit groups, Choo actively weaves their ideas into her jewelry design. Her latest collection due to unveil in May, is dedicated to forest conservation and evoked by the United Nations declaration of 2011 as International Year Of The Forest.
Since the inception of the brand, Choo has tried her best to “green” her supply chain where possible. Her best-selling collection is a fusion of textured vermeil embellishment over classic jade pieces. Despite incurring higher production costs, she chooses to import jade from China because of the political ban on Burmese exports to the US. Though it is nearly impossible to acsertain the origin of the raw materials, Choo prefers to maintain complete honesty of her sources in order to protect the integrity of the label.
“Our rationale was that we felt in the bigger scheme of things, conveying this inadequacy was more important that maintaining a façade of perfection,” she said. “We needed to highlight a seemingly intractable issue in the industry and acknowledge that we could not evoke the necessary changes by ourselves.”
From a modest investment capital and a purposeful dream, the young entrepreneur has built a profitable label with solid ethical values. It is impressive and inspiring to see the grit, determination and class from which Choo runs her business. Her passion for change and originality is clear.
“Coming from a background as an artist-designer whose primary mission was to create original work, I was especially inspired and challenged by Bornstein’s (book: How to Change the World) accounts of individuals that had created business models that were unique in the market space and were essentially tearing down the status quo for good,” muses Choo. “I realized in retrospect, there were some similarities between a designer and a social entrepreneur – this desire to create original designs that were better than the status quo. I was inspired to do the same.”
Visit Choo Yilin Artisan Jewelry at ChooYilin.com for more information.