Photo Credit: Christine Han
By Calvin Berry
Though they’re a part of our everyday existence, the story behind many of the things we buy–from the food we eat to the clothes we wear–can be a complete mystery to us.
As modern consumers, we’ve become somewhat removed from the things we consume, and many of our most familiar belongings are made in unfamiliar places with materials we don’t understand, using techniques we can’t quite wrap our heads around. In many ways, this trend is unavoidable, the result of lives that extend well beyond the neighborhoods we live in and lifestyles that wrap around the globe; however, some creators, like Lily Piyathaisere of Gamma Folk, are stemming the tide, using their products to help think about and reform the way we relate to the things we own. By adhering to more labor-intensive ways of production, Lily infuses her work with personal value, reconnecting people with their possessions in the process and fostering a more responsible kind of consumption.
Gamma Folk was founded in 2012, a celebration of craft and folk art that serves as an outlet for Lily’s exploration of the traditional methods used to make her jewelry. Located in Beacon, New York, her studio practices a kind of openness that encourages you to understand what goes into creating her stunning statement pieces. If you pay a visit to her website or her Instagram, you can find detailed information about the materials and processes she uses, all of which center on sustainability and longevity: her natural dyes are either ethically sourced or grown by Lily herself; her beautiful trademark speckled clay ceramics are more durable than other types of jewelry and are meant to last the wearer for years. The time consuming way in which she creates each piece is not only a way of being zero-waste, it’s a way to ensure a level of care and individuality that’s a breath of fresh air in a world dominated by fast-fashion. Inherent in Lily’s love for folk craftsmanship is a way to reclaim our relationship with the things we own.
Recently, we had the chance to collaborate with Gamma Folk on a line of exclusive pieces that highlight both Lily’s distinct style and our passion for working with and showcasing artists we love. We reached out to Lily to ask her a few questions about her method, her vision and her creative process.
What initially attracted you to the traditional methods you use to make your jewelry?
Textures and time. I’m innately drawn to intricate, repetitive textures that are extremely laborious. Growing up in Northern California I was definitely exposed to fiber arts at a young age, but I didn’t explore actually making them myself (outside of friendship bracelets and hemp chokers) until college. I took a weaving class because it was the only one with open seats and feel in love the process. From there the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn helped revitalize that love again.
What are some of the dyes you grow yourself, and what are your favorite dyes to work with?
We left Brooklyn two years ago for Beacon (upstate NY) and now that we have a backyard, I’ve been working at creating a dye garden. This year I tried Japanese indigo for the first time and it’s going strong so far. I’m also growing zinnia, coreopsis, hollyhocks and a few more which are flowers that can yield yellows, tans and greens. Sumac and black walnuts grow native around here so I’m able to forage those quite easily too. In addition to growing dye plants, I often use vegetables you might otherwise compost to dye with including avocado skins and onion skins. Some of my other favorite dyes to work with that I don’t grow are madder root and acacia which yield pinks/reds and some warm beiges.
What have been the hardest and most rewarding parts of working the way you do?
Interestingly enough, its the same answer for both and its the process and time it takes to create each piece. Every ceramic component is hand built. All the yarns/fibers are naturally dyed. And then I assemble it all together. I absolutely love all those phases and the final piece embodies the energies of the process, but when it comes to scaling the business, it makes it pretty tough.
What do you feel is the role of Gamma Folk in terms of its place in the larger market?
Gamma Folk exists to expand the definition of what jewelry can be. It’s an alternative to metal jewelries and rooted in sustainable practices. It is unexpected and balances the simple and sophisticated.
In what ways do you hope to change the way we think about the things we buy?
Through transparency and being mindful that what you are purchasing was made by human hands who were paid a living wage. That when you have the opportunities to spend money, you support small businesses you believe in.
And yes that will take longer than an Amazon order to receive.
You also work as a graphic designer–in what ways do your creative pursuits intersect? Would you say they inform each other?
They most definitely inform each other. My aesthetic is driven by various Bauhaus and Danish graphic designers from the 40s-60s including Josef and Annie Albers, Wim Crouwel and Massimo Vignelli. That modern visual language combined with traditional craft techniques is what is near and dear to Gamma Folk. Outside of the aesthetic itself, having a design background also informs the way I approach my process. There’s a lot of problem solving along the way…
Can you describe your creative process when designing a piece? What was the thought process behind the pieces you designed for Poketo?
I’m usually inspired by a film, a time period or a material and from there like to spend a healthy amount of time with my head in the clouds. Sketching, gathering, visualizing. My favorite time to sketch is on the train from here to NYC, I can really focus. But I don’t sketch on subways, not sure why. Then I start prototyping and many new ideas come into play once we’re working with the actual materials. Then I edit down and usually need to create a deadline otherwise I’ll noodle on something for way too long!
I was thrilled when Poketo was interested in a collaboration! For this, we wanted showcase a new perspective from past collections and we did so by exploring scale and colors. It’s incredible how pulling those two levers can change a piece.
You can find Poketo’s exclusive collaboration with Gamma Folk at our online store.