Jewelry designer Justine Brooks leads a life of creativity and adventure that many cubicle-bound office workers would envy. As a seasoned traveller, she has been to Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. She has gone scuba diving in Egypt and studied Cambodian temples up close. "I'm going to India, Thailand and Hong Kong next for a buying trip," she tells me. "Travel is integral to my business and my happiness." In fact, her jewelry designs and globe-trotting experiences have always been intrinsically linked.
Brooks's first foray into jewelry design happened while she was studying ceramics at Emily Carr. After travelling extensively and buying precious stones from different places, she began using them to make beaded jewelry for herself and friends and consigned some of it at local stores. She acquired even more stones and beads during a nine-month trip after graduation. When she returned to Vancouver, her instincts told her that it was jewelry, not ceramics, where her true passion lay and she enrolled in silversmithing classes at Vancouver Community College.
Beading and silversmithing are the defining characteristics of Brooks's two very different collections. Her Silver Earth collection features dramatic statement pieces in sterling silver, most of which are cast from real objects found in nature. The casting process captures and highlights the beauty of these objects. Her rings and pendants--shaped like leaves, sycamore seeds, barnacle-encrusted mussels and leaves--exude an organic warmth. They're also a nod to Brooks's West Coast roots. "This line is more organic and reflective of the West Coast and it appeals to a really wide age range. I think everyone likes nature." If she had to pick one piece from her silver collection to wear every day, it would have to be her long leaf ring "because it looks like a leaf just resting on my hand."
While a quiet simplicity exists in her silver designs, the pieces in her beaded collection have a "more is more" aesthetic. Beaded earrings, bracelets and multi-strand bib necklaces feature a mix of coral, lava rock, shell and semi-precious stones. During the design process, Brooks lays out her bead collection and plays with different combinations, trying to create looks with interesting asymmetrical details and a mix of textures and colours. So how does she reconcile the two very different aesthetics of each line? "I mostly just make jewelry I like," she says in a matter-of-fact way. It does seem inevitable that such a quirky and adventurous spirit would have two distinct design visions.
Brooks's instinctive approach to design has paid off in the six years she has been making jewelry. Her work is sold at boutiques across Canada and she spends her days working away in her Main Street studio. Recently, she received a One to Watch award from Western Living magazine and has an upcoming Groupon deal for her online shop. But figuring out the business side of the industry hasn't always been easy, she admits. "I've grown a lot on the business side of things: networking, accounting, keeping up with what's going on in the fashion world." I ask her what advice she would have given to herself when she started. "I don't think I would've done anything differently. I probably would've told myself to have more confidence and to learn the structure and the business side of things." Then she laughs. "But I also would've wanted to step back and give myself a pat on the back and say, `Good job, Justine!'"
Visit www.justinebrooks.com to view Justine Brooks's jewelry or to purchase pieces from either collection.