The International Women’s Day celebration continues (!). We’re back with another one of our favorite ladies—Arpana Rayamajhi. With a degree in painting and sculpture from the esteemed Cooper Union school, Arpana blends her artist’s sensibility with inspiration from her home country of Nepal to create jewelry that feels distinct, personal and special to wear. She’s also the cofounder of Dispose, a project that encouraged contributors from all over the world to tell their unique stories by using a disposable camera in one day. (Check out the archives here.) Read on to learn more about the jeweler-slash-artist-slash-Neil-Young-enthusiast, from her ever-changing coffee orders, to her tips for starting a business, to her own list of inspiring women.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do, where do you live?
Jack of all trades, master of some. I am from Kathmandu living in New York.
Let’s talk go-tos:
Coffee order: Not much of a coffee person. I’ve always loved green tea, and for the last few years after my trip to Japan, matcha has become a replacement for a shot of espresso.
Neighborhood spot(s): East Village and Soho.
Weekend plan: What is a weekend for someone who’s always working?
We’ve read that you make each of your jewelry pieces by hand. Tell us about that choice—do you feel it connects you more to the person who ends up wearing it?
I started out making one-of-a-kind pieces but that is slowly changing. I love making the jewels myself and I will continue to make one-of-a-kind pieces, but the model isn’t working out for me anymore. I’m expanding, so I’m focusing more on limited editions. I do think one-of-a-kind jewelry is the most special, though, since you know you’re the only one who owns that piece. I want to be able to provide that to my customers. I want them to know they’re special and they deserve something no one else has.
You’re also known to use some unexpected materials for your pieces—what are some of your favorites?
My art background allows me to see potential in materials that others might not think fits the standard of traditional jewelry. I love using synthetic hair and erasers. I’m always looking for objects that would make beautiful jewelry—beautifully unusual jewelry.
What made you decide to turn your love for creating jewelry into a business? Any advice for anyone else looking to make that leap?
I think ultimately it was the demand from people that turned my hobby of jewelry making into a business. My advice would be to prepare to spend a lot of time, and I mean a lot of time, in your studio honing your craft and your concept. The more an artist knows herself, the better her work gets. You have to believe in your work before anyone else does.
And always do your own thing. When I say that, I don’t mean you can’t get inspired by others, but in a time when we have the internet and we’re being bombarded with information—to copy someone else’s work (as in copyright infringement cases) is very unethical. When you do your own thing, the sincerity and originality will show through. And nothing can beat that. Nothing.
So what’s next for you? Do you have any goals you’re keeping in mind?
I generally don’t like talking about my plans until I execute them. But all I can say is I will continue making work, even if in a few months people forget about me. I’m driven by my desire to produce beautiful, quality objects. And my ultimate goal in life has nothing to do with career but everything to do with happiness.
And finally, tell us about a lady you love in your life.
I have quite a few. My mom Sushila Rayamajhi, who was an actor, and the only reason why I’m able to do what I do in life. My sister Archana Rayamajhi (I know, almost the same name—and no we’re not twins!) because even though she’s only five years older than me, she helped me with my education.
I’d also say Björk and Kim Gordon because they’re incredible musicians and all-around badasses. I have a lot of respect for Jane Goodall, too, because well…I don’t even need to get into why. Also, Anuradha Koirala—a Nepali activist internationally recognized for helping save Nepali girls and women who have been trafficked to Indian brothels. Often these women never make their way back home and would most likely never be “accepted” into our communities because of the “work” they did. Koirala’s activism is ongoing and we need more people from around the world to realize the importance of her work.
And lastly, Pushpa Basnet, a young woman who takes children out of Nepali prisons so they have a chance at normal lives. The children are often under 10 years old and are there for a crime their mother committed simply because they have no other guardians to take care of them.
I hope anyone who isn’t familiar reads up on the women I’ve mentioned—I have so much respect for them, and when I “grow up” I want to be just like them.
Check out Arpana and a few other ladies we love in the video below—and stay tuned for two more special interviews this month.
P.S. If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to enter the Women for the Win sweeps. You could score a Madewell shopping spree, a copy of The Little Book of Feminist Saints, a custom illustration by Manjit Thapp and a $1,000 donation, made in your name, to our friends at Girls Inc.* Go, go, go (!)
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to legal residents of the 48 contiguous United States (excluding Rhode Island), 18 years or older and over the age of majority in jurisdiction of residence at time of entry. Ends March 31, 2018, at 6:00pm ET. For Official Rules, visit www.refinery29.com/sweeps/madewell-international-womens-day-sweepstakes/. Void where prohibited.