How a single mom left a stable job to pursue jewelry design to empower local artisans

Choosing between a stable job and a full-time artistic career is a bridge many artists and artisans eventually end up crossing. Pursuing the latter presents a new challenge. It is not, after all, easy to make a name for oneself in the world of arts and crafts. 

But for a single mom jewelry artist, Natasha AliƱo, her love for designing pieces and the wonderful adventure of finding natural gemstones, made her leave her job to pursue her passion. In an interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the 35-year-old artist shares her story: How she made a leap of faith to build up a small business not just for herself and her daughter, but to also showcase the talents of other Filipino artisans. 

Down the memory lane

“I started making jewelry 15 years ago, when I was still a student. Then I stopped when I started working,” Natasha says. “A couple of years ago, I started to explore the world of gemstone jewelry. This prompted me to source my own stones so I can have them set into jewelry but found it challenging with no presence in social media.”

This very challenge sparked an idea. She left a career in the BPO industry and decided to start making and curating pieces. With no formal education about jewelry designs, Natasha looked for local artisans she can work with. “Months later, equipped with the basic concepts in jewelry making that I have learned from local artisans I’ve worked with and with inspiration from curating pieces, I decided to turn stones into wearable creations,” she continues. 

Knowing that this was not enough, she studied at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) where she earned her license and certificate for Colored Stone Essentials. 

“I also draw inspiration from other artist’s works, my surroundings, and even clothes with their variety of patterns and color palettes that you can apply in designing jewelry,” Natasha says when asked about her design inspiration and creative process. “I apply different processes depending on what the situation calls for. A beautiful piece or idea can come from an inspiration, followed by an exploration of various elements that you can apply such as patterns, colors, and techniques to create something new. It’s like starting with a painting in an empty room and working around it.” 

Collaborating with different artisans

Designing pieces and making them are two different processes. More involved with the former, Natasha is keen on working with her trusted artisans to turn her imagination into reality. 

“Technology has been my friend in making all this happen. I started closely collaborating with just two artisans. I loved that it was both a learning experience for me and for them, where I got to know more techniques and concepts, and they got to do designs that they had never done before,” she says. “When I felt the need to expand the production, I then tapped into a group of artisans. Our collaboration is done mostly online.” 

The Terragems owner then admits that every kind of collaboration requires an adjustment. “It’s putting that balance on what your vision is and giving the artisan some room to wiggle for creativity. You can have a sketch or inspiration with 10 different items as a guideline to achieve your vision but it may not be fit for the stone. Similarly, you can have just three or fewer important elements and artisans can provide more insights based on their skills and experience,” she explains. “But there’s also the risk of not achieving what you want in the end. I am still a work in progress when it comes to designing. It is essential to effectively communicate to the artisans what factors really matter most in order to achieve a pleasing outcome.” 

The essence of stone pieces

When asked about the significance of stone accessories, Natasha says that aside from the wonderful colors of these stones, each piece can evoke a different meaning for every person. 

“The beauty of wearing gemstones, of course, is in the color. This may sound less meaningful but that’s our common ground,” she says. “Its significance varies from being able to wear something that will remind you of people you love or life-changing milestones to having the chance to simply get creative.” 

Natasha then shares her wisdom to artists who are having doubts about pursuing their dreams. “It’s been said many times—and my mother always says this whenever I feel frustrated, which most people would feel when they’re starting something new—’trust the process.’ This is more of a reminder when you’re in that headspace,” she says. “Another thing is when you are learning a certain skill, do so with purpose and authenticity. Then you can confidently say after some time that you can indeed trust the process. Never stop learning and inspiring others on your journey.” 

Source: Manila Bulletin (