Although the Maggie Semple office is based in London, we love to look beyond the big city and embrace ideas and stories from all over the world. When jewellery week was first dated in the diary, there was one woman and her jewellery collection that inspired us all. We spoke with Vivien, owner and designer of Fifi Bijoux whose jewellery collections can be traced right from her stories in Uganda to the boutique in Glasgow.
Tell us about your career? How did you get to where you are today?
I trained at Glasgow school of art studying silversmithing and jewellery. I then worked as
head of design for commercial company and worked my way up. Having to learn the ropes I was asked to source new manufacturers and so worked with a Thai company, then with manufacturers from China and India. I had a growing concern for how price driven these companies were and so became keen to make sure I visited and spoke to staff to make sure they weren’t involved in activities that were exploiting them or dangerous. I decided to do my own research and over 18 months I learnt of a lot of issues which concerned me and left me feeling very distressed. I concluded that this was not acceptable for a luxury industry. So, with a sustainable point of view I wanted to turn the negative impacts into positives and ensure equitable distribution. Having learnt of the Fair Trade standards in one Columbian gold mine, I knew this was the right thing to do and so, decided to use an alternative model for my own business.
What or who inspires your work?
I am always aware of my surroundings. I always keep a sketch book with me to jot things down. This involves colours you see together that you think would make a nice palette to capture. I’m always making notes and taking photos. I then sit down and look over my collectables and pull things together to make mood boards. Some of my inspiration also comes from my travels. For example the Oak leaf Acorns pendant was inspired by my time spent with the director of a Ugandan Women’s Association working in a mining region. Kids were also working there and this struck a chord and so I designed and made the pendant so 10% of the profit goes towards their Child Sponsorship project which gets kids out of mining and into school.
I was invited to take part in the Singapore Elephant Parade. Visiting an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka. It was inspiring as we were able to decorate a life size elephant model with pearls and patterns to raise funds for elephant protection and so made a collection from that too.
What do you love most about jewellery?
I love that they have a very special sentimental value. Jewellery is not just a fashion piece, it’s a meaningful purchase. You can buy jewellery as a gift or to commemorate something. It is very significant for people and so the ethics of jewellery are important to ensure a positive impact is widespread. I find real pleasure in knowing the process behind ethical jewellery and valuing precious natural resources.
The ‘Trace your Diamond’ feature is really fascinating. Can you tell me more about this?
At Fifi Bijoux we only use diamonds from traceable sources. The diamonds come from Canada and Australia, from the mine straight to the polishers. The process is monitored and so customers are offered a laser inscription and certificate with their diamond so they can trace the story of the diamond as well as commissions and facts and figures on both the mine and the journey the diamond has taken. This offers choice to our customers and allows them to make informed decisions.
What is your favourite thing about working for engagements and weddings?
I really enjoy working on bespoke pieces to make it personal for the couple. Knowing the supply chain so well, we can have things especially sourced and cut for our clients. I enjoy getting to know the couple to make the piece unique and personal for them.
What advice would you give to aspiring jewellery designers.
Don’t be disillusioned – for all its faults there is a great will to examine these issues which have not been present in the past. There are a lot of companies making positive contributions to ethical jewellery so make sure you know your supply chain. Verify what you can do and what is available. Don’t be naive – ask and don’t be shy. Work hard and find your own way.
Do you have a treasured piece of jewellery that you have kept hold of?
One of my favourite and most significant pieces of jewellery is the little acorns ring which is both special to me and to the company. The profits from the acorns collection has helped the Entebbe Woman’s Association in Uganda get kids into school full-time . I have seen this develop and progress so far from when it started. It shows exactly what amazing things can be achieved from support.
Fifi Bijoux is an ethical jeweller meaning their materials are all environmentally friendly and fairly traded. The collection itself is stunning – but knowing that their beauty is authentic and untainted makes them all the more desirable.
By Marni Banks