Tapping into South Asia’s glorious past, women entrepreneur duo Aashna Singh and Sneha Saksena, meld the past with the present to create breathtaking jewellery. ‘Olio’, by definition, indicates miscellany and is a collection of various artistic or literary works. The store brings this spirit forth, as they have transitioned from making great strides in the world of apparel since their conception in 2015, to now venturing into jewellery design. In Aashna’s own words, ‘evolution is the very basis of our brand. We thrive on reinventing and rediscovering who we are — creating products along the way that represent both our team and our community. Change is the only constant and we’re prepared for it.’
After three years of selling contemporary womenswear, OLIO pivoted. However, to make the shift was not a smooth nor an easy journey. Shaky sales, unpaid salaries and bouts of intense exhaustion later, Aashna and Sneha decided to rebrand. ‘After three years and many collections of clothing, we were exhausted by the excesses and seasonality of the industry, and wanted to move to a slower, more sustainable, more intentional way of producing and working,' shares Aashna.
Sprinting through a marathon never wins the race, and so the duo decided to slow down, leading them down a path of reflection. And through that reflection was born OLIO jewels in 2019. ‘Growing up in India, one becomes jaded by all its art, culture and history. Also because ‘western’ design has always been deemed superior; it takes years to unlearn that,’ they say. Aashna and Sneha made a conscious decision to rediscover their motherland and all its delights. They exclaim gleefully, ‘there were colours, patterns, smells, materials at every corner with which we wanted to play!’
With a desire to translate, revive and modernise jewellery of our collective past. OLIO is, in Aashna’s words, ‘an evolution that made way for a confluence of the ancient and the modern, the old and the new.’ Speaking more about their craft ,Aashna tells me, ‘our jewels are 18K gold plated, modern heirlooms, inspired by ancient India. Our brand aesthetic is nostalgic, with a touch of whimsy. Our pieces are based on the stories we want to share, not the trends we want to follow. They are for everyday and all occasions, for the simple beauty of our lives and the big moments that define them. We felt this area was unexplored and it’s so powerful to be able to wear our own culture.’
South Asian motifs inform the inspiration and the basis of their jewellery. From temple jewellery of Tamil Nadu, the flora and fauna inspired jewellery of Assam, to the silver-bead ornaments popular in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and the shells and beads used in Manipuri jewellery. ‘The key here is that modernisation doesn’t mean westernisation. The idea is to create accessible pieces that are rooted in South Asian history and culture, and are wearable and versatile. We draw from the past while looking at the future,’ says Aashna.
Be it their collection Sikka, Devi, Sukoon, Noor or Jungle, Aashna tells me that they ‘design to share stories of those who have triumphed, those who are forgotten, and those who share our values. We spend a lot of time going through old books, visiting museums, and researching blogs online. But a lot of our inspiration stems from our own families, our stories, our own personal histories.’ Each piece of work is intricately and beautifully-crafted to preserve remnants of the past, while imbuing them with a modern tinge, to make the jewellery truly timeless. From ideation to implementation, the process is very research-heavy. ‘Through our research, we have an ongoing ‘library’ of stories, forms, textures, materials, workmanship et cetera. We’re also continuously sampling with our karigars in Jaipur. We launch a few pieces, a few times a year — a summer collection and a festive collection,’ shares Aashna. The rigorous amount of work, along with the love, attention and care, is visible in each of their statement jewellery pieces.
Aashna and Sneha
OLIO has always been a brand that believes in fostering young female talent from India, creating a dialogue around important social issues, including, but not limited to, feminism, body positivity, sustainability and inclusiveness. ‘An OLIO girl could be you, me, she, or even he,’ says their page. Celebrating the ‘devi’ or goddess in you has been their goal since the very beginning. Using their brand as a tool to aid this empowerment, Aashna says, ‘we started this initiative last year, to give back to different organisations every month. Each month, we shed spotlight on an issue we care about on social media and donate a portion of our profits to an organisation working in tandem with it. We choose organisations based on recent events, our own values, and issues our customers care about. We have recently donated funds to the Indian farmers’ protest, animal endangerment, LGBTQ+ representation, providing clean sanitary products to young girls, and more.’
To work together, be able to create pieces they love and share them with the world is the most fulfilling aspect for the duo behind OLIO. The pandemic hasn’t been forgiving as Aashna shares, ‘we work directly with karigars in Jaipur and COVID-19 has wreaked havoc for them. So we’re dealing with supply chain issues, delays in launches and production. The two of us haven't even met one another since the pandemic began, nor have we met some of our newer team members. But we’re thankful to be able to work remotely and grow slowly. And of course, for the health and well-being of our family and friends.’
The brand is an extension of the two of them, evolving with them and through them. Up next is their Diwali collection. ‘We’re working against time to bring new festive pieces. They’re styles we’ve never done before so it’s very exciting,’ exclaims Aashna. The unstoppable duo is full of heart and their brand is just as soulful.
Text Devyani Verma