I was first introduced to This Ilk at the Inland show in Toronto. Montreal designer, Tamara Bavdek’s jewelry style and designs were nothing like I had ever seen. The Indica necklace especially caught my eye because it could be worn in multiple ways, hence more wear and less future buying. Tamara was due to attend the One of a Kind Show in Toronto and I felt this would be the perfect opportunity to pick her brain about sustainable jewelry as her pieces use vintage lace and re-purposed metals.
What is your earliest memory of jewelry?
My mom got these peacock feather earrings from Indonesia. I was mesmerized by the design and how there were beads on the feather themselves. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and will remember it forever. Recently, I ended up in PEI and there was a shop with all kinds of old things imported from Indonesia. I found a broken pair of those feather earrings and I knew I had to get them.
What was the first piece of jewelry you created?
I was in Australia on an exchange program in 2006 and saw someone wearing a pair of lace earrings. It was just a piece of rectangular shaped lace. I wanted to recreate what I had seen so I searched the local fabric store for shapes made from lace. What I found was more ornate lace. I, however, like more simple things. But I still went ahead and made a few variations from what I could find.
You have an Industrial Design degree, what made you switch to designing jewelry?
When I finished school, we had been hit by the economic crisis. The only jobs available consisted of building cardboard layouts for pharmaceuticals or the beauty industry which didn’t involve anything beautiful. On the other hand, I had tons of ideas and a drive to create. Jewelry design gave me the opportunity to create locally, sustainably and aesthetically pleasing designs.
I may be called a hoarder but I believe that even the smallest scraps of materials can be re-used.
What steps did you take to create This Ilk? Were there any initial roadblocks?
The project became official when my friend suggested making a website. For that, I needed a brand name. Not that I considered it a brand at the time, it was more of what I was doing. However, the website made everything professional. It was an easy entry point when I approached stores for stocking my designs. I then created my Facebook page and slowly the word got out. This connected me to people who were interested in my designs. You need to be proud of everything you put out. For me, my designs have to be creative, represent my idea of beauty and be presented with good photographs.
When I started selling through Etsy, I found people copying my designs. This was a dagger to my heart. Someone stole my ideas and made money off it. It was horrible and it demotivated me. It was hard to move forward but I kept telling myself that this is my brand and no one is exactly the same. I convinced myself that I was the inventor, the creator and that was enough to keep going. This roadblock pushed me to be more ambitious and have my designs in all of Montreal’s shops.
What period/person/place is a major source of inspiration?
Definitely the 60s – there was something about the mod, the geometric, the fun period. The Peace and Love movement of the 70s also really excites me because it gives the impression of comfort and having fun. This was also the time when people started exploring the world – going to India to learn about yoga. These influences would then enter the design world.
Edie Sedgwick’s character in Factory Girl, in part, sparked my interest with lace. She wore an all-lace dress and I thought wow, there’s something there.
My father works in the airline industry so I got to travel and still do travel quite a bit. I always bring back a piece of jewelry from every place. My travels really influence my designs and provide inspiration to create new pieces. I like to connect with different cultural heritages because I consider myself a child of the world.
Finally, the industrial design aspect influences my style. I love contrasts – being able to mix the soft with the hard and feminine with the edgy. That all fits into my jewelry style.
Vintage lace is a major component of each piece. What other materials do you use? Are they locally sourced?
I’ve tried a few things but I keep coming back to brass. It’s earthy and not as shiny as other metals so contrasts well with manmade lace. The hippie in me has always loved fringe and working with different textures. That includes tassels because they give an exotic feel and I can play with different shapes.
A lot of the vintage metals are from Ontario. A large amount of the lace comes from the Jewish community in the US. They manufacture it but the industry is dying. That’s why I rely more on vintage lace. Some materials also come from Turkey or parts of Asia.
How does Montreal’s art scene influence your design style?
I design from what’s around me so, the Montreal art scene is definitely an influence. The art community is quite small and we do support one another. I lend my pieces to fashion week designers. In Quebec, we’re taught to consume our own TV, music and video. So we’re used to that impact on our work.
For anyone looking to start their own jewelry brand, what key tips can you offer them? What skills should he/she possess?
A lot of people start making jewelry because they think it’s pretty and they can make their own version of something they’ve seen. A lot of people start this way and you can succeed at it, but you’re not an artist. At this point, you’re a jewelry maker with a business objective. An artisan makes things to feed their creative soul. It depends on which way you want to go. You can go big or go authentic – that’s how I perceive it. If you’re trying to go authentic, it’s really hard but at the same time don’t forget that you have something of value that no one has seen. People will be impressed by it.
There is a lot of competition in this market but I know I’m selling something unique. I’m also giving people the option to shop local, handmade sustainable jewelry. I would suggest you be true and respect yourself. If you’re motivated, persist and you will see results.
Other than that, web and photography skills are definitely useful. Building awareness is essential so hiring someone or managing the marketing aspect is crucial as well.
What do you do in your down time?
In terms of work, I’ve found someone really great to actually make the jewelry but when I have downtime, I create some pieces. A lot of my friends are musicians so we usually enjoy hanging out at each other’s places – listening to music with our dogs. If we’re out then it’s usually at Satay Brothers or a jazz bar called Des Onz. I’m also addicted to TED Talks. One of my favourite talks is “A plant’s-eye-view” by Michael Pollan. This is where my values come into play by using recycled material for all my tags and packaging. The size and weight of shipping products add up and make a huge impact on fuel consumption.