UK designer Pippa Small has been in the industry for around 25 years. She started her own business and consulting for larger brands like Gucci under Tom Ford, Chloe, and Dosa, which taught her a lot about the design process. Small is also known for her ethical collections and happens to be one of Meghan Markle’s favourite jewellers. More importantly, Small is interested in creating safe, sustainable, creative employment and “easing the pressure on the environment where we can.”
In this interview, Pippa Small talks about her interest in human rights, ethical jewellery, as well as her newest collections.
Necklace from Hello Sunshine collection
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Montreal, Canada into a large family and later moved to Spain, then Wiltshire in England. I was a quiet child lost in a world with my pets and books. At a young age I started collecting pebbles, stones, shells, and beads and gathered them to create bracelets. I felt they were like diaries of the people, places, and emotions that I connected to the stones. This was, in a sense, the start of my love of designing.
I was lucky to grow up in a family that loved to travel, which had a huge impact on me as a child. This sparked a lifelong interest in culture and traditions and peoples around the world.
You studied anthropology and traveled extensively – how did this spark the love for jewellery?
I found anthropology fascinating. It fed my interest in other cultures, traditions, and ways of being in the world, as well as awakening in me a sense of history and politics, which led to my interest in human rights. For my thesis, I went to work in Northern Borneo and found myself involved in indigenous human rights among the Penan tribe. This was the beginning of a lifelong interest in the rights of minorities and tribal peoples whose needs are so often linked to the land and the right to self-determination.
I worked for many years with different indigenous non-government organisations in Asia and found a lot of my time was spent with quite isolated traditional communities. I worked with skilled artisans to create beautiful things based on their ancient traditions, but exploring a more contemporary feel.
I loved hearing the stories behind the designs, the symbols and meanings, and the relationship between the maker, objects, and materials, as well as the emotional and human connection. This has come to sum up jewellery for me, meaning, memory and human connection are really what give jewellery its value.
Earrings from Flourishing Greens collection
Ring from Solar collection
Ethical jewellery, sustainability are aspects very close to your heart and the brand. How did this evolve into a passion and vision?
When I first decided I wanted to design jewellery, I saw there was a shift in people’s interests in the provenance of things, where they came from, and who made them. People were starting to ask why and how and I felt it was important to know the answers. I was keen that if I were to work with communities on their traditional jewellery skills and help market them, we needed to tell their stories and who they are alongside.
I have used film and images a lot to bring the makers along on the journey to be able to explain who they are and give the jewellery identity. Attempting to be transparent in everything I do allowed me to create a unique brand and build my passion for jewellery design and human rights.
You have launched four collections for SS20 – Solar, Hello Sunshine, Flourishing Greens, and Caribbean Daydream. What informed the designs?
This season was inspired by the ancient and primal motif of the sun, the Solar collection drawing on ancient Greek imagery of the sun and Hello Sunshine using rubies to celebrate the glowing, warming, nurturing sun that sustains us all. In India, the sun god Suyra, whose auspicious metal is gold, represents strength and passion.
Flourishing Greens emerged from an appreciation of the differing jungle shades of chrysoprase, a stone sourced in Australia. With the statement chandelier earrings and cord pendants being worn close to the body, this collection reminds us to connect with the natural world around us.
Opal necklace and earrings from Caribbean Daydream collection
With my Caribbean Daydream collection, the entrancing appearance of the opal amazed me. I saw a whole world inside the stones like swirling oceans of the healing seas, which I knew would dominate any design.
What inspires your designs, in particular, and life in general?
I am inspired by the magnificent world around us – the landscapes, natural world, the minutiae of plant life, the forms and shapes of geology, the tribal and ancient designs from around the world. I am inspired by people, by their life stories, their cultures, and traditions and arts.