A beautiful piece of jewelry is aesthetically appealing. A beautiful piece of jewelry with a story behind it is even more interesting. And when the story is fueled by talent, creativity, entrepreneurial drive and a spirit of activism, a piece of jewelry can evolve into a tangible testimonial.
VANINA’s range is an exquisitely crafted collection of stories; an assortment of subtle yet powerful statements embodied in unique handmade pieces, all echoing a single message: “Fashion is a Tool”. Although the brand labels itself as ‘Responsibly Capricious’, anyone who takes a closer look would agree that it is first and foremost ‘responsible’, and only ‘capricious’ in as much as its creators are continuously inspired to raise awareness of ecological, social and cultural issues through the creation of novel designs.
Joanne Hayek and Tatiana Fayad, the duo behind VANINA, are childhood friends who have always shared a ‘creative complicity’. They spontaneously designed their first piece of jewelry when they were 19, while experimenting with old, devalued Lebanese Lira coins. This developed into a collection they later named ‘COINED’. The ladies had not planned to become jewelry designers as neither of their academic paths were related to fashion. Joanne studied architecture at the American University Of Beirut (AUB), while Tatiana pursued a business degree from Saint-Joseph University (USJ). And yet, what started as just a hobby back in 2007 is today a lifestyle brand recognized in some of the world’s most prestigious cities, as well as a wholly integrated business with a personality that one can’t help but admire. Over the course of eight years, VANINA has tastefully matured into a truly principled company with unshakable values, one of which is patriotism.
Joanne & Tatiana have made a point of producing every piece here in Lebanon, even if it has meant sacrificing monetary rewards which could have been gained by outsourcing. This contribution to the sustainability and growth of local communities and small businesses is perhaps what they are most fervent about. This positive involvement has not only benefitted the skilled craftsmen and women they partner with, but has also given a beautiful soul to their designs, one that is proving very attractive, especially to international clients.
Behind each of VANINA’s jewelry collections lies a different mission, but all of them echo one of the many causes they defend, among which are social responsibility, sustainable development and heritage conservation. Social responsibility, concerned with maintaining an equilibrium between the economy and the ecosystem, is apparent through most of their designs.Their collections ‘DISCARDED’ (based on CDs), ‘COINED’ (based on coins), ‘UNLOCKED’ (based on keys) and ‘PATCHES’ (based on cloth remains) to name but a few, saw the pair transform useless or discarded materials into beautiful modern pieces, while simultaneously reducing the impact of waste upon the environment.
This creative reuse was, and still is, one of the strongest traits of the brand, and one that they have endeavored to develop while collaborating with other parties who share their vision. Through Arcenciel’s environmental program, for instance, they were able to turn tin cans into fancy evening bags, which saw the creation of ‘CONSERV’ED’. As part of their ‘STILL LIFE’ collection, and with Swarovski’s support for Eco-jewelry, they also designed luxury pieces by matching non-biodegradable plastic bags with Swarovski crystals.
A creative collaboration with NK (Nour Kays) enabled them to develop the technique of creating patterns by layering and fusing sheets of plastic bags. This resulted in the creation of a new material and a collection of the same name – ‘PLASTILE’. Their innovative use of technology is also expressed in the edgy ‘LEAVES’ collection of stylish jewelry made from used paper sheets. Thanks to a partnership with ‘More Than Printing’ (MTP) and ‘Arab Printing Press’ (APP) and through MCor’s special 3D printing technique, paper sheets were transformed into superb, geometrically-shaped jewelry pieces.
All these collections, impressive as they are, only make up part of the passion the two women share. They care not only about protecting the environment, but also about maintaining traditions. For their ‘90s we love you’ line of shirts (individually stitched by Palestinians who live in the camps), they aimed to help preserve the heritage of Palestinian embroidery in collaboration with the NGO Inaash. In partnership with ‘L’Artisan Du Liban’, they also created the ‘HALFA’ collection of hand-woven shoulder bags made from local straw that grows in Akkar in the village of Koueishra.
Through VANINA, Joanne & Tatiana are ‘using fashion as a tool’, and are truly succeeding. They are transforming trite materials into pieces of art that are trendy, funky and modern, yet created in the most traditional ways. They are using technology in the direct service of environmental protection and waste minimization by creatively merging it with design. They are creating jobs and venturing into projects that raise awareness for the NGOs they collaborate with. They are always refining the process of ‘standardized customization’ they developed to make sure their clients get unique pieces even when the demand is high. And finally, they are attempting to grow as steadily and healthily as possible so as not to compromise the essence of their mission.
It isn’t everyday that one has the pleasure to discover that beneath the surface of a glamorous jewelry brand lies a local business with a noble mission. If more companies adopted only some of the methods VANINA is using, we would surely witness a change on a much wider scale in Lebanon.