Continuing with our series of interviews with independent creative businesses in the run up to Christmas, we speak to Lauren King, the founder of jewellery brand Ara The Altar.
Hello Lauren, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Can you start by telling us a bit about the vision and ethos of your brand?
Ara the altar began as a project to align my own values concerning mindful consumption and lessening environmental impact with slow design and production, offering adornment and objects for others like me who were looking for genuine assurances about where and how their products were made.
The name came from a small constellation, Ara translating from Latin as ‘the altar’. Ara was often depicted as an altar with burning incense, rising smoke or sacrificial offerings. My interpretation of this translated into the sourcing, creating and offering of beautiful, earth-aware objects upon a conceptual altar. My aim with Ara is to tread lightly whilst creating adornment that gives the wearer a conscious connection with the beauty of our only planet, made with only 100% recycled solid silver & gold.
What was your background before launching your business? Is it an area you already had experience in, or something completely new and unknown?
My background was actually in shoot production, working as a shoot producer for a fashion brand. Working with recycled silver and gold was something I turned to as a creative outlet to reintroduce some creative practice and an alternative focus. I did a one day silversmithing course in London’s jewellery quarter then slowly built up a collection of tools to continue exploring the practice from home.
Did you have a specific business plan in place when you started off, or have you found things have developed more organically?
I wouldn’t have known where to start with a business plan; Ara the altar began quite organically and has continued to develop organically since. One thing that has been consistent is my values concerning people and the planet which influence every decision I make with the business.
What is your favourite part of running your own business? And what is the biggest challenge?
I’m in my element having a play with the materials and designing or figuring out new ways of working. This is something I struggle to prioritise when juggling orders and other projects so it feels like such a luxury when I allow myself the time to put ideas into practice or just explore. I also love producing the imagery for Ara. I think that comes from my shoot production days, I love that side of the business.
The biggest challenge for me is keeping on top of my finances and longer term planning. Not things that come naturally to me!
How important are the values of sustainability and slow living in the way you run your business?
My own values concerning sustainability and slow living are fundamental to Ara. They are in part the reason it exists. So these values are never an after thought, they influence every decision I make. Fundamentally, I believe in considered design and production, which in turn supports considered consumption; I design for longevity not trend, using only solid precious metal that will stand the test of time, can be handed down or repurposed again and again. I’m also committed to using only recycled silver and gold -chains and findings included- so as not to put strain on the earth’s already limited resources. These values continue throughout the rest of the product’s journey, including Ara’s accompanying bags, made from organic cotton & linen fabric, woven in Lancashire, which I naturally dye by hand.
How do you try to reflect these values of sustainability and slow living in your personal life?
Over the years I’ve seen slow living and sustainability appear to develop into a bit of a trend. It’s been so encouraging to see a genuine shift in awareness for a more considered approach but it also comes with a pressure to consume, to achieve a certain lifestyle. I think it’s important to remember it shouldn’t be about consuming more. Instead, there is value to be found in what we already have and when the need for a new purchase arises, to utilise the power we hold as consumers to explore options and make the least impactful choice, within our means. This is the approach I try to take. Of course, my position of privilege allows me to make these choices. Ultimately systemic change is needed to tackle the climate crisis and climate injustice. This is where we can take responsibility and be vocal, be it with each other, our MP, or to uplift the voices of others.
Talk us through your normal day to day. Do you have a regular routine, or is there a lot of variety depending on what you’re working on?
Ara gives me so much variety for which I’m grateful. But I do rely on a few things to give me a bit of structure. Most days I will work on the bench. To minimise waste, I make everything to order, rather than making in bulk. I try to balance out my time on the bench with other tasks as I find I work better in blocks but I’m also mindful to keep things pretty fluid where I can. At the moment I’m doing as much as I can on the bench in the mornings as it gets dark so early on. When it’s time to pack orders, I light some incense which has become a bit of a ritual. It helps me slow down and take my time. Other tasks might include taking or editing images, designing graphics, writing something for Letters of Ara, or managing requests through my emails.
I’m pretty good at taking little breaks and bobbing my head outside when I remember. Even if I don’t make it out for a walk, I try and get into the garden with a jumper on. I finish the day by updating my orders spreadsheet which I keep in order of due by date. This gives me an idea of what I’ll have to focus on during the next few days and also to keep an eye on what materials I will need over the next few weeks. I try to finish up the day with a little yoga practice to draw a line between work and my evening.
How has your business been affected by the pandemic? Have you had to adjust your strategy and have there been any unexpected challenges or positives to draw from your experience?
During the first lockdown, Ara was impacted quite significantly with the closure of my main supplier and also my casting house. This meant that for a while there was a limit to the stock I was able to offer. As Ara is predominantly an online business, once things had settled down things were able to tick over as normal. With the second lockdown, manufacturing is continuing where it can but it’s still out of my hands to a certain extent. The approach I’m taking is to be as flexible as I can as the need arises, and to offer what I’m able.
One thing that’s been really positive is the friendships and connections with likeminded individuals that have solidified throughout lockdown. And it’s been so lovely to see a shared enthusiasm for slowing down, appreciating the smaller things, an outlook that’s really beneficial for our wellbeing.
Can you tell us anything about your plans for the future of the brand?
I’m always looking for ways to further improve Ara’s approach and look at ways in which I can develop in the least impactful way. I recently invested in an electric furness which will allow me to melt down gold and silver and cast it myself using a technique called sand casting, all of which I’ll be able to power by the 100% renewable energy I use in the workshop. This will give me greater design scope for what I am able to make in-house. I’m really excited about where this may take me with Ara. I’m hoping to find time to experiment with this early next year. I’ve still got some collections in mind (that have been up my sleeve for a while) but I’ve become more comfortable with the slower pace at which I’m able to offer new collections to ensure Ara’s approach is always truly considered.
Lauren sells her jewellery through her website:www.arathealtar.com