By Arwa Lodhi
Pippa Small’s interest in jewellery is as grounded in people and their traditions as it is in gems and the natural world.
From a young age, she would collect shells, stones, beads and bottletops to fashion into homemade jewellery to remind herself of the people and places that had passed through her life. When she began travelling the world as a child, she noted the different ways people around the world also adorned themselves with found objects, and became utterly fascinated. So much so, she undertook and completed an MA in Anthropology.
To fund her studies, she sold the jewellery she had always made, and attracted the giants of the fashion industry. Soon, she found herself working for Gucci under Tom Ford and Chloe under Phoebe Philo, but in 2007 the Canadian born world traveller set out on her own, launching a shop in London’s Notting Hill.
Magazines from Tatler, Vogue and Marie Claire raved about her work and so the following year, she was able to expand to California, where her accessories were sported by many a celebrity on the red carpet. Today, Small is one of the best known names in ethical jewellery.
In fact, her work is ethical for several reasons, mainly because the anthropologically minded jeweller is always exploring ways of making products that can assist in the revival of traditional skills and techniques in communities in Central America, Afghanistan and Southern Africa.
Additionally, she works with the world’s first registered Fairtrade gold mine in Bolivia; launched a collection with the esteemed Fairtrade company MADE based in Kibera, a slum area in Nairobi; and the prestigious charity Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan.
Backed by Prince Charles and President Hamid Karzai, the Turquoise Mountain project is clearly one of Small’s favourites. She’s designed two collections a year to be produced by Turquoise Mountain since 2006, and all profits from those collections go right back to the project and its worker/students.
In fact, Afghanistan has been a great source of inspiration for the designer, and she has translated its traditional jewellery making techniques and styles into her own work.
She still very much influenced by organic shapes, ancient and tribal jewellery and the symphony of forms found in nature, her two interests often merge in collaborations with indigenous communities, such as those she’s had with the San Bushman of the Kalahari, the Batwa Pygmies of Rwanda, and the Kuna in Panama, helping them to research their traditional designs to generate self-sufficiency and income.
Pippa firmly believes the art of jewellery making can help alleviate poverty, protect fragile traditions, and help reverse the exploitation associated with the gem industry over the centuries. Still fascinated by anthropology, she now divides her time equally between her work in the field and creating new jewellery collections that tell the traditional stories of tribespeople from around the world.
But there is no doubt in our mind that Small’s own stories are no less interesting.