Jun 12 2014
On our way up to their studio along Kandahar Street, the sounds of hard work that involved hammering and soldering of new jewellery welcomed us before Stella turned to greet us. Taking some time off work to hang out with both Stella and Daryl, the hands and brains behind Stelliyah and Stale & Co, we had an inspiring and fruitful chat with them, which, of course, you will get to read about it.
If you do not already know, Stelliyah is the women’s jewellery line while Stale & Co is its latest men’s counterpart. Marrying Stella’s impeccable skills in metal-smithing and jewellery making, and Daryl’s love for graphic design, fashion and photography, the birth of awesome and unique jewellery comes along smoothly and delightfully.
As cheesy as it sounds, every journey is an interesting concoction of hardships, hurdles and joy. Drink that up and be merry – that is what they have shown us as they laid out the past and present in front of our eyes.
How did the ride for Stelliyah and Stale & Co begin?
Stella: Stelliyah started before Stale & Co. Before Stelliyah, I was studying and doing my degree. After that, I don’t know what to do. I always have a passion for making things. I like the idea of making stuff. At first, I was into sewing and I wanted to make clothes. But it just didn’t feel right – you only work on one medium, which is fabric.
I only started making jewellery when I wanted to gift Daryl a rosary when he got baptised. I was poor lah so I didn’t know what to buy. I did my research on how to make it and went to hunt for supplies in Chinatown. It opened up my world! I looked at all the little trinkets and all the possibilities out there. I just got hooked and started making more things. Funny thing is that I was never into jewellery. I like them as sculptural pieces – 3 dimensional and have different textures to hold and feel.
After a while, I needed new challenges so I took up the basic course metal smithing course at Jewellery Design and Management International School (JDMIS) because I was very into the idea of making things from scratch and the old jewellery making techniques. After the course, it opened up my world even bigger!
Daryl: That awoken a monster! Her hunger for knowledge was crazy.
Stella: I was craving! For four years, I just spent a lot of time learning techniques. All the books in the library and bookstores, I have pretty much gone through them. There are also sites I have gone through over and over again. I just wanted to make more stuff!
Daryl: She’s always been very hands on and into making things. We always knew that, so we decided that we should do what we love and we’ll find a way out. Back then when we first started, honestly, we have no idea how we are going to do this, how she’s going to this, how this whole thing is going to pan out. We started from zero.
It’s been a long journey since she started Stelliyah and now, we have 2 brands under our umbrella. It’s not just about selling things; it stands for her hunger for knowledge, wanting to make more interesting and intricate things. And that’s our journey.
Who/What inspires you?
Stella: For Stelliyah, since I started, I see a lot of changes in terms of styles and techniques. There were a lot of different phases and I won’t doubt that there will be changes in the future. But what really inspired me was ancient cultures. I like to go to the museums to see jewellery, sculptures and artifacts, and I always wondered how they made it and with what tools. A lot of them are so intricate and I always wonder how come in a more advanced world, what we make are not as nice?
When I was in New York, I spent so much time in the museum that I actually had a headache. I was absorbing everything.
Daryl: I get that kind of headache when I go with you to the museums. “Oh my gosh, when are we going to stop? My legs… ah…”
Stella: Ya, I always drag him along to visit museums. Apart from that, inspirations come from everywhere. It’s not only from one source. I like nature too. Rough stones and things like that. I like imperfect things – they get to me a lot. At the same time, I like very simple things too. For the longest time, I have been trying to fuse these three things together and they are things that come to my mind when I design.
Inspirations come in bits and pieces, especially when you least expect them.
What is the main belief for both Stelliyah and Stale & Co?
Daryl: I think it’s very simple – quality without ignoring aesthetics. A lot of times, you get aesthetics without quality. You’ve got a lot of people who knows the skills but aesthetics wise, it’s not contemporary enough for the younger crowd to appreciate. We believe in marrying these two together and bringing the best out for people. We want people to know more about the craft. That is why we always talk about our craft more than our products because we want people to know what they are paying for. That’s when people start to understand and be educated.
Stella: I think we are really particular about quality. When we were younger, our favourite country to visit is Japan. We get really inspired there. Every time someone says something is made in japan, they always tell you it is of good quality. This is the kind of association we want our customers to have about Stelliyah/Stale & Co. At the end of the day, we want our customers to remember our stuff by saying, “I have been wearing this for a long time and it’s still here, still look good, didn’t fall apart!” Every time we make something, we will QC it. Did it break? Does it fall off easily? Quality is our core belief for both our brands.
Where do you see Stelliyah and Stale & Co in 5 years time?
Daryl: Actually, we talked about this recently. We see ourselves doing the same thing, still keeping the same belief, still making the same quality products we have been making. We’ll explore different things but the main core belief is still there.
Stella: Honestly, we don’t plan too far. I’m not the kind of person who will think about what I want to have 5 years from now - be it a shop front, stock my products in 100 places or have 5 employees under me. This kind of thing just comes gradually. If it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s just how I lead my life.
What’s your favourite item to make?
Stella: I get bored easily and I cannot focus on one thing for too long. I will lose interest if I spent too much time on a particular item. There’s once I was interested in beading, so I would make beaded necklaces, bracelets and stuff like that. Like I said, I will get bored. So I will be like, “Too much beading! It’s been a while since I held a hammer.” Then, I will go back to metal works.
I like working with metal, that’s for sure. It’s very rewarding to make something from scratch. Every single piece I make, I make sure I had fun making it. I won’t make something that will kill me.
What are some of your advices that you want to give to aspiring jewellers?
Stella: This advice I give to people is that it’s okay to start as a hobby. Not everybody should be as ignorant as I was to jump straight into it. To be honest, there were a lot of hardships and problems. They would get to you emotionally.
You don’t have to jump straight into it. You can always do it as a hobby, as a therapeutic thing over the weekend, in between work or school. Nowadays, there are many ways to sell your things, especially on the Internet. Unlike the past, you don’t need a physical store to sell your things. It’s perfectly fine to work part-time or full-time while you work on what you like. When you are ready to fund your hobby, you can quit your day job and work on this full-time.
Daryl: Don’t be afraid to try. We recently talked to someone and he said, “You guys are so cool. I wish I could do this.” You can. You can do stuff like this. I used to be like that. I have no time to do anything else and I just worked. It reached a point when you get burnt out and depressed about everything in life. That’s when you cut off a lot of things in your life and focus on other things. It doesn’t have to be solely on career. Stale & Co happened because we were like, “Let’s do this.” And it becomes where it is now. You’ll never know what will happen.
Stella: To sum it up, do not be afraid to try but at the same time, be realistic. People are afraid to do things like this because they are afraid to make mistakes.
Daryl: It’s very simple. It’s not rocket science. You want to learn how to swim, don’t jump into the sea. Start with the shallow pool, learn how to trap water, and then slowly move on.
What are some wishes you have for the makers industry?
Daryl: She wants more materials. I just had a crash course yesterday when we went around to look for materials. I cannot believe that was it.
Stella: Because we are also into quality materials, we won’t just settle for anything that we can find. So it’s even harder for us to find things. Sure, you can get them online but certain things, you need to touch and feel.
That makes sourcing very time-consuming. The kind of time I spent sourcing for raw materials can be used to do other things like making things or working on other areas for the business.
How’s it like working with Naiise so far?
Stella: It’s nice!
Daryl: Many people have approached us and at that point in time, we only selected Naiise. If we don’t see us fitting in, we will not go for it. We went through all the various sites and read up on what they believed in, and we picked Naiise. You guys have been supportive of local artists, crafters and designers. Some sites are just discount sites and we don’t want to just sell things. We want a platform to talk about our craft.