Designer Jane Heng and Cheryl, were working away on some photography for Jane’s newest products, and I so happened to be meeting with Cheryl later that evening, so dropped by to take a sneaky peek at their photo-shoot.
Through this chance meeting, not only did I get to learn that Jane is a wonderfully sweet person, but also became quite enamoured with her delicate fine jewellery and artisan ceramics.
Later on when I looked up Jane Heng, I fell deeper in love with the conscience and concept of this beautiful brand.
Designer Jane Heng has been splitting her time between her home town of Melbourne and her country of heritage Cambodia since her mid teens.
It has been a long time dream of Jane’s to use her design skills to foster job creation in Cambodia. After graduating with a Bachelor of Fashion Design at RMIT, Jane packed her bags to live in Cambodia for 18 months to learn about traditional Cambodian handicraft techniques.
Travelling to various provinces around Cambodia, Jane now works hand in hand with artisans and selected fair trade partner workshops to create thoughtfully designed products.
Read a very inspiring interview with Jane Heng below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how your business came about?
In school my favourite subject was art so it was natural for me to choose a creative degree in uni. I studied fashion design at RMIT and it was after a couple of years working within the fashion industry that I decided to pack up and move to Cambodia.
It wasn’t my first time in Cambodia, I had been a few times in my teens visiting family but the move was the first time I would be there on my own. My plan was to teach English in a local school for 3 months but I soon found that the skills I gained in fashion were valuable. I started working for fair trade handicraft co-ops and 3 months turned into 18 months! I learnt so much from the talented makers, their skill and their processes but sadly they never had enough work to be employed full time and with fair wages.
I’ve been travelling between Cambodia and Melbourne ever since and as a result of my work in developing products and promoting the work of the Cambodian artisans, I now work for the International Trade Centre, an agency under the United Nations where I link silk artisans to the Australian market and I get to pursue my dream of designing product for my own label, using my design skills to foster job creation for the artisans I have befriended and now work closely with.
What inspires your design and creative decisions?
I believe in slow products. Pieces that have been made with care and quality and that can be loved for a long time. I try to design pieces that are simple, functional and unique.
We know that one of the key elements of your brand is the importance of sustainable and fair-trade design and manufacturing. Can you explain to us why this is so important to you?
Sadly ‘ethical’ or ‘fair trade’ is considered a niche market but it really should be the norm. It’s about valuing people. Producers should be given the chance to live a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle because they can afford to through fair wages.
Can you tell us about your work with Cambodian makers?
I’m very lucky that I can speak the Khmer language. I spend a lot of time in Cambodia getting to know the makers and their families. I tend to ask a lot of questions about their process, the materials that are available in Cambodia and if it’s a co-op or workshop then I ask a lot about their company structure. How they pay their makers, working hours and spend time within the work place to make sure it’s in a healthy environment. Once I understand all those elements, I then spend a few weeks sketching and working closely with the makers to turn my designs into reality.
How would you describe your personal style?
Mood dependant. Comfortable. Layered.
What are 5 essentials in your wardrobe?
At the moment the pieces that are on high rotation are an oversized wool coat, hand-woven Cambodian tees, platform brogues, red lipstick and fine jewellery of course
Tell us about some of the people who inspire you and why?
Ah so many! Friends, artists and other designers.
I try and visit an art exhibition at least once a week but sometimes with my crazy work schedule I’m lucky if I can go once a month.
I recently visited the James Turrell exhibition in Canberra and whoa, that blew my mind. Turrell’s artworks may look deceptively simple but his pieces represent years of research and for the viewer it’s truly an amazing experience.
I’m influenced by designers who are storytellers, value ethical production and have a strong design voice.
I’m lucky to be based in such a creative and diverse city. Melbourne is a hotbed of crazy talented artists, makers and designers. My friends who are doing amazing things in all different fields inspire me to keep discovering and learning.
If you could design a product for anyone in the world, who would it be and what would you design?
I already do! I design for my customers who appreciate the designs, story and philosophy. Seeing my designs being worn or used in people’s homes always make my day.
What are the top 3 resources, which you turn to for inspiration?
The artisans I work with inspire me to continually learn more about their process and about Cambodian culture, galleries, museums and of course the internet! Instagram, pinterest and design blogs are sooo addictive.
What is next for the label? Where do you see the brand going in the future?
I’m hoping to work with more artisans, not just in Cambodia but in other countries as well! There may be a collaboration in the works but I can’t say more than that.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start his or her own business in fashion and/or home accessories?
Surround yourself with people who believe in your idea. Working for yourself can be the best and worse thing, sometimes I spend a little too much time second guessing my decisions but I’m so thankful that I have some amazing friends that I can always turn to for advice.