An Interview With: Hera Saabi
Born from a small Ponsonby studio, friends and business partners Maeve Woodhouse and Margie Cooney started Hera Saabi, a hand-crafted jewellery label where each piece is inspired by the contrast of imperfect nature in geometrically constructed environments. We sat down for a glass of prosecco and a chat about where they draw inspiration, the realities of starting a business and the dream for Hera Saabi.
Where does the name Hera Saabi come from?
Margie: The name Hera Saabi is an amalgamation of various words we loved and ideas we wanted to attach to our brand. We wanted something that sounded feminine and otherworldly - not a word that already existed. We wanted something we could make our own.
Maeve, can you tell us a bit about how you got into jewellery making?
I discovered the art of Goldsmithing in Melbourne. At the time I was studying shoemaking and wanted to incorporate custom metal components in my projects. I knew of an amazing jeweller William Griffiths (Metal Couture) who worked near by. At the time he was offering wax carving classes so I signed up. His ability to manipulate metal and his wax carving skills blew me away. I asked him for a job and he said If I studied Precious Metal Engineering alongside working for him he’d take me on. I mainly learnt the technical side through The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology but Williams talent, passion and open mind definitely taught and inspired me the most.
Margie can you tell us a bit about your background?
I have a background working in fashion and writing. I have always had a passion for working in the industry and with my writing I felt like I was able to give all our ideas some solid foundations - putting the intangible things we wanted to capture in each piece into some kind of written format.
How did you guys come to know each other?
Maeve: We worked together at Zambesi. I distinctly remember Margie walking into the Britomart store and handing me her CV. She had such a beautiful presence. I wrote a note to our manager saying she should hire her! Sure enough Margie got the job and we worked a few shifts together. At the time, I was making jewellery under my own name for Zambesi so Margie was used to selling it. I was really shy about my work and one evening Margie pitched the idea of working together on a project. We have very different skill sets so it’s a nice balanced working relationship (as well as a close friendship of course!)
Margie: We met working at Zambesi together. Maeve was the first person I handed my CV to when I walked into the store and I remember thinking that I’d love to work with her. We had a great rapport from day one and I think because we’re different, we work together and complement each other really well. It has evolved into this really great business partnership and friendship.
How did you go about starting Hera Saabi?
Maeve: We had a few meetings and set up a little studio in Ponsonby. We brainstormed for almost a year before we really developed the brand identity. We actually made an entire collection of jewellery that was never used. We didn't want to rush into anything. The brands aesthetic just naturally evolved. It’s sort of like growing a plant. We nurtured and fed it a lot of time, money and energy. Like all good things it took time to sprout. With only one collection under our belt we are still in the budding phase. Hopefully one day we’ll have a jungle.
Margie: Well we started talking about it when we were working together. Then we slowly started thinking about designs and the kind of persona we wanted our brand to have - the kind of business we wanted to be. It all really kicked off when we moved into a little studio space together, and Hera Saabi could get off the ground. It took a while to get it to the point where it is now, we initially started down a very different design path but this first collection grew into it’s own so naturally- which is why I feel the pieces have an authenticity to them that people identify with. Nothing was forced.
What role do each of you play in the business?
Margie: Our roles are very different simply due to the nature of our individual skill sets - so Maeve handles design and production while I handle more that branding and creative direction side. But at the moment, the whole process is essentially collaborative because we are just the two of us and we’re still figuring out how best to manage it all.
What’s been the hardest part of this process?
Maeve: Starting a business is pretty scary. There isn't a moment you don't think about it. The hardest part was probably the initial phase when we were paying for everything out of our own savings not knowing what the response would be. New Zealand is also very isolated so sorting things like packing, trade jewellers and supplies can be a challenge. It just takes a bit more time and persistence.
Margie: On a personal level it’s definitely been finding balance in my life. I am currently also working a full time job so feeling like I am putting enough effort into Hera Saabi while maintaining everything at my other job can be a challenge. I don’t want to feel like I am selling our brand short by not doing as much as I could be. In terms of the business as a whole, definitely the fact that we live in a smaller country contributes to higher costs for certain things- and less options. It just means being more proactive around figuring out options for packaging/materials etc.
And likewise, the best?
Maeve: The best part for me is going to the studio everyday and working on something i’m passionate about. I have always loved making things so this position is a dream. I find the whole process of fabricating and designing jewellery so exhilarating. It’s tricky to keep focused on one project, I seem to always be working on ten things at once.
Margie: The best has been the response to our pieces - and watching the growth of the brand over the last few months. So far it’s been really positive, and seeing people seek out and wear Hera Saabi feels like a real triumph.
You've mentioned that it is not a glamorous time getting a business off the ground, what advice would you give to other people how have a dream?
Maeve: It’s terrifying when you first take the plunge, quit your full time job and focus on growing your own thing. It’s like a child. Expensive, It keeps you up at night sometimes, it becomes a priority and you have to compromise a lot more. It is also the most rewarding, challenging and humbling process. It’s important to have a positive working environment. We share a studio with Areez Katki and Rachel Mills is next door. These two are so talented and both of them recently decided to work on their own labels full time. We are very open with each other and discuss how we are going and what we are learning in these baby days of business - it’s such a supportive atmosphere. I believe the people you surround yourself with will make or break you.
Margie: The thing is, it’s never going to necessarily feel like the best time or the perfect time to branch out and start something of your own- but you’ve just go to do it. We didn’t overthink it, and we took the time we needed to get it off the ground but if it’s something you believe in, I think you owe it to yourself to go into it wholeheartedly. Just make sure you have solid foundations before going out on a limb. As Maeve has mentioned, it’s always so inspiring to see other creative people doing their things- so I think the goal for us is to stay true to who we are as people and as a brand and hopefully continue to grow.
Where do you draw inspiration from for the pieces?
Maeve: To be honest I just sit at my bench and start making. I think listening to music at the same time has a huge impact on what comes out at the end. Once we have a few key designs we’ll conceptualise, tweak and I go off to build a collection around the initial pieces.
Margie: The whole idea behind this first collection drew from a kind of philosophical approach to humanity. Playing on the idea of celebrating our flaws and commenting on our human nature. We wanted it to be elegant with touch of tongue in cheek- using the figures and forms to cling to or swing from the pieces. We want that to be something we carry through collections- a kind of overarching theme pulling everything together.
Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?
Maeve: The Major Tom sleepers because I like asymmetry.
Margie: My favourite piece would probably have to be the Major Tom pendant. It’s hard to definitively choose though because every piece has its own story and presence.
What is the dream for Hera Saabi?
Maeve: We hope to enter the international market. I’d love to one day set up a workshop with a few different benches and have a couple of other jewellers to work alongside. Margie and I are passionate about supporting local industry so going offshore for production is not an option for us. I feel that New Zealand is full of extraordinary designers and makers but it’s hard for local industry to survive when competing with cheaper goods made overseas. We need to support our crafts people. As well as paying a wage to fellow New Zealanders, it decreases the carbon footprint of the goods. So basically, buy NZ made as much as you can!
Margie: Definitely heading overseas with the brand. We have big goals, and we’re only just starting out but I think ultimately we just want to see Hera Saabi continue to grow sustainably and authentically. We both really believe in this so hopefully we can keep it going well into the future.