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08 November 2017


myanmar artisan travels pippa small london ethical jewellery sustainable fashion fair trade

I have traveled many times to beautiful Myanmar, working with the Turquoise Mountain Foundation at their workshop in downtown Yangon. On my first morning there when I visited last, I thought how lucky I am as I made my way down the narrow streets, winding past a line of nuns out collecting their daily horns and squealing of tyres. From little girls, often orphans brought to the convents, to older ladies who have devoted their lives to prayer and meditation, the layers of pink toned robes and their life choice completely fascinate me.

As I passed the now familiar noodle stall on the road with six different kinds of noodles and mountains of vegetables waiting to be cooked in the large hot pots I felt so pleased to be back, to work on the 5th collection with Turquoise Mountain in Myanmar. The workshop has grown from two men when we started in 2015, to now ten men and three girls who are learning the trade.

The artisans are mostly hailing from Rakhine, the western troubled state, the poorest state in Myanmar with a predominantly agricultural culture that is already being adversely affected by climate change and where unemployment and lack of opportunity is rife. At this troubled time in the country we feel it is more important than ever to ensure people have jobs and see opportunity and hope. It is a creative business where we emphasise a celebration of diversity and draw inspiration from all the ethnic groups and traditions in Myanmar. We hope that by opening the conversation and encouraging appreciation for other cultures through the process of design can help transform the fear and suspicion of the other to unity. I work closely with Tin Win who is a master goldsmith from Rakhine. Tin Win has worked with gold since he was a young man and although he had to, like so many others in Rakhine, take a labouring job in Korea for a while to feed his family he came back to Yangon and was introduced to the TM project and is now their head of workshop. A serious man with a very contemplative and meditative stance with his work, he sees the deep concentration and focus on his gold work as very akin to his meditation practise which is a daily part of his life. He is very proud of what he does and what he creates.

This trip we are working with a collection of spinals from Mogkok, where the worlds most famous rubies come from. We are using them in what is locally called the Fairy cut which means uncut and unpolished just these perfect double octahedron shaped crystals in tones of red, orange and lotus pink.


myanmar artisan travels pippa small london ethical jewellery sustainable fashion fair trade


We are also working on a short film on the making of a piece of jewellery for an exhibition of Turquoise Mountain and the Smithsonian who again are partnering up to create an exhibition on the role of craft in today’s work, the time of the 4th industrial revolution – what a vital and vibrant development tool craft can be.

We are making an opening gold lotus flower…


myanmar artisan travels pippa small london ethical jewellery sustainable fashion fair trade


We manage to laugh and chat through the filming of our creative partnership – being in front of the camera is not something either of us feel at ease with but it was wonderful working with the Turquoise Mountain team and the young talented Burmese director Moe Myat.

After finishing our discussions on the designs, going over drawings, sizes and choosing stones, working with the team of goldsmiths on samples and seeing that they were all comfortable with the designs, I left for Delhi to begin my next adventure.

To read more about the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Myanmar, click here.


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