The Leap Stories #24: Tanya Coelho

Activist Eldridge Cleaver said ‘If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.’ So after working in the mainstream jewellery industry and discovering just how destructive it was on the environment, Tanya Coelho decided to create her own line of sustainable jewllery, Zefyr Jewels.

Until I met Tanya, I hadn’t really considered the environmental aspects of jewellery production – from the harsh chemicals used to the damaging mining practices. And I certainly wasn’t aware that sustainable jewellery was even a thing! If you check out Tanya’s website you’ll learn that brass is one of the most recyclable metals available, and it is upcycled in every Zefyr piece, and that their gemstones are created from bespoke, lead-reduced crystal. And as an overarching mission, Tanya is committed to providing a better product for you and for all of the people, animals and plants along the supply chain.

But the element I love about Tanya’s story is how travel influenced her self awareness, sense of freedom and ideas for her future. Being away from the familiar opened her up to the potential of her dreams. Time abroad planted the seed for her the leap to be a sustainable solution in an industry she loved.

So to the mainstream jewellery industry Tanya says: ‘Get those big, dirty boots off, slip into a dainty green ballet flat and minimise that eco-footprint!’ And I say, cheers to that.

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Gorgeous Tanya Coelho, founder of Zefyr Jewels, drifting along the Mekong River.
Take a look at her beautiful designs online here.

What did you want to be when you grew up and why?

When I was seven I decided to be an artist. I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of artist I wanted to be. I just knew that I wanted to make and draw for a living.

What did/do you study?

I started out studying at SCA (Sydney College of Arts, Uni of Sydney) but I became increasingly frustrated by the emphasis on concepts rather than craftsmanship. It was all very cerebral and theoretical. After a year I still didn’t know how to solder properly which didn’t sit well as I come from a family of craftspeople. I quickly made the change to Enmore Design Centre. Thank you TAFE for teaching me how to solder!

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What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?

Starting my own sustainable jewellery label was definitely the most exciting/scary leap I’ve made to date. I always knew that I wanted to work for myself so I could have the freedom to create my own jewellery designs. It was never a question of if, only of when.

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How beautiful are these Zefyr Jewels creations? Tanya’s stunning new Monsoon Collection is online here. Swoon!

What were you doing before you made your leap?

I was living a life of fun and excitement in beautiful Edinburgh. I think being away from my familiar home life in Sydney created an amazing sense of freedom and space. It allowed me to think big and dream big. I was unrestricted so my thinking was unrestricted. Living like this is really what allowed me to have the vision and courage to take the plunge – because I was in the midst of taking many plunges. I’d left home, sold all my things, went travelling and was making a life for myself away from everything I knew. This series of plunges is what gave my heart the courage to take the biggest plunge yet – starting my own jewellery label.

Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?

Travel and more travel. I took off backpacking around Europe and Morocco in my mid-twenties and fell completely in love with all the beauty. It was an absolute feast for my senses. Seeing the wondrous treasures that have been created through the ages is what gave me the idea that yes, I too could make beautiful things to stir the soul.

My husband. There’s absolutely no way I could have done any of this without him. His patience and kindness are the rock from which I’ve been able to grow. He helps me set up events, he’s written the code on my website, he’s been known to put necklaces together, he helps in a million ways. His unwavering belief and support are what keep me together on those days when I wake up at 3 in the morning and wonder why I’m doing this crazy thing.

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Mindfulness meditation is a tool I’ve discovered on the road to health. I was diagnosed with auto-immune thyroid disease when I came home to Australia and just before I started my business. It knocked me for six and it’s been a long, hard path to wellness. Mindfulness meditation has allowed me to work with more self-compassion on those days when I don’t feel well. It has also given me a sense of calm, which really helps when things have gotten rocky in my business.

My mate Mel from the fashion label Roger and Peach. It’s such an amazing gift to have a good close friend who you can bounce ideas off and discuss future plans with. We commiserate when we’ve had misses, we laugh when things are going well and, most importantly, we ask each other the hard questions that others might be too afraid to ask. We also both share a crazy addiction to pho, which we love to slurp over a long gossip session.

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What did you have in place before you made the leap?

Nothing but nerve! I had saved up while I was working in the UK to fund the start of my business, however when I got home and I was diagnosed with my illness I got really sick and all my savings went on keeping me well while I recovered. Luckily I was able to apply for the NEIS program, which helped fund my first year of business. I always recommend that anyone wanting to start a business should definitely apply for this program as it’s quite great and offers business training along with funding and mentoring.

What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?

I never really had one. I’d always wanted to live a creative and independent life and everything I’ve done has gone towards making this dream a reality. I think the closest I ever came to a moment like this was at my high school year 10 work experience. I was placed in a graphic design department in a corporate office and after my week of experience there I swore I’d never work in an office. I hated that there were no windows, I hated the feeling of being enclosed, but most of all I hated the office politics. And you know what? I’ve never to this day worked in office.

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How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?

My optimism and my romantic idealism are my driving forces. When I feel afraid I take a moment to remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. For me that’s creating beautiful things. I also want to change the world. Remembering this helps in the dark wee hours of the night when I question everything.

How did you fund your leap?

I saved up a little when I was in the UK and the NEIS program definitely helped me out the first year.

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What other leaps have you made in the past?

I sold up my life, packed a bag and took off backpacking for six months with my boyfriend in my twenties. After our six month odyssey we decided to keep the adventure going and decided to live in Edinburgh for the simple fact that it had a castle.

I also married that boyfriend. Best. Leap. Ever.

What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?

For a while I was doing trade shows and selling my jewellery direct to stores. It was ridiculously hard work and the most stressful thing I’ve ever done with the business. They were also pretty scary for someone who’s an introvert. Earlier this year I took a long hard look at why I was doing these events and decided to make a stop. The investment in time, energy, and money was huge and the rewards were small. I also felt intuitively for a long time that they weren’t the right thing for me but I ignored this for a while and kept going because I had been told that this is what I should be doing.

I’m so glad that I finally listened to myself. The year ahead looks so much more exciting now I know I have all this extra time I can spend working creatively.

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What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?

I’m afraid of not living a meaningful life. Waste is something that obsesses me. I hate the idea of a wasted unfulfilled life. This fear sometimes galvanises me into trying to do too much. Which ironically leads me to not living fully in each moment, and wasting those precious moments.

I’ve had to learn to calm down and let things happen in their own time. The best things in my life are those that have unfolded slowly. Sometimes it’s hard to remember this so I do have remind myself of this fairly often.

I’m also terrified of failing. Of trying so hard and still falling short. This is what keeps me up at night. For this I have my amazing husband to rely on. I’m able to tell him my fears and he listens and just gives me one of his magical hugs.

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How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap? 1 being sad, 10 being rad.

10! And sometimes 1. Because, life.

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

Freedom. I’m free to design what my day, my week, and my year look like. I’m free to make meaningful contributions through my business decisions. I get to choose what my workplace looks like. But most importantly I’m free to express my creative ideas in any way I see fit, unfettered and unchained.

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What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?

I think the biggest hurdle to face in any leap is the financial insecurity. Making good decisions and having experienced people to talk through them with is my best advice on dealing with this. Also having a lot of faith in yourself helps enormously.

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The new Monsoon Collection from Zefyr Jewels, made from 100% recycled materials.

What might be your next leap?

The next leap I’m planning to make is to engage a CFO to run the business side of the business. This will free me up to do what I do best, which is designing. It’s a leap because this will involve relinquishing the total control I have over the business. But I’m getting much better about this. It will involve a few deep breaths but I’ll do it!

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What are your favourite words to live by?

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.

Who do you admire who also made the leap?

Pippa Small. She’s an amazing jewellery designer based in the UK who was an anthropologist before making the leap to become a jewellery designer. She’s such an inspiring person. In addition to designing beautiful jewels she’s set up several ethical initiatives with traditional communities from Bolivia, Afganistan, and Panama. She’s completely amazing and I have a total jewellery crush on her.

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A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?

Do it, but only when you feel ready. Don’t rush it. Your bones will know when the time is right.

When you do take the leap make sure you’ve got people who will be happy to hold hands with you as you jump.

Right now I’m:

Hearing: Kings of Convenience, they’re a Norwegian folk band
Eating: Ramen Soup, there’s nothing like it in this chilly season
Drinking: Vanilla Rooibos Tea which is my crack
Reading: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Loving: Hugging my husband. He’s a world class hugger.

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Having just come back from a week in the Victorian spa country, I feel the profound impact of getting out of your familiar surrounds and usual routines to shift your world view. It’s more than a change of scenery, it’s a change in perception about what is possible. And we all need a dose of that every now and again.

Happy Spring Break, Kylie x

p.s. Here’s a bit of Norwegian indie folk for your Sunday evening musing.

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