In VOGUE! It’s a dream come true to be included in this article all about ‘fashion change makers’ ? Thank you to the fashion features editor, Martin Váša for spotting me and my brand, Queen’s Wood Studio.
Here’s a translation of the Czech text in the blurb:
Hattie Wragg was studying English Literature at Oxford when she founded her brand. Eventually she left, took a course at Central St Martins and moved to Brno. She produces her jewellery sustainably, and after four years in the Czech Republic she represents a strong competition even for those who have come out of art school. Besides her e-shop www.queenswoodstudio.com you can buy her jewellery in the Prague store Kurator or in Object in Brno.
And in the article itself:
We can even go out and invest in jewellery that has been made sustainably from what already exists. “I work with silver that can be traced back to its origin. It’s from recycled electronics, medical equipment, and old jewellery. For some necklaces I use silk that comes from offcuts from the designer Marie Mukarovska, we have studios next to each other,” says Hattie Wragg, a Brit based in Brno and the founder of Queen’s Wood Studio. “I prefer recycled materials over Fair Trade or ethically produced, because even they negatively affect the environment. Mining disrupts ecosystems and pollutes water.”
Martin Vaša: How do you pick the materials you work with?
Me: The silver I work with is Ecosilver by Cookson – it is 100% traceable silver recycled from electronics, medical equipment and old jewellery. There is a high proportion of recycled silver in most silver you can buy in Europe but for me it is important to know that not even a small proportion of it has come from mining.
I source my stones and pearls either from old jewellery I find in vintage and antique shops or from Kingsclere Gems, who have a selection of stones that are unused stock collected from retired jewellers. These are ‘new’ as they are unused but since they were mostly cut in the 1980s or earlier, I feel buying them does not support the current mining and gem-cutting industry.
Using vintage is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand you never know what treasure you might find in an antique shop and that can really inspire something new; but on the other, I am often limited to the kinds of cuts that were fashionable decades ago. I would love to use raw, uncut stones but there aren’t so many vintage ones around.
The silk I’ve used recently for some necklaces is off-cut fabric from the clothes designer, Marie Mukařovská, who has her atelier next to mine.
Martin: What does sustainable jewellery mean for you?
Me: My dad once said to me he felt his music was his purest artwork. When he uses paint and wood and paper he makes things that take up space in the world, while his songs are ephemeral – recycled again and again in performance, leaving no trace. This is my yardstick with my work. Yes I am making ‘things’ but the silver is recycled from silver that has already been used and when no one wants my jewellery anymore it can be melted and reused again. Silver keeps its quality – there is no part of it that will wear out and have to be thrown away.
I choose the recycled option rather than fair-trade or ethical new-mined materials because there is unavoidably an environmental impact from mining. It disrupts eco-systems and pollutes water supplies. There are a small number of mining companies in the world that are making attempts to be better, but there’s always going to be some impact.
There is an amateur gem-stone hunting scene in the Czech Republic because you can find amethysts and citrines and other semi-precious stones, sometimes just sitting in ploughed fields. However some people also dig for them and I saw a TV news story about a Czech woodland after someone had been digging and the roots of all the trees were exposed. The trees were damaged and the news reader said that some would die, even if the soil was filled back in. So there is an impact even on a small scale if you don’t take care.
There are sustainability concerns in the jewellery-making process itself too. Here I cannot be zero-waste because there are things like saw blades and sandpaper that break and get used up. I collect them though, as there are traces of silver on them, and one day I will take a big bag of them to a refiner to have the silver extracted. That is just good practice and lots of jewellers do it.
Where I make a special effort to be sustainable is in the chemicals I use. There are non-toxic alternatives to all the usual chemicals: citric acid to remove oxidation after soldering, and washing up liquid in the barrel and magnetic polishers. You can even clean silver very effectively without a silver cloth (impregnated with polish) or silver dip – just use bicarbonate of soda and boiling water in a dish lined with aluminium foil and there’s a reaction that takes the surface oxidation right off. The LUXI polish I use is not perfect but it is water-based, silica-free and at least contains no hazardous material so it is safer than the alternatives.
So really I just research every buying decision and process to see if there is a more sustainable way. I still have things I can improve on; one day I’d like to ensure my electricity supply comes from sustainable sources but at the moment I am renting a studio in a building shared with lots of other businesses and I have no say in the electricity provider we use.
Martin: What is the biggest challenge for you as a jeweller?
Me: One challenge is that I haven’t come through the usual art school system. I was an English literature student working towards a PhD at Oxford when I first started my jewellery brand. My passion for this took over and I never finished the PhD. But not having gone to art school, I feel I am missing some of the creative and practical feedback from teachers and fellow students that could push my work on faster.
I did a short course at Central St Martin’s last summer and I felt my confidence and work leap forward just from that one week. Likewise I don’t have any of the business training that art school might give — I never had a student exhibition or student fashion show, or an explanation on how the industry works, or networking opportunities — so I feel I am learning everything for the first time on the job. But that does make for quite an exciting life!
Martin: Why have you chosen Brno as your city?
Me: Being in Brno is pure chance. I was trying to do my PhD at Oxford, living in London, and my funding was about to run out which was one of the reasons I started selling my jewellery. I told my boyfriend we needed to find somewhere cheaper to live and in one of his job searches he ticked a box ‘Anywhere in Europe.’ A job at a company he liked popped up in Brno. We came for a weekend and found that we loved the atmosphere – the cafe culture, the mix of architecture, the closeness of nature. And of course pre-Brexit the exchange rate was good so it felt very cheap. We intended to stay for two years but we’ve just had our 4-year anniversary and Brexit-allowing we’d like to stay.
I owe a lot to Brno and the creative community here. I was teaching English conversation to a fashion designer, Andrea Lojkásková, of the brand Theó and we discussed my work sometimes and one day she pointed out some water-cast jewellery I’d made and said, ‘That is good.’ She included it in her pop-up shop that autumn and then at December Design Days. Then she put my latest collection on her models in her catwalk show at Brno Design Days 2018. We collaborated again for a folklore-inspired show at Malá Noc Mody this spring, as a project for Nadace Veronica. Andrea has really mentored me.
Another great support has been Alexandra Georgescu and Tom Kozelsky and the team behind Brno Design Days. They invited me to lead a workshop in 2018 and this year they gave me my own catwalk show. Brno Design Days is an incredible festival – with talks and workshops and shows from local and international designers and the location is always beautiful because Alex and Tom are the people behind KOGAA, an architecture and interior design studio. It’s an amazing platform to have been given.
I also have had huge encouragement from Brno-native Martina Malá who has had my jewellery in her shop Kurator in Prague since last year and Jana Longaverova at Object concept store in Brno has been great too.
I also couldn’t be where I am without the women I share my studio with – all successful independent designers who are helpful sounding boards for new designs, and great models to learn from generally: clothes designers Hana Kubešová and Marie Mukařovská, Maria Nisu of Mani Leather Studio and make-up artist, Veronika Mykolenko. So I am part of a brilliant creative community here. There is a lot going on and a lot feels possible.