For most, a hiatus spells a much-needed respite, an interlude where one gathers their thoughts and energy in order to begin again. It was in this space between stories where self-taught jewelry designer Mia Jeanjaquet found her brainchild, Arete, an emerging Filipino jewelry line that celebrates the country’s local materials and artisanal talents. “Arete came to me quite organically and by surprise,” Mia recalls fondly. “My main businesses have always been clothing and art but I have no background in jewelry design.”
Arriving in the Philippines after a stint of working and studying fashion in New York, Mia’s mother imposed a three-month work ban on her overworked daughter who then decided to create some earrings for friends and family as a fun project while on break. “I posted a few photos on Instagram, it was initially called “Tassels by Mia” when tassels were the fad and it just grew from there,” shares Mia. “I was so surprised that in the first month I had a total of 150 orders.”
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The overwhelming response to her designs caught Mia off guard but it was a challenge that the young designer willingly accepted. “I did not know what I was doing. I never had any classes or experience in jewelry design. I had to learn, fail and experiment since day one,” Mia relates. What she intended to be a hobby soon snowballed to the point where the demand for her pieces surpassed her capacity to do everything herself. Three months after the success of her initial foray, Mia decided to formally launch her jewelry line in November 2018. “I had to think fast and find people to help me with production. I picked up anything and everything I could from suppliers, friends and customers,” she recalls.
While Mia’s background in fashion helped matters, creating the pieces for her collections entailed a different kind of focus, one that is more intentional, necessitating an enormous commitment from the designer. “I find that doing too much research saturates and influences my creativity, so I try to keep my research to a minimum,” she relates. “The design and production process of accessories is completely different from clothing. Materials may be smaller but they also have to be more precise and require another level of meticulousness.”
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Today, Mia’s jewelry line has evolved beyond its initial incarnation. “Arete means earrings in Spanish. I have a mix of Spanish and French but I also honor the strong Filipino-Spanish roots of our country,” she shares. “From the conceptualization, sampling, production, packaging and display, I take pride in the fact that everything is made in the Philippines by Filipino artisans,” Mia relates. Inspired by the natural beauty of locally sourced materials from the Philippines, she masterfully combines a variety of textures into a cohesive unit, where the interdepence of materials contributes beautifully to each piece's individual aesthetic. As such, Arete’s meticulously handcrafted pieces are an intoxicating blend of global modernity whilst retaining a uniquely Filipino aesthetic. For instance, the judicious pairing of indigenous grass like rattan and pandan with heftier materials such as marble, mother of pearl, agate, terrazzo is a sculptural interplay of fraility and robustness. Luminescence is given a decidedly island vibe when Philippine shells and Mother Of Pearls are juxtaposed with the warm hues of gold accents.
As Mia continues to grow her collections for Arete for the local and international market, she hopes to expand more to provide employment opportunities to families in the Philippines through artisan craftsmanship. It is precisely this distinction that sets her line apart: a brand driven more by idealism than profits. “When I started this business, I wanted to make sure that I give back to community. 100% of the products are made in the Philippines using local materials. 80% of the products are made by women livelihood communities, mainly housewives and teen moms,” she says. “I really believe our local materials and products have such a potential and presence in the global market, we just have to find and create the right opportunities.”
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Banner image from Mia Jeanjaquet; Photographs from Arete's Instagram account.