Having a “no waste” approach towards jewellery design, and my own life, did not come naturally. I changed, in ways I had not anticipated, when I embarked on this journey with my Chief Makers in Cebu. I call them chief makers because they are craftspeople and designers who also manage a large group of skilled jewelry makers and specialists in their own fields. On each visit to Cebu, I get the chance to watch them interact and manipulate natural materials to achieve an envisioned design. They mostly look at me as a student of their craft, which technically, is all I am.
In retrospect, my initial approach to designing with alternative materials was superficial. I was concerned with achieving my designs by using alternative materials, not the other way around. I thought it would be fascinating and different. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, it would have been, for me, a short-lived one. I would have found myself running in circles, chasing new materials to meet fashion trends that come and go. In the early days of understanding their craft, I had a simple conversation with a chief maker that soon paved the way for the “no waste” philosophy WoonHung now adopts. She enlightened me on the use of coconut, a common material abundantly found in Cebu and other tropical climates. She explained that many simple tools and approaches are used to derive different shapes or parts from raw materials. Every part of the coconut is used — from the juicy flesh and liquid as refreshments served in restaurants and homes, to the outermost protective layer for burning as fuel. Most interestingly, the hard part of the coconut shell produces the lovely coco beads that I came to love working with. Coco beads are derived from scooping out tiny balls from the shells of used and discarded coconuts. A small hole for stringing is then punched in the middle of the bead, and they are later strung into necklaces and bracelets before dyeing them. After this simple conversation, I began to put the raw material and the ideal of “no waste” at the centre of each WoonHung collection.
I was struck by the beauty of using simple tools and methods tailored to not only stretch the potential of a material, but also to increase a product's longevity and natural beauty. This soon became my deeper reason to commit to their approach to natural materials and methods. Raw does not mean unsophisticated, neither does it equate to an inferior product. But it does require a different set of lenses to see its potential and appreciate its beauty. This material-first approach has pushed me to constantly create unique designs that best showcase the beauty of each material. This has been challenging, rewarding, and incredibly fun. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating to discover what these makers can do. The only way for me to further understand the potential and to bring out the essence of each material in terms of design and use, is to keep at it. I will have to continue working closely with the people who live and breathe the environment and natural materials they are so intimately involved with.