This week we are lucky enough to take a peek into the life of Jane Heng
, the designer of her self titled jewellery label. Jane gives us an insight into living and working from Cambodia, the local makers, her favourite artists and also her plans for the near future.
What do you do?
I’m a designer working closely with traditional craft skilled makers. For my own little label, I work with artisans in Cambodia and I also work in a similar role with the UN where I work with women artisans in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Spending time with the artisans is my favourite part of my job. I learn about their daily lives, their family and they teach me about their craft. I try to design within their skill level and limitations which can take up to a year to get right but this collaborative effort is very rewarding when the final product is finished.
How long have you been doing what you do?
I worked in a few jobs within the fashion industry straight after I graduated from RMIT fashion but after a few years, I was keen to live somewhere outside of Australia. I chose to move to Cambodia. I had been there before but only on short family holidays. My first trip was when I was 8 in the early 90s and it was a big shock for me. Coming from Australia it was hard for me to understand that I had family in a country that had just come out of a terrible genocide. It was the first time that I had seen other children my age living below the poverty line. That first trip had always left a mark on me and it made sense to go back one day. Now it’s been almost 10 years that I call both Australia and Cambodia home. Cambodia is where I can connect to my heritage, practice my Khmer language and learn up close the traditional handicrafts of Cambodia.
For the label, I started with jewellery because of a chance meeting with my now lapidarist. He introduced to me the array of gemstones found in Cambodia. I knew I wanted to work with the wide range of hues and tones found in natural gemstones so I headed back to Australia to do a short course in jewellery making and complete a certificate in gemology. Turns out I really do like science but only in the field of gemology!
What’s your daily routine?
A typical day in Cambodia will start with a local breakfast which is either a bowl of rice noodle soup or pork & rice finished off with a Cambodian iced coffee. I’ll spend a couple of hours in the morning answering emails and other admin things then the rest of the day I’ll be scooting on the back of a motorbike or tuk tuk from one maker to another following up on samples or orders. Going from one workshop to the next is exhausting in Cambodia’s dusty humid climate so in the evenings I usually stay home to catch up on more emails or a quiet dinner with family & friends.
Where do you live?
I’ve just moved to Bangkok with my husband! I’m excited as this is a country rich in craft tradition and it’s the perfect base between Cambodia and Australia.
Do you have a mentor? What is it about them or their work that has helped you to be where you are today?
I sadly don’t have a mentor but I’m on the look out for one!
Who is your favourite artist?
I’m particularly drawn to women artists from the mid 20th century such as Lucie Rie, Claire McCardell, Ray Eames and Helen Frankenthaler. Though not a woman, I’m interested in the work of Vann Molyvann, a Cambodian architect who made him mark with his innovative designs in the 1960s.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I listen to podcasts more than I do music. I have a long list of podcasts on my phone but a few of my favourite at the moment are Conversations with Richard Fiddler, Science Vs, Reply All and A few things with Claire and Erica. I highly recommend The Berlin Patient which is equal parts hilarious and cringe.
What are your plans for 2017?
I have some collaborations in the works and some new ideas brewing, I’m hoping to incorporate more textiles into the label but I’ll be taking it easy in the next 12 months as I’m a soon to be mum!
In a very fast developing country, waking up to the noise and sight of construction in the capital city, Phnom Penh, has become the norm.
I’ll walk to the local market to grab breakfast. The picture on the left is a typical street in Phnom Penh. And the picture on the right is of a flower seller in the market.
Local breakfast of pork and rice.
Picking up a Cambodian ice coffee from one of my fave coffee carts, Aziza’s Coffe, which is also one of the first solar powered tuk tuks in Cambodia! Here I’m pictured with Kim Ya who has known me since I moved to Phnom Penh back in 2009.
Peak hour traffic
This is the camera shy Pu Vanna who is a master lapidarist in his workshop. He a sought after teacher and will often have students learning how to cut gemstones in his workshop.
With the help of Pu Vanna, he helps me select the best natural uncut gemstones for him to work on.
Pu Vanna uses a manual faceting to cut the raw gemstones.
After meeting with Pu Vanna, I’ll scoot off to the other side of town to see the jewellery maker I work with.
I first met Pu Eiw through family. He’s has over 20 years of experience but it was a challenge when we first started working together because in Cambodia the style of jewellery he was use to making was “the bigger the better” so my very small fine jewellery was something he wasn’t use to. We’ve now been working together for over 5 years and know each other’s work very well.
Pu Eiw finishing a batch of silver rings for MHD
I’m inspecting a sample of a new ring design
Lunch with the makers or with family. Lucky fresh coconut is readily available. I can’t quite bust an coconut by myself yet but my mum and aunt are both bosses with a knife.
A photo of me and the ceramic makers.
Sketching out a sample order.
The handmade process requires I to inspect every piece
Phnom Penh at the end of the day.
Images by Jane Heng