Jewellery and trainers are renewed rather than binned, thanks to the skills of two NI designers
Vintage clothing, jewellery and furniture are very much in vogue and with sustainability being the buzz word of the moment, upcycling and repurposing of once-loved items is a growing industry.
Diane Lyness — www.dianelyness.com — is a jewellery designer and goldsmith and although she makes jewellery to order, the other side of her business, which involves redesigning old pieces of jewellery, is also thriving.
“I was one of those people who never quite knew what they should be doing regarding my work life, until I reached my fifties,” she says.
“I always had a passion for the arts and my previous jobs involved being a window dresser, retail jeweller, craft shop owner and an aromatherapist. But it wasn’t until I admired a silver bangle a friend was wearing, and she told me that she made it herself, that the penny finally dropped (that she should be making jewellery herself).
“I graduated from the University of Ulster with a BA hons in Jewellery and Silver Smithing in 2011 and was fortunate to get awarded a place on to Craft NI’s two-year business ‘Making It’ scheme. I then returned to UU, but this time to teach silversmithing evening classes, as well as teaching at Belfast Met and Down Arts Centre and I now take regular one day workshops all around the country.
“I meet many people through teaching, and we often end up discussing a piece of inherited jewellery they would like to modernise — so word of mouth brings in new clients and remodelling has always been a big part of my private commission work.
“It is something I particularly enjoy as it’s so rewarding to see a piece of jewellery which has been tucked away in a box, being given the chance to sparkle again. Through a process of deconstruction and remodelling I make beautiful jewellery to be loved and cherished, yet still retaining the sentiment of the original piece.”
Diane, who lives in Killinchy, says the process of redesigning a piece of jewellery starts with a consultation to discuss ideas with the client and come up with possibilities which could include a different setting, addition of new stones or even to melt it down to add new detail. A sketch of the proposed new design (which averages at around £700) will be shown before she starts work and clients are often shown photos of the progress as the new look emerges.
“It is important to me that the client is absolutely thrilled with their new piece, and I always love watching their reaction when they open the box,” says Diane.
“There is a lot of work in redesigning as melting the gold and reforming it is an involved and lengthy process which adds a certain amount of hidden cost to the final piece.
“But sentiment is such a priceless commodity and at the end of the day the customer is purchasing a bespoke ‘one-off’ piece which we will have put a huge amount of time into designing. The (excess) metal can also be sold for scrap and the price deducted from the final piece.”
The jewellery designer, who has three grown up children and three grandchildren, says she has seen a real rise in people looking to repurpose pieces of sentimental value and hopes that this will continue.
“People have become really switched on to (keeping) something which is well made and built to last as well as recycling what they already possess,” she says.
“Particularly as nowadays, unfortunately buying new does not necessarily mean it will last (the test of time) through constant wear. So upcycling gives you something unique at an affordable price as you will be using materials you already own, whether it is a piece of jewellery, an old pine dresser or an upholstered chair. And it also means you will have something bespoke and unique.
“As jewellery is so personal and precious and we hand it down from generation to generation, there is often a lot of sentimental value attached to it. So it is a shame to have items which you don’t wear because it is not to your taste, or it has gone out of fashion. By upcycling you can still keep the sentiment of the original piece and create something which you will love wearing.
“I also believe it is important to teach our children to be more sustainable and to mend and fix. And upcycling is a great way to get the younger generation to understand the importance of looking after the environment and move away from being a disposable society.”
Steven Spence agrees — so much so that he has made a career out of restoring and customising footwear. His company, Sneakers Reborn, was only established last year and he has already been experiencing huge demand.
“In February 2020 I was made redundant from my previous employment, so with the upcoming pandemic and very limited job opportunities, I decided to turn my hobby (for restoring footwear) into a full -time business and became self-employed with Sneakers Reborn,” he says.
“I started by cleaning footwear for friends and family members. And then set up a business page on social media — right from the start, the interest was massive.
“To date I have shipped shoes all over the world from Australia to America and recently a customised pair I created was placed on display at an exhibition in a museum in Coventry — which is a great achievement. I have also raised money this year for NHS charities and Andy’s Man Club by raffling custom footwear.”
Steven, who lives in Coleraine with his fiancé Courtney and five-year-old son, Xander, says cleaning footwear doesn’t just involve giving them a ‘spit and polish’.
“My footwear cleaning business usually involves the services of collecting or receiving the shoes via post, getting them cleaned, repaired and polished as required, and delivering or shipping them to the client’s doorstep,” he says.
“Prices start from just £15, and I work on everything from everyday footwear to designer brands which cost £400 or more.
“The entire cleaning process depends on the type of footwear, but generally it involves inspecting and dismantling the shoe, then conducting a dry clean and preparing it for the next stage of the process. Then I will hand wash the shoe thoroughly using a variety of solvents, solutions and mild detergents which are safe and suitable for cleaning shoes, before allowing it to fully air dry.
“Other services typically involve refurbishment of material, stitching, changing shoelaces and the sole (which comes off for cleaning). Another option is a re-dye of the shoe or the addition custom work such as personalised lettering or images. Then the final stage is to reassemble the shoe and send completed pictures to the owner, before delivering it back to them.”
The Derry-based entrepreneur says more and more people are becoming interested in being more environmentally friendly and for anyone who wants to give their footwear a new lease of life, he is available to take on a variety of different upcycling work.
“I believe my restoration business provides an affordable service for consumers who can get their footwear returned to them as good as new for a fraction of the price of buying a new pair,” he says.
“And the environmental benefits of upcycling footwear are mammoth as each pair (restored) is one less being sent to landfill each year. So I would say to anyone looking for the best shoe cleaning service, to look no further. Get in touch today to find out how we can help you. We can be found at www.facebook.com/sneakersreborn11 and Instagram sneakers_reborn.”
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