• Laila Jewayni

Äyna Jewelry: A Reflection

Updated: Nov 10, 2019

Äyna means “mirror” in Dari, my family’s native tongue. The name came to me one night in 2017 as I was racking my brain for the perfect name for my embryonic company. I knew I wanted the name to be meaningful and represent a part of my Afghan culture and heritage.

“Äyna,” I said out loud as I was staring at the full-length mirror at the corner of my room. It was perfect. Äyna Jewelry is a mirror of who I am. A reflection of what I’m about and what I want to see in the world.

It was important that the seed of the brand I was envisioning reflect shared beliefs, ethics, and values: Artistry, social responsibility, dedication, respect of cultural heritage, and the collective pride we share when co-creating meaningful pieces of art.

How India Sparked Our 'Slow Fashion' Movement

I hadn’t realized it at the time, but Äyna Jewelry was conceived long ago when I was 10 years old, and went on a life altering trip to India. I still remember the myriad of scents and aromas that are so unique to that country and how even something as familiar as a Big Mac tasted foreign and strange since cows are sacred, so burgers are made with goat meat.

That trip was also the first time that I understood that life wasn’t fair. And I don’t mean the unfairness of being grounded for misbehaving… I mean that kind of unfairness that hits you when you realise that real life is so much bigger than Western Living can lead you to believe.

The kind of unfairness that forces children (who were like me in so many ways) to beg on the streets, carrying siblings on their hips. The kind of unfairness that forces parents to leave their children at temples because they have no means to support them. I believe that right then and there, a seed was planted - I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to trying to make the world a little more fair.

When Int'l Development Meets Craftsmanship

12 years later this led me to a career in international development. A career I’d hoped would help me to even out the playing field in a way that was uplifting and empowering. About 8 years into it, I realized that I was still searching for a path that would satisfy both the calling to contribute towards socio-economic empowerment, as well as my own personal development.

Namely, it was my creative side that was yearning to be unleashed. I have always been drawn to jewelry - I grew up watching my mother adorn herself in beautiful, intricate Afghan jewelry. It was always a source of awe and pride - how intricate and delicate, and yet bold and captivating each piece was. I remember her telling me how long she’d had each piece for, and how she would pass it down to me when I got older.

The first rings I ever made - which are still amongst my favourite pieces!

These memories sparked a desire to not wait for a legacy to be passed down, but to rather make my own jewelry instead. So I decided to take up a metalsmithing class. At first, it began as a hobby, but it didn’t take long for me to see that it was the path I’d been searching for: One where I could be creative and also have a tool that could be used to empower others in a sustainable, ethical, and uplifting way.

It was clear that these newly found metalsmithing skills needed to be taken to the ‘developing world’ because that was where my talents, work experience, and skills would have a more meaningful impact. So I studied under a goldsmith for 3 years, while working full-time, before I felt ready to embark on this journey.

And Thus, An Ethical Jewelry Brand Was Born!

Fast forward to today, where you can find me working with local artisans in Senegal to create truly unique and one-of-a-kind handmade ethical jewelry. We have managed to fuse traditional Tuareg artistry and incredible West African jewelry making techniques, with an Afghan aesthetic to create a modern design that we’re incredibly proud of, and excited to see grow.

For me, the most fulfilling part is being able to collaborate with artisan entrepreneurs and marvel at the evolution of the 'slow fashion' jewelry design process. Once we explore how traditional skills can be expanded based on Äyna designs, it unfailingly leads to a total light bulb moment - where local artisans can see how to reflect these new techniques into their own designs.

Through these collaborations, we are providing dignified, ethical, and sustainable employment opportunities - and at the same time, uplifting and elevating all those involved: From fair compensation for dignified work, and the value placed on time honored jewelry making traditions; to supporting skills development, and helping customers find the perfect piece that reflects similar values they cherish within themselves.

This is Slow Fashion, ethically made. This is why I started Äyna and, I hope, the reason why it stays alive for many years to come.

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