If you have been to the community veterinary clinic of Animal Mama at Street 500, you probably have seen and met the bubbly Mary Sarath. She assists animals during vaccinations and surgeries, and helps pet parents understand the conditions of their animal companions. But Mary is more than a familiar face in the clinic. She is also making a name in jewelry-making through her collection of ‘traditionally modern’ accessories that never go out of style.
Mary talks with Eileen McCormick on how she got involved with fashion and animal rescue.
Good Times2: How did you start jewelry-making and how do you conceptualise your designs?
Mary: When I started jewelry-making, I was a young, ambitious university student looking for a way to make money in my free time while pursuing my love for the arts. I get inspiration from the things I see every day. I like each thing that I create to have a story or help inspire real-life scenes. From this, I come up with ideas and transform things into accessories. For instance, one of my most famous piece is the bracelet with the Khmer alphabet in it. I did not want it to be just something one can wear, but an art. Using the Khmer script gives it an identity that is usually missing in other arts.
I also like the concept of antique jewelry with a modern twist. No one else was doing it so I felt like I could incorporate Khmer script and letters onto modern jewelry. It’s not the type of jewelry most people would wear on an everyday basis because it has more of an empire vibe in it. Some think the designs are over the top. But I believe they’re great.
Good Times2: Are you making the jewelry yourself or do you just do the designs?
Mary: I have someone who makes the stuff for me because I am not a goldsmith or someone who can melt metal. I didn’t know him before but after we met up, I felt like he understood what I was trying to do and we came up with an agreement to work together. He has the skills to craft metals but did not have the idea on how to make something different out of ordinary metals. That’s where I come in. I design unique stuff from scrap. But with my other pieces that do not require metal works, like beads, I do those by myself.
Good Times2: Where do you get your materials from?
Mary: As much as possible, I use upcycled materials to make jewelry. I often go to Russian Market and ask if they have any scrap I can use. I love to work with scrap. I combine whatever available materials and come up with a limited edition piece that is not meant to be replicated. Of course, it’s not always possible to get everything I need or artistically want in Cambodia. But I always try to the best of my ability to use what I have, like using beads and other materials from Bali, Indonesia. And as many of us know, gold and white gold are now very popular in Cambodia. If my brand will get bigger in the future, I would love to use these materials in my pieces. But right now, they’re too expensive for me.
Good Times2: Did you go to university for a degree in fashion design?
Mary: No, I did not go to school for any sort of degree in design. I did attend art class though when I was younger. But I have always loved painting, photography, and anything that allows me to create art. I think my love for painting came from my dad, who was a painter himself. He was not famous because he only painted for fun. But still, his works inspired me to keep expressing myself through arts.
Good Times2: Do you see a possibility for you and your dad to collaborate artistically?
Mary: I don’t know. I hope, but he is just so much better. He does not paint so much anymore, but creates art in other ways. I do work with him now in terms of interior designs. We both really love transforming a house into a home with a vibrant energy.
Good Times2: How was your craft first discovered?
Mary: Through the hip, upscale salon The Dollhouse. They sometimes host fashion shows and they approached me about providing some of my jewelry for one of their shows. I thought to myself “yeah, why not? I make these stuff for myself, why not expose them”. So, I decided to take on the challenge. Before I knew it, people started to buy my pieces and kept approaching me to create new pieces for them. It sort of pushed me to really see the possibility of having my own brand.
Good Times2: Are Cambodians buying your jewelry?
Mary: Most of my customers are foreigners, but I do have some Khmer people buying my jewelry. When I meet Cambodians, they usually ask me why they should buy the jewelry from me when they can buy it somewhere else. I explain my works and my background, and then they become more receptive and interested. I think some of the Khmers I met also get inspired to attain their dreams like how I reached mine. That’s always a bonus to selling my products to them.
Good Times2: Does your Jewelry support any SME?
Mary: No. This is currently a very small start-up – just with myself and the guy I work with. I just do this at home as a sideline or something, and not really a career that would produce big profit that is enough to support long-term projects for any cause. I hope, though, that at some point I may be able to put the money I earn towards helping rescue animals.
Good Times2: What made you shift away from jewelry-making to working at Animal Mama?
Mary: It was really my plan to travel and keep making jewelry after I graduate. But sometimes in life, amazing opportunities come along that change your path. This was the case for me with Animal Mama. When I was a kid, I grew up with many animals in my house, but I never thought I would someday work with them. A friend approached me to volunteer at Animal Mama because of my love for animals. I fell in love with the work and never left since then.
Good Times2: What is the best way to buy your jewelry?
Mary: Right now, I prefer people to contact me directly because I don’t do jewelry-making full time. I work with Animal Mama so there’s a lot of tasks at hand. My jewelry materials are kind of old now so I may have to buy new ones if I receive orders. All my pricing can be found online. I also have plans to join Etsy, an e-commerce website, to expand my brand and bring it to the international market.
Good Times2: What shop in the country have you partnered with?
Mary: I partner with Trunkh, a local lifestyle and design brand. It was very ideal for me to work with Trunkh on my jewelry because there was no other shop or people who are open to selling contemporary Khmer jewelry that stay true to local traditions. I want my art to be modern, but without losing its Khmer identity. Trunkh does this as well. Its flagship concept store is in Siem Reap.
Good Times2: Any advice for Khmer youth looking to start up their dreams?
Mary: I just feel like people should not give up on things that they are passionate about. You never know what your next journey will be or how your present work will connect you to something even greater or bigger later on. That’s how things in my life have unfolded and its been a really great experience from jewelry-making to working with Animal Mama.
But for small start-ups like mine to survive, I also believe Khmer youth should support what’s local. I have Khmer customers who come in and ask why I make this stuff when they can buy same things from China. I try to get them to see that this is art. What I am doing and what other artists in Cambodia are doing is to connect people back to our very own culture through our products. I tell my customers the stories of my products, and they buy them because they can relate to the story.
It’s all about helping people to connect to their Cambodian identity and encouraging them to support local products and local artists.