“Design can be sustainable AND Push Boundaries”: Modeltypeface Meets Jewellery Designer Rosalie McMillan!

Modelling takes me on the best adventures. I had a very excitingly ethical day a few months ago – a shoot for my Fair Trade favourites, People Tree (for whom I am proud ambassador) and then it was on to the Observer Ethical Awards. I was once the ‘face’ of their campaign…

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…And now I get invited back every year to a) eat and drink organic food & booze and b) get inspired by all the passionate people campaigning to bring ethical living into our lifestyles.

One such person I met was Rosalie McMillan, who creates ethically sourced and produced jewellery under her own name. She was up for a ‘Sustainable Style Award’ with her covetable collection Java Ore, which is made entirely from recycled coffee.

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Rosalie is beautiful inside and out: she’s very cool, calm and thoughtful, and she patiently waited for me while my casting ran over by an hour. We met up in Broadway Market so that I could find out about her unique designs…

R: Hi Rosalie! I’m a huge fan of your designs. How did you get into jewellery? 

RM: I’ve been making jewellery for 12 years now, and I love it – years ago I went backpacking across India, but defeated the point by carting around kilos of semi-precious stones to thread into pieces when I returned! I’ve done quite a few part-time courses, including one at Kensington and Chelsea to hone my skills.

However, until now it has remained a passion rather than a career as I actually have a degree in Psychology & Masters in Occupational Therapy, and my job for years was to organise graduate programs. Even though I got to meet some great people who went on to succeed in fields I’d set them up in, I hated working for huge businesses. It just didn’t sit right with my own beliefs.

I felt like it was very telling that I would be kept awake at night mulling over jewellery threading problems rather than my job!

I knew I had to do what felt right, so after securing a mortgage on a very run down flat in East London, I decided to leave and concentrate on my jewellery. It’s a huge risk, especially as most people create their first collection and then quit their job – but I wanted to focus on what felt important. I have no regrets.

R: I’ve never heard of coffee jewellery! How did you discover that you can make pieces with it?

RM: My partner, Adam, has a company called Çurface, which makes furniture from recycled coffee. I’m inspired by the fact that coffee has such ceremony about it, from the way it is produced and manufactured to the way in which we consume it.

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R: It’s true! My boyfriend can’t face the day without his coffee. And I love ordering fancy coffees in nice cafes and taking ages to savour them.

RM: Exactly. Yet after drinking it, we will throw away these grounds that have come on such a journey. My jewellery, on the other hand, gives it further life.

R: It has an interesting texture – almost like wood.

RM: Yes and the material lends itself well to design. I blew up photographs of coffee grounds – they’re very abstract, jagged and crazy when you see them so big. The pieces have been inspired by those shapes and I’ve applied golf leaf to many of them, such as this bangle.

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R: Is the production process ethical, too?

RM: Yes, it’s handmade and for the specialist elements, I use companies local to my home in Broadway Market, such as Quality Castings in Hackney Wick.

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R: You’re doing amazingly, selling in pop ups and getting nominated at the Ethical Awards. How do you make the leap from designing to getting your brand out there?

RM: I attended development programmes at Cockpit Arts and Crafts Council, where there were lots of modules aimed at helping me get my designs out there: I got to learn about social media, how to pitch ideas and get in with stockists.

Ultimately I’d love to sell internationally, and get big enough to be able to set up cooperatives and employ apprentices.

R: Do you think being ethical is a bonus for any designer?

RM: Hmmm, this a tricky area for me. Being ethical can define you as a designer, which can sadly be a negative thing as it’s not something that’s always regarded as very ‘sexy’. People envision jangly earrings and elephant prints, which are lovely but my jewellery is design-led, innovative and angular. I want to push boundaries, and I want my aesthetic to be at the forefront of people’s perceptions.

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On the other hand, I think it’s important to show that design can push boundaries and still be sustainable. I think it’s a real shame that sustainability isn’t simply a given for every company.

R: Finally, where can I get your jewellery?!

RM: I sell at pop-ups and through my website, rosaliemcmillan.com

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R: Thank you Rosalie!

Rebecca x

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