ʻĀhinahina: Co-creating with Nature’s Cycles

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Practice of Sustainable Design
Spring 2018

Sustainability Focus of the Piece:
This submission is from my final project, looking at a new sustainable alternative to decorative ear jewelry that could replace the common metal post so commonly found in today’s contemporary jewelry. The project’s focus was entirely sustainable focused, using leading-edge practice methods to test and refine my material and design concepts.

Objective Focus of the Piece:
This submission focuses on one design challenge, looking in-depth into how we as designers can actively design to create truly sustainable results. This project helped me understand the process of design through whole systems thinking, analyzing, creative problem solving and evaluation.

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ʻĀhinahina’s inspiration derives from the artists, alchemists, cultural preserves, permaculturalists and DIY makers that are digging intention back into the earth, taking the dust off of those lost books of grandma’s herbal remedies, looking to their garden for the dye baths of the season, and for those reintroducing lost cultural tools and techniques back into the swing of our modern life.

ʻĀhinahina is also inspired by the Hawaiian Islands, island life simplicity, the vast array of Pacific cultural art forms and practices, and the opportunities to move toward more interdependent relationships with our natural environment through living systems thinking.

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Why ʻĀhinahina

The descriptive name ʻĀhinahina most commonly refers to the endemic silversword located on the higher elevations of 5,000-10,000 ft. of Maui’s volcanic slopes of Haleakalā, as well as its silversword cousin on Hawaiʻi Island on summit areas of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The name refers to the plant’s blueish grey color. As one of Hawaii’s endangered native species, its protection has been taken with serious efforts, though it has shown a huge decline in population with climate change in the past decades, making the efforts of conservation an upward battle for both national parks. Silverswords can live as long as people (up to 90 years), blooming with gorgeous seed-carrying flowers at their end of life.

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Why Jewelry

Don’t mistake the importance and impact of jewelry just based on its small size. Jewelry has been used in cultural societies for millennia by both male and female. Ornamentation of the body has been used within culture as an important player of identity and a person’s role in their society, along with tattoos. Jewelry had an early demand as a product of value in the trading market. Decoration of the body had and still has cultural significance, meaning and continued interest as a form of expression.

With global trade we’ve had access to all earth sourced jewelry materials from around the world —from all types of metals, gems, precious stones, shells, pearls ad rarities — but the current global demand for jewelry has now moved past quality towards quantity, mass production over cultural artisans, and seasonal trends over timeless pieces. In earlier civilizations, heirloom pieces would be worn lifetimes, passed down to the next generations.

In a growing industry of mass market production, jewelry in quantity is no small player to environmental and human impact. For the future, we will need to relocate our roots towards locally resourced, culturally relevant, repurposed and responsible ornamentation that provides healthier working conditions for artists creating them and responsible products working with nature’s cycles.

Photo by  Tamara Bellis  on  Unsplash

Why Earrings

There are great examples found in special places in the Pacific of necklaces and bracelets fastened by traditional biologically-based fiber materials and knotting and weaving techniques. But in today's product world, biologically-based earrings are continued to be traded and sold attacked to cheap, toxic metal studs, hoops, and hooks-- the access point that directly contacts the ears.

Traditional earring practices seem to have been forgotten due to the convenience, durability, cost and accessibility of metal earring pieces. Only through trends, such as stretching, have full biologically-based earrings such as wood, stone, horn, and ceramic been revived.

For those wanting ear ornamentations without stretching, we wanted to provide a non-metal option that reflects cultural and historical significance, a relationship between humans and their environment, and embodies cultural landscape paired with modern design.

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“Fashion should allow us to mirror the beauty we see around us, not destruct it.”

ʻĀhinahina looks to use biological-based materials found from our local natural environment, ones that have undergone minimal processing, do not use toxic chemicals known to effect human, animal and environmental health, and have not been destructively mined and sourced or created using energy intensive processes of material making and transportation.

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ʻĀhinahina’s design mission is to make fashion in Hawaiʻi resilient, 100% locally made and accessible to our community. We strive to create earrings that are timeless, elegant, and are storytellers of a contemporary Hawaiʻi Nei.

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Brainstorming Questions

  • How should we design for people that donʻt have pierced ears?

  • How might we design for really small pierced holes?

  • How might we design using one natural material?

  • How is it beneficial to use multiple material resources?

  • How might we design the earring to look delicate yet attention drawing?

  • How could we design for it to be a statement piece?

  • How might we design as if it was floating from oneʻs ears?

  • How might we design a material that can be thin enough yet strong enough for multiple applications in an ear hole?

  • How might we design a share that is classic and minimal? How might we design to accessorize and change its style?

  • How might we design for a long-lasting lifetime piece?

  • How can we design the earring to define cultural significance and give the wearer a sense of place?

  • How can we design for storytelling?

  • How might we design an earring for all occasions and activities.


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The materials that would be further tested and would go through a Life Cycle Impact Assessment would be: coconut and bamboo and for the earring backing beeswax and tree rubber.


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Early Design Sketches and Inspiration

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Proposed Product Lifecycle

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For more information on the outcomes and project details, feel free to get in touch.