Fair Anita’s Design Process: Behind the Scenes

Fair Anita’s Design Process: Behind the Scenes

Joy McBrien Hand draws fair trade jewelry designs | Fair AnitaTo say that creativity can be palpable in a room is a bold statement, but equally true when it comes to the design process of Joy, the founder and CEO of Fair Anita. I had the privilege to accompany Joy and Anna on their most recent artisan visit to Ethiopia, where I was able to observe as well as take part in the collaborative design process that leads to Fair Anita’s unique and beautiful jewelry offerings. 

A large part of Fair Anita’s success comes from the core practice of design collaboration with each artisan group, ensuring that the jewelry produced is fashionable for the market it is sold in-- the United States. While these global artisans have incredible skill, it makes sense that their default would be to create jewelry that is fashionable for the country they are based in. Fair Anita channels that talent to our local trends. This leads to stylish, expertly crafted artisan jewelry that also (the best part) empowers women around the world through sustainable work. 

Fair Trade Upcycled Artillery Beads in Ethiopia | Fair AnitaThe first part of the design process involves gaining a deep understanding of each artisan’s materials and capabilities. Each have unique processes, skillsets, and tools that lend themselves to different types of jewelry and designs. For example, the artisan jewelry in Ethiopia is designed mainly around their beads created out of melted down bullet casings (seriously- so cool!). These beads come in three colors- silver, brass, and copper- and they can be strung together using string or leather. In Ethiopia, we spent a good amount of time in their supply room filled with a beautiful assortment of beads of all shapes and sizes. These materials frame the design work, as they reveal what is possible. 

Next, Joy gets a feel for designs the artisans already make. These provide examples of what they are capable of, and spark inspiration for original designs. Sometimes she comes in to the design phase with sketches already in mind, which becomes more possible as her understanding of the artisan materials and capabilities increase. Her journal is where all the magic happens. While she humbly describes what she does as just rough sketches, the creativity she displays is nothing short of incredible. These designs are what come to life, and it was absolutely amazing watching her walk through a room full of raw materials and beads, and walk out with numerous ideas that quickly take shape on paper. 

After she draws it out and thinks about colors and sizing (such as how long a necklace should be), she collaborates with the translator and designer to bring life to her ideas. She describes in detail the dimensions, materials, and concept behind her vision for each piece and talks through how to make each design possible through. Sometimes compromise is involved if certain techniques or materials are unavailable. Prototyping then follows, which is either done by the designer or Joy herself. It was incredible to witness firsthand this process from idea to physical product. 

Designing Jewelry for Fair Trade PartnershipsAs stated previously, I was overjoyed to get to actually go through this process myself. I got to walk through the bead supply room, sketch out a few designs inspired by the materials, describe them to the translator, and partner with the designer to prototype the piece. For one necklace in particular, I was able to hand bead part of it, which was then leather wrapped and completed by the designer. As someone who loves both art and business, this was an incredible experience for me, and it made me even more impressed with the designs of Fair Anita. To think that each and every beautiful piece of jewelry went from concept/ sketch to physical product in this collaborative way is astounding. I realize now more than ever that this combination of trendy, artisan made, empowering jewelry really is a unique thing, something that is done very intentionally (and effectively!)

Ethical design drawing to real necklace | Fair Anita

*Editor's note: Look for Julia's necklace design in our Spring 2019 Collection!

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