For the first of a series of articles on the creative talents behind original Maldivian products, the Maldives Independent interviewed Hajara Yoosuf, the creator of Elhabe jewellery.
Elhabe is named after my father Elhabe Yusuf Fulhu. I have memories of him making souvenirs in the 80s, in his workshop at home. He passed away when I was 11-years-old. In a way I am carrying his legacy forward, so its only fitting that I brand my jewellery line after his name.
He used to make boxes, earrings and spoons from turtle shells and black coral. Of course we wouldn’t use these materials now. Sometimes I wonder if he was here, what he would say after taking a paper bead in his hand.
An airport rack set me off on this path. I am a graphic designer by trade, on a trip abroad, I saw this rack at the Malé airport. It was supposed to be for Maldivian souvenirs, but there weren’t enough artisanal Maldivian items, so they had filled it with souvenirs from abroad. Even the ones made out of shells were foreign. It saddened me to see that. So many creative Maldivians and yet we didn’t have enough Maldivian products. I decided I was going to create enough souvenirs to at least fill that rack. I started off with making fridge magnets, and using shells that I had collected. Then I thought of branching out to jewellery, but I had no expertise in that area. My husband suggested studying it, so I went to Malaysia and did a short course in jewellery making.
It took a year to come up with the kind of jewellery I make now. I started off with shells and approached the people who managed the airport corner that sells Maldivian products. They told me they sold everything under their own brand name, so I decided against stocking with them. Small artisans like me do this out of passion, at some point you want recognition for the work you do also. Then I heard about the opening of Island Bazaar, but they said they would rather sell things that were not made of shells, so I started experimenting with paper beads. First it was pages of magazines, then to give it a more Maldivian touch I designed it with Maldivian lacquer and coral carving designs. I experimented for a year before coming with a finished product I liked.
When it rains, you can still wear Elhabe jewellery, as long as its a few drops of rain. I have dunked the paper beads in water for 12 hours during my experimentation phase and it held its form as its sealed with a water resistant product. Elhabe jewellery comes with a little warning about it, a few splashes of water wouldn’t destroy it. And my clientele would also take care as its paper beads.
My clients are mostly Maldivian. The younger generation buys my jewellery. I stock at Island Bazaar and get a lot of Maldivians who search me out independently and place orders, to send Elhabe jewellery to friends abroad.
Stocking at the airport is still a dream, so that people who travel in and out of Maldives can easily buy my products. At the moment the only way to sell artisanal Maldivian products at the airport is via other parties, which is not financially feasible. We don’t earn enough to pay a middle man to sell our products. I would also like to sell Elhabe jewellery in resorts. But most of all it would be good to see Maldivian-made products sold at the international airport.