The joyful vitality of tribal and statement jewellery has always been more interesting to me than the classic, precious jewellery we often value more highly. In the UK, we sometimes impose rules on ourselves about when it is appropriate to add adornment to our bodies or decoration to our homes. Women tell me, “I love it, but where would I put it? When would I wear it?” I think of the women I’ve seen digging fields in India, wearing saris drenched in colour, with ornate bangles and earrings and I wonder why we restrict ourselves.
I decided, quite seriously, to become a jewellery designer at the age of 12. My obsession never faltered. I was traditionally trained at Edinburgh College of Art but it was fashion jewellery that really excited me. Fashion is always open and in motion; it makes a statement and is unafraid. Perhaps to get on in the business of fashion, you have to be a bit like that too. Not long after graduating I took my portfolio to New York and, a few public phone box calls later, secured a job in Manhattan. I lived for seven years in New York, before moving to London and starting my own business creating collections for the British high street, including retailers such as Top Shop, Jigsaw and Whistles.
If like me, you’re nomadic by nature, you’ll know it can be a greater discomfort to stay in one place than to travel. Our family moved several times between England and Scotland when I was a child and moving to New York and working in Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea and India were experiences I embraced utterly.
My time in New York educated me in business, including manufacturing, buying and liaising with suppliers. Whilst seeking out and experimenting with the forms, materials and colour combinations that became collections for US fashion chains, I learnt about people. Travel gave me an opportunity to judge less quickly and understand more deeply.
Along the way, I accumulated objects that appealed to me for their own sake. Much later, when the thirst to create jewellery for my own pleasure, rather than to satisfy a market, became too strong to ignore, I created Sweetlime as a place for those things I had collected. Many of those objects became one-off designs, and I still hand-finish many items that are created or chosen for the shop.
My biggest influence is tribal jewellery. Colour seems more significant and vibrant in hot countries and the scale and colour of tribal pieces assert both themselves and their wearers. This idea, that people can be empowered by what they wear, underpins all of my collections and is probably the most distinctive feature of my work.
Sweetlime, the name suggests contrasting sensations, and so are the cultures and objects I love. A friend once told me that I love dirty places, and it’s true! Here there is life and the fascinating juxtaposition of humility and adornment. Sweetlime is about letting clothes or walls sit back so that your accessories or homewares can make the statement you feel. After all, why restrict yourself? If you love it, wear it.
Elspeth J. Walker,
Sweetlime Founder and Creative Director