‘Creation with a conscience’ is at the heart of one-time costume designer now jewellery maker and artist, Issy Hutton. Based in Melbourne, Issy fashions jewellery, especially earrings, from recycled plywood and eco-friendly materials. Her pieces are bold, fun and colourful. I caught up with Issy to find out what prompted her career change and how creativity and sustainability fuel her.
Tell us about yourself – who are you, what’s your background?
I’ve always been creatively inclined, even from a young age. I grew up in a very isolated rural area of Queensland and when I was in pre-school I was the only child in my year. I made friends with the older kids and they used to ask me to draw things for them all the time – as well as take giant bites from their apples and give them the pieces!
I was a latecomer to university, starting my degree at 23, studying Design for Theatre, Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts. I then pursued a career as a costume and set designer. However, an unease grew in my soul as I came to realise how wasteful the industry was, both financially and materially.
At the time I was working as a costume coordinator on the television show Neighbours, so I quit and ran away overseas. This period of my life was very transformative. I made many discoveries about myself and what kind of person I wanted to be. I made a choice to be someone whose creative process is a part of the solution, rather than the problem.
How did the idea for Oh Izhe jewellery come about?
Oh Izhe came about in a very organic way. I knew I wanted to live a creative life, but I was torn between the urge to make things, and the guilt of just making more stuff! The world has enough surely, I thought? That’s when I had the idea of using recycled materials. I spent a long time in my studio tinkering around with various materials and coming up with a production process I was happy with.
What challenges, if any, have you faced along the way? Explain.
Oh, there have been so many challenges! I definitely feel like I’ve taken the hard road, but on the flip side it’s so much more rewarding. When you are trying to run a sustainable business practice you find yourself questioning everything. Should I use that earring design, even though it uses more material and creates more offcuts? Should I use the pretty glossy packaging option or should I use the recycled Kraft because it’s better for the environment? I find myself obsessively going through my rubbish bin every few weeks and analysing what I’m throwing out. Asking myself: is this waste unavoidable or is there a way I can avoid it next time?
Unfortunately, the sustainable option is rarely the convenient one. I’m hopeful this will change in the future, though, as sustainable living becomes more mainstream.
Then, of course, there’s the personal challenges you face, of self-doubt, confidence and conviction of your practice, and self-care. I feel, like many people, that starting your own business is hard, but you have no idea how hard until you start. Luckily, I have a very supportive network of awesome, like-minded, small business owners in my shared studio space. We support, share and advise each other on a daily basis.
Tell us about the importance of upcycling and sustainability for you in both your work and personal life?
Sustainability is one of my personal core values. It’s a key player in my personal life, as well as my work. In terms of lifestyle, I would say I was non-consumerist. There are a few fundamental questions I always ask myself before a purchase, which align with the minimalist philosophy:
- Do I really need this item?
- Does it serve a purpose?
- Does it add meaning or enjoyment to my life?
- Is it the most ethical option?
I truly believe in this philosophy. Every purchase is a vote towards the kind of future you want for our world.
I’ve designed my creative practice around sustainability, from the materials I use, to my product packaging. I’m still finding my way and there are many improvements I would like to work towards but, like everything worthwhile, it takes time.
Can you share a bit about the creative process?
I can be quite temperamental when it comes to creative process. I really dislike being interrupted when I’m making, so I only ever schedule my production time on days where I have nothing else on. I like to have the whole day ahead of me to get really stuck in. Then once I’m ‘in the zone’, I usually get tunnel vision and work for hours, until suddenly I realise I haven’t eaten all day and I’m starving hungry!
Where do you source the plywood?
My plywood suppliers are all local furniture and cabinet makers in Melbourne.
What are some of your important tools of trade?
My laptop. A few months ago, when I was just starting out in my business, our house was broken into and we were burgled. It was a very unsettling experience but the worst of it was the loss of my computer. I felt like I’d lost a limb! Unfortunately, this is the age in which we live, where our whole life and work revolves around technology and being connected.
The second most prized tool is my Lamy pen. I bought it on a whim one day at a pen store having a closing down sale. I was really chewing through the felt tips at the time, which was so wasteful. It’s one of the few impulse buys I’ve never regretted!
Where do you get inspiration from?
I would say ninety per cent of my inspiration comes from everyday living. The human brain is a wonderful, unexplainable thing and we are constantly seeing, absorbing and cataloguing what’s around us. The other ten per cent is probably an even split between nature and online blogs, Instagram etc. Though I try not to look at what other people are doing too much, as I like to do my own thing.
Describe your ideal working environment.
Fortuitously, my studio. It has great natural light, is cosy and warm and has everything I could possibly need – art supplies and materials for tinkering, speakers for music and podcast listening, kettle for tea brewing and best of all is private enough for sustained focus. But if I start going a little bonkers with me, myself and I, all I have to do is pop into the next office and chat to my friends.
What is imperative for me is having a working space away from home. I’m such a home body but also a creature of habit. So, once I got into the practice of going to the studio every morning, I was able to establish a routine that didn’t involve never getting out of my pyjamas or leaving the house.
It’s not very cool but I really like …
Period drama. Ever since I was a child I’ve loved all the classic adaptations – Pride and Prejudice (which I must have watched about 200 times by now), Great Expectations and North and South, are a few of my all-time faves.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
My most recent big ‘who’d have thought’ moment was when I travelled and lived in New York for three months. My friends and I rode across the Williamsburg Bridge and I distinctly remember thinking: ‘Who’d have thought that I’d be here in New York, standing in the middle of the Hudson River, Brooklyn to the East and Manhattan to the West?’ It was an overwhelming and yet humbling experience.
Thanks, Issy, for sharing an insight into your creative world!