Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

1/19/2010

Beautiful Minds

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

My story was on the cover of MEGA last November! The piece was a collaborative effort, much like Bea's own design process. The article would never have seen the light without my co-writer Bea Robles and, of course, my editor, Carla Casanova.

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Design duo and sisters Bea and Marga Valdes blossom in 20s inspired vintage wear, adorned by their own exquisite jewel encrusted masterpieces
Text by: Carren Jao and Bea Robles
Photos by: Mark Nicdao
Edited by: Carla Casanova
Published: MEGA November 2009

Early years
Designing had been in Bea’s blood even when she was conceived. Her designing background goes back to three generations in her family in the fine jewelry trade. Bea enthuses, “My passion for designing seemed to just seep in like osmosis. It’s ingrained. You’re so familiar with it, growing up with a whole history already built up before you even reach school. It’s in your blood. It’s not something that you try very hard to do because it’s like second nature.”

However, Bea didn’t start out as a jewelry designer. Instead, she took up a master’s degree in interior design at the Inchbald School of Design in London. Only when she returned to the Philippines to work as an interior designer did she find her calling in jewelry making. She recalls, “It was the summer before my two sisters left to study abroad and I was back home. We spent the summer just making necklaces out of beads. Then they left, but I wanted to continue.” And so with a bag full of beads given to her by her mom, Pamela, Bea’s career in jewelry design began.

Bea designed only as a hobby for four years. Finally, when her mom said to her, “Okay, this is a hobby. Either you stop now or you make it into a business,” did Bea think long and hard of what she wanted to do. She consulted an exporter, who then asker her, “What is your vision? How many bags do you want to sell in a year?” She recalls, “I couldn’t answer him. I remember I couldn’t sleep. Then in the morning I told him, ‘Your question was wrong. It’s not about how many. I really want to make beautiful bags. It doesn’t matter how many. It might be one, two or 50! But that’s all I want to do.” The exporter then said, “Now you can start making a business plan.”

Meanwhile, as Bea was busily designing jewelry, younger sister Marga was living abroad in London and Paris. “I had another life because in London I worked as a speech writer in the House of Lords, a career which was completely different,” Marga recalls. When she returned home, her mom offered her an opportunity to work with Bea. The timing was perfect because Marga missed home and, if she had said no, they would have hired someone else.

Mastercraft
To produce a piece often takes 45 days, according to Bea. In her design process, time is an essential component—an indispensable spice that adds vitality to her creations. She says, “It’s almost against fast fashion. You lose a lot of the integrity of the object, or at something that you do, if you forget why you’re doing it and it’s just for the bottom line or to sell a quantity.”

It is this utterly organic process of becoming, a principle of Slow Design, that Bea embraces. Slow Design, an offshoot of the Italian Slow Food movement, is a relatively new concept that has only begun to take shape in major cities worldwide. Yet, within humble Philippine shores, the concept is practiced. In principles written by slowLab founder and director, Carolyn F. Strauss, and sustainable design lecturer, writer and designer, Alastair Fuad-Luke, in 2008, it states, “Sow Design processes are open-source and collaborative, relying on sharing, co-operation and transparency of information so that design may continue to evolve into the future.”

Bea confesses to a natural quirk that informs her creativity. She explains, “I’ve realized, I’ve always worked a little bit backwards. When I was in interior design, it would drive my teachers crazy because I would get fixated on say, for example, a doorknob. I would draw the doorknob, then the door, then the sofa and then everything else around it.

Bea draws inspiration not from passing trends, but from the material itself. She says of her muse, “Each stone has a different language; each stone wants to be treated differently. It’s a very individual approach to things and it’s always changing. It’s hard if I start with a blanket concept and then try to distill it. I’ve always started with maybe the way this metal is shaped and then build from there.”

World Class
Perhaps it is Bea’s choice of delectable colors such as burgundy or deep purple; or perhaps it is the boldness of her designs that attracts everyone from mavens to casual passers-by. Regardless, Bea’s creations certainly helped “put the spotlight on the Philippines as a design hub,” says Marga proudly. Indeed, last September set another milestone for Filipino designers across the globe: on the cover of British Vogue was model Kate Moss adorned with one of Bea’s creations. Before this, however, Bea’s designs have already been featured in US Vogue (which referred to her bags as “this year’s must-have evening bags” in September 2005), Harper’s Bazaar, W Magazine, Glamour, In Style, The New York Times, TIME Magazine, and many others. Locally, the design shave gilded the pages of Mega—first in September 2005 and next in the magazine’s anniversary issue in February 2007.

Other global milestones for Bea include her venture into the art world. Last year she held an exhibit entitled “Bedtime Stories” at the Silverlens Art Gallery in Manila, which then traveled to New York and then to Hong Kong. Also for the third year in a row, Swarovski has asked Bea to create a hero-piece for showcasing in their jewelry platform shown in New York, Paris and Hong Kong.

Family Affair
Bea easily explains she could not have accomplished the success alone. Though the line is called Bea Valdes, in reality Bea Valdes the company is a cooperative effort. “I get a lot of credit, but design is only one part of it. For example, operations, marketing and sales, those are huge areas. It’s really a team effort. Their job descriptions are just as important as mine,” says Bea. Her mother, equally elegant Pamela, takes care of shipping, inventory and placing of orders. As the head of marketing and sales, Marga does most of the traveling to meet with their clients.

While it might be tempting to oversimplify the design process, the foundation of Bea’s practice is about collectivity. In fact, from Bea’s initial beader, Manang Carina, the company now has close to 40 beaders based in the Bicutan workshop. “The input is all mine, but the hands are theirs. We work as a whole organism,’ She says. Forty paris of hands and the creative mind of Bea come together to birth works of wearable art—one one-millimeter bead at a time.

Both Bea and Marga certainly consider working with each other a huge perk. Marga attests, “I don’t see what I do as a job because I really enjoy it and I always say it’s such a blessing. On Sunday, most people who work for others will have a knot in their stomach about the work week starting, I absolutely don’t’ have that. It’s a pleasure.”

Goodwill
But it’s not all about reaping the benefits. More importantly, for the sisters, it’s all about giving back. As a master’s degree recipient in Gender Studies and Economic Development, Marga believes in empowering women, especially the ones under their employment. So, aside from helping them hone an extraordinary skill in jewelry maing, the sisters also help their craftswomen by providing education to their children. “We’re on our second scholar at the workshop. We told our girls, if their kids have good grades, we’ll take care of their schooling,” says Bea.

Greatest Achievement
When asked what their greatest achievement is so far, Marga responded. “I suppose the dynamics that we have with the family. The way we work together. It’s very unique. We’re very lucky and we’re constantly pushing each other to grow and improve. Bea always says if we go home at the end of the day laughing in the car, then it has been a good day!”

Bea adds that achieving success is much like creating a piece of jewelry. “It’s bead by bead,” she relays, “because if you do every single step correctly and focus on what you really want to achieve, you’d get there.”
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Luxuriate in Bea’s designs on beavaldes.com. To find out more about Bea Valdes’ Spring/Summer 2009 collection, email info@beavaldes.com or call (2) 821 6857. The Bea Valdes workshop is located at LDM Compound, Cervantes St., Km 17 West Service Road, Parañaque City, Philippines.

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