Accessory To Change

Saught uses metal from unexploded land mines and war ordnance to craft its jewellery.


Singapore-based social enterprise Saught uses scrap metal from repurposed artillery shells to handcraft socially conscious, sustainable jewellery imbued with messages of peace and hope. BY LOW SHI PING
 

L

ast year, Ravin finally earned enough to buy herself a motorbike. The young Cambodian, who lives in Phnom Penh, is one of seven artisans employed by Saught, a Singapore-based social enterprise that makes and sells jewellery crafted from metal found in unexploded land mines and war ordnance.

Ravin, who once had to sell her bicycle to make ends meet, used to spend her days fishing in the lake near her home and farming morning glory. Now, she is occupied with something completely different. She says: “Since working for Saught, my life has changed a lot. I think about silversmithing and ways to produce jewellery correctly and well. My life has changed and I am really happy.”


IMPROVING LIVELIHOOD

Saught was founded in December 2010 by Singaporeans Pamela Yeo, Adeline Heng and Ng Sook Zhen who wanted to create employment opportunities in developing countries like Cambodia. Its name means peace in old English, and in promoting it, Saught hopes to encourage sustainable development through breaking the cycle of poverty and helping its beneficiaries work in a safe environment with fair pay and opportunities to upgrade their skills.
 

Tools of the trade.


The founders’ vision was two-fold: to set up a social business that helps integrate disadvantaged communities in post-conflict countries through employment and to create an international community of advocates championing peacebuilding efforts. Through collaborative efforts with overseas partners, Saught provides business and livelihood opportunities to Cambodian villagers – extending the hand of friendship and inspiring action for good.

In 2009, when she was in her second year of law school, Yeo, now 27, visited the country as an intern with a human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Access to Justice Asia, where she learned of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.

 

Saughtʼs in-house studio in Phnom Penh now provides employment for seven artisans.


“Seeing the poverty in Cambodia made me want to create something that could not only generate income opportunities, but also tell positive stories of change that will, hopefully, have a ripple effect,” she explains.

On her return to Singapore, she conceptualised Saught with her close friends Heng and Ng, and launched it at the end of 2010. Its online store went live in early 2012 and, not long after, Yeo decided to give up her legal aspirations to focus on the business. She says: “I felt Saught needed someone’s full-time dedication and attention to grow its potential and impact.”

The idea of using metal from unexploded land mines and war ordnance was both symbolic and pragmatic. “It serves as a medium to capture the country’s story and history,” she says. The metal is obtained from NGOs Golden West Humanitarian Foundation and Cambodian Mine Action Centre, both of which are focused on clearing the land of these threatening munitions.

Saught’s best-selling Pursuing Peace collection – one of the first to be launched – is anchored by the image of a dove and a stalk of wheat. Other designs include shark-shaped cufflinks to symbolise courage, and stackable rings engraved with the words “loved”, “joy” and “patience”.


COLLABORATING WITH LOCAL ARTISANS

While Saught started by teaming up with Cambodian NGOs to create the jewellery collections, it later opened its own in-house studio in Phnom Penh in 2013. It now hires Cambodian artisans who graduate from a twoyear silversmithing vocational training programme run by Il Nodo, an NGO started by a family of Italians. To date, Saught has seven employees and has generated more than 3,000 days of employment for them.

Saught collaborates on design with various partners. In its first two years, it worked with students from Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design who went on field trips to Cambodia to meet the artisans and eventually created the Freedom collection. To learn more about the postwar situation of Cambodians, the poly students went on a one-week immersion trip to locations such as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. They also met and worked directly with the artisans.

In 2013, Saught worked with renowned designers Yuki Mitsuyasu and Elias Lam. Mitsuyasu is Japanese and a Singapore permanent resident, while Lam hails from Hong Kong. “They are the most big-hearted people that we have had the privilege to work with. They are open, generous and share their knowledge and design skills readily,” Yeo says.

The duo spent a week in Cambodia mentoring the artisans, pushing their creative boundaries and imparting new techniques to help improve their skills. Says Mitsuyasu, the designer behind the unusual Egg On Peace ring: “We didn’t speak the same language but we were all working towards the same goal, which was to finish making the jewellery piece that I had designed. We understood each other through gestures and sounds. By the time we finished, we were friends!”

What Mitsuyasu remembers best of her time spent with the artisans was how some of them seemed puzzled by the idea of mounting a quail egg on the ring. Despite this, they were curious and keen to learn something new. She adds: “When the last component was assembled and we finished making the first prototype, all of us cheered and clapped our hands together for the joy of completing something together. It was a wonderful feeling.”

On her experience, Yeo says: “I witnessed how powerful the simple offer of friendship can be, and how the sharing of their gifts and knowledge transcended language barriers.”


Pamela Yeo (in glasses) with Ravin (extreme left) and the other Saught artisans;


DESIGNING FOR GOOD

Last year, Saught paired with Project Skillseed. Also a Singaporean social enterprise, Project Skillseed conducts experiential learning programmes for youth to ignite their interest in the social enterprise space, by helping them to develop real-world skills and become changemakers. Through its Design For Good: Cambodia initiative, aspiring designers from Beijing, India and Singapore came together to create the Courage collection for Saught.

One of these designers was Singaporean Isabella Mak, 21, who spent one week in Cambodia in the middle of last year. As a business marketing student, meeting the social enterprises in Cambodia and learning about their work also made her question whether it was more important for a business to make profits or to help others.

This year, Saught will offer customers the option of customising their pieces with personal messages and symbols. Yeo hopes that this will allow more people to spread their own messages of peace and hope: “We have always seen our jewellery as conduits for storytelling.”


Ring from the Basic Collection; Stackable rings from Saughtʼs Basic Collection.

 


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