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  • Writer's pictureSusanne Verallo

From Lockdown Project to Jewelry Business!

Welcome to the new blog, everyone! It's been great connecting with you all on Instagram and Facebook, but the fast-paced format of social media limits how much I can share with you, so I've decided to start a blog where we can slow down and dig deeper into stories from Filipino folklore, the design and creative process, and all that good stuff. To start, I thought I'd share with you how this all started. From lockdown hobby, to passion project, to jewelry business – this is the story of Una Artesana.

I went into quarantine on March 10, 2020, a few weeks before the country would go into lockdown. I'd just attended a 3-day international conference and had developed a cough and sore throat. Since the hospital ran out of COVID test kits, I was advised to go into 2-week quarantine. At the time I remember feeling both scared and restless, counting the days till I could go out again. Little did I know that the world would be a different place when I got out, that all the plans I had for the year would go up in smoke, and that the future would be so uncertain...

Many of you will know that before Una Artesana I was already a practicing jewelry designer with my eponymous jewelry line, Susanne Verallo. Under SV, I do the research and design development, and then I collaborate with local artisans to produce our jewelry.

It's a typical arrangement for many jewelry designers here in the Philippines, but at the time I felt like I wanted more. While being a designer means that I am there for every step of the process – from research and development to prototyping to production– I don't actually get to craft the pieces myself. It's the artisans whom I collaborate with who do that. But at that point in time, I wanted to be much more hands-on. I wanted to make the leap from being simply a designer to becoming an actual maker.

Jewelry pieces under my Susanne Verallo line are made from upcycled sea shell scraps, and are handcrafted by Cebuano shellcraft artisans.

At the beginning of 2020 I finally signed up for my first metalsmithing classes. I was finally going to take the first step to becoming a bench jeweler! Unfortunately the day my classes were supposed to start was the day Manila went into lockdown – not to mention I was already in quarantine in Cebu – so obviously that didn't pan out. A few weeks later when the rest of the country went into lockdown, strict border control was put in effect throughout Cebu, so I was cut off from my production and couldn't even work on my next SV collection release. (In case you're wondering, that collection finally launched just last year.)

What do you do when you're in the middle of a pandemic, constantly vacillating between fear and boredom from hour to hour? Well at first I tried my hand at different crafts, but eventually made my way back to jewelry.

It all started when my sisters did some spring cleaning and found a whole stash of beads from old high school projects. They very nearly threw it out but gave it to me instead, thinking that I'd be interested in playing around with it.

Some of my very early bead experiments from April-May 2020.

And play I did. I first started making simple beaded bracelets and necklaces with the larger beads, and then I learned to make daisy chains with the seed beads. It was a lot of fun at first, but the novelty of stringing beads together quickly wore out, and I wanted to do something more challenging. That's when I hopped on Pinterest for inspiration and discovered the world of bead weaving!

What immediately drew me to the craft was how you can make so many incredible designs from such tiny beads. I quickly googled bead weaving tutorials and YouTube videos to start learning. Working on such an intricate craft was meditative and therapeutic, and it did a lot to calm me down when things started to feel overwhelming.

The first technique I learned was the brick stitch, and from there I made my very first pair of earrings, the Tumbling Hearts. Then I started learning other stitches and made simple pieces to get the hang of bead weaving. Turns out that even though metalsmithing didn't work out, I was still learning how to craft jewelry!

(From left) Making the Tumbling Hearts for the first time; the finished Tumbling Hearts; a wee ghostie.

Now I'm the type of designer who likes to work with a theme. That's usually how I approach my jewelry work under Susanne Verallo, and I thought it would help to guide my newfound hobby of bead weaving. Around the time I was just starting to bead weave I was also researching Filipino mythology. I'd been compiling a document of the various gods and goddesses in the Visayan mythological pantheon, along with the creation myths of the region. In what I could only call a stroke of inspiration, I decided to use that as the theme for my beadwork. It seemed only natural since I was already creating precolonial-inspired pieces under Susanne Verallo.

Those first beaded jewelry pieces were inspired by the celestial deities of the ancient Visayans. My very first pair of earrings under the theme were the Sola Hoops. I had been obsessed with learning to bead on a hoop, and the sun design was such a wonderfully complicated challenge. Not only did I have to learn to weave on a hoop, but I also had to figure out how to increase and decrease multiple times to make the rays. There was surprisingly a lot of math involved! And from there I made pieces inspired by the moon, stars, and comets. Those first jewelry pieces eventually became my first beaded jewelry collection, Langit.

The very first designs from Langit – (from left) the Sola Hoops, the Stella Earrings, the Luna Hoops.

I don't quite know now when or how I decided to launch my little beading hobby as a business. I think it must've entered my mind while I was building that first collection. Cebu kept cha-cha-ing in and out of lockdown at the time, and it felt like the pandemic would never end. I had no idea when or if I was ever going to get back to work on Susanne Verallo, and to be completely honest I felt like I was floundering for the longest time. Bead weaving grounded me, and working on a collection gave me purpose and direction again.

I finally decided to take the plunge in October of that year. By then I had 8 or 9 designs ready to go, enough for a small collection release. I took some styled product photos, even a few of me "modeling" them (ha!), and then made a simple logo to make it official. The name? Una Artesana – to acknowledge that I was finally an artisan myself.

My first logo! I added that brushstroke under the words to emphasize the ~artisanal~ nature of this project.

I had no intention of turning it into a brand or full-blown business back then. No, back then I was calling it a "personal project", a way to keep my hands busy whilst the future was still so uncertain, and a reason to keep my research into Filipino folklore going. Now that I think about it, I don't actually know what I was planning, if I had any plan at all. But I hopped on my Instagram stories anyhow and made the announcement – Una Artesana was live!

I have to smile now thinking about it. All I had was an Instagram page, with every post ending with the phrase, "DM to order!" To be honest, I didn't actually expect any orders. I was just happy to be doing something, anything, to get my mind off the uncertainty we were all feeling. But the orders came in! Not even a week had passed before I got my first order from someone who saw the Shooting Stars on a hashtag page. And they've kept coming ever since.

My very first orders (the Shooting Stars) from November-December 2020, plus my attempt at DIY packaging and branding. Not expecting any orders, I was woefully unprepared 😅 I made my own boxes out of old shipping cartons, marbled some card stock for earring and care cards, and stamped them with a logo stamp I ordered last minute.

I'll never forget that first order. To think that a random person saw a photo of jewelry made with my own two hands, on Instagram of all places, and decided it was good enough to pay actual money for. It's still crazy to think about! It might seem like such a small thing, but imagine the level of trust you have to have when you purchase something online based on a picture. It's not something I take lightly or for granted.

And it's something I will always be grateful for: your trust and support are what've kept Una Artesana going for the past couple of years. It's crazy to think of how far we've come since that summer in lockdown playing with beads. Since 2020, Una Artesana has grown to be a fully-fledged jewelry business, and in turn, I have also grown as an artist and artisan.

Una Artesana today – we've since gone beyond those first simple pieces to explore new materials and techniques, and new stories from Filipino folklore and mythology.

But more than that, Una Artesana has become a way to connect to our culture and heritage, and a way to reach out and share it with my fellow Filipinos. Beyond jewelry, my hope for Una Artesana is that it inspires you to rediscover your heritage, and to fully embrace who you are.

Yes, the future is still so uncertain. I still don't know what's coming around the corner, but unlike in 2020, I'm walking into it with a heart full of hope. Thank you for coming on this journey with me!

– Susanne


In case you're curious, here's the blog post I wrote when I launched Una Artesana in October 2020. It's interesting to look back and compare it with how things actually turned out!


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