Physiotherapist-turned jewellery designer Angela Benjamin works from a garden workshop affectionately known as her ‘She Cave’ in West London. Hand-making sustainable, silver jewellery began as a hobby and while Ange (as she likes to be called) still works as a physio, lockdown and the last year meant that she has spent more time designing, hammering and making, than treating clients. The multi-talented 51-year-old now combines her healthcare career with a more creative pursuit.
Here Ange discusses how it all started:
TNMA: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background, please?
AB: I’m a West Londoner, born and bred. Despite growing up around lots of creative people – my mum and aunt were great seamstresses, my dad played guitar, my older brother draws, I have cousins who are fashion designers and musicians – I chose a career in physiotherapy. I always loved making things and did art along with sciences, but a job in healthcare was seen as a safer bet!
TNMA: When did you first realise you wanted to pursue a career as a jewellery designer?
AB: Over 10 years ago I started to feel dissatisfied with physiotherapy. I’d done a Master’s in Sports Medicine, some work in elite sports and still enjoyed my job, but I never felt passionate about it. I’ve always been stirred by more creative things. In 2009, I studied for a foundation diploma in Art & Design whilst still working as a physio, with the intention of going on to study architecture. However, when faced with a further seven years of study, and with encouragement from one of my tutors at Chelsea School of Art, I decided to try small scale 3-D making instead. I found a local adult education jewellery-making class and was instantly hooked.
TNMA: How did Ange B Designs get started?
AB: When my collection of handmade silver rings started to get out of control, I gifted pieces to friends and family and eventually decided to try selling my work at local craft markets. It was essentially still a hobby but with the encouragement from a friend, who designed a logo for Ange B Designs and within a week I’d opened my Etsy Shop (in 2016).
TNMA: How have you had to adapt your business during the pandemic?
AB: My work as a physiotherapist was limited by the first lockdown but it gave me more time to make jewellery and to think about how I wanted to develop my business. Like the fashion industry as a whole, jewellery-making can at the very least be quite wasteful and at its worst involves some ethically-questionable practices. I’ve always tried to work as sustainably as possible. 2020 gave me time to look at the world and my practice, and see how I could contribute to making things better. Switching my business model to made-to-order just made sense; now I create unique but timeless pieces that people would want to wear everyday and cherish forever! I pride myself in taking time to make each piece by hand using ethically-sourced materials.
TNMA: Please could you explain your ethos on sustainability
AB: All of the silver used in my work is either recycled or re-used. I smelt myself when possible or work with Ecosilver, which is ready-made, recycled and ethically-sourced. Sustainability is very important to me, so I was very pleased to be included in The Independent’s ‘9 Best Ethical and Sustainable Jewellery Brands’.
My aim is to make ethical jewellery that is as sustainable as it is beautiful. Where possible I re-use scrap silver to create new work. In an age where we all want to be a bit different and in an attempt to shun the mass-produced, I believe in quality over quantity – that’s why my pieces are handmade to order.
TNMA: Describe your creative process, what inspires you and what’s important to you when creating?
AB: A lot of my work is process-driven: I really enjoy experimenting with different techniques and playing with my hammers! I tend to design as I make, I don’t often have a fully-formed picture in my head – my pieces tends to evolve as I work. Modern architecture has also always been a big inspiration for me: from Frank Gehry to Brutalism to Zaha Hadid. Pleating and draping seen in couture fashion (Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto) also gets me excited. I love imposing more fluid features on the metals I work with. My style of making can be physically demanding but I love that – it’s important to me that I enjoy what I do.
TNMA: How do you want women to feel when wearing your pieces?
AB: I make most of my pieces to order, predominantly for sustainability reasons but I also want to give my customers a semi-bespoke service. Handmade jewellery takes time, I want women to feel like they’re wearing a special piece that will compliment their style and highlight their uniqueness.
Finally, how would you describe your style?
I’ve been striving to align my lifestyle with my business ethos, I felt it was disingenuous promoting sustainability in my work whilst still buying into fast fashion. Two years ago I gave up buying new clothing and have committed to shopping my own wardrobe as much as possible. Any new purchases are either vintage, secondhand or bought from fellow sustainable independent makers. I’d describe my style as ‘eclectic street chic‘: I’m a lifelong lover of denim but I also love buying vintage pieces that won’t date.
And do you have advice for staying stylish?
My main tip would be to wear what makes you feel good and don’t let age dictate your wardrobe!
Shop Ange B Designs on Etsy here:
Make Your Own Jewellery
Ange B runs award-winning workshops, monthly at OPEN Ealing Arts Centre in West London and from her She Cave. If you’re looking to make jewellery from the comfort of your own home, why not try one of her DIY wax carving jewellery kits. Find out more at Ange B Designs.