For the longest of time, jewellery has fulfilled roles that go beyond the decorative. Once used as functional artefacts that hold various garments together, the peculiar and ever-changing accessory has evolved to accommodate even more utility and symbolisms — think talismanic charms that ward against evil entities or status symbols throughout the medieval era and today — into its rank.
In an era of equal rights, social justice and self-empowerment, some jewellery of today have even ditched any nuances of frivolity to become all-encompassing tools for self-expression. And women, most admirably, have been known to express themselves — be it a quiet dissent or an overt act of rebellion — with what they wear too. Case-in-point: the bold, sensual, and accessibly priced Bone cuff designed by Elsa Peretti (who once famously said, “I design for the working girl”) for Tiffany & Co. amidst the feminist movement in the ‘70s.
Singapore, too, also possesses a burgeoning group of female jewellery designers who are empowering women with their gorgeous creations. But unbeknownst to all, one Singaporean label is tacitly taking the conversation of women empowerment and self-expression to the next level.
By Invite Only
“To me, jewellery is a form of identity and personal expression,” says Trixie Khong, founder of 11-year-old, Singapore-based jewellery label, By Invite Only. “Jewellery pieces make good talking points and are helpful in bringing certain topics into conversations, especially if it revolves around something that is important to the wearer.”
Svelte, slender and demure, Trixie cuts a graceful and composed figure sporting sleeked back hair in a distressed black sweater and a pair of matching pants at her design studio in Bukit Merah. Despite such seemingly immaculate do, she is far removed from any air of pretence and is forthright about her decade-long journey as a female jewellery designer. In fact, Trixie tells me she prefers to be called “an entrepreneur”.
“Then, I only wanted to sell the things I made. I hadn’t known what I sold would be cherished and crafting would become a skill,” she says, recounting the 16-year-old version of herself experimenting with jewellery crafting while studying Chemical Engineering at Temasek Polytechnic.
Much like Elsa Peretti, Trixie is clear about the label’s philosophy of creating affordable, stylish and yet uncompromising jewellery for the masses. In this spirit, By Invite Only’s collections of jewellery are handcrafted, hypoallergenic and echo the ethos of simplicity. Designs for the label are rooted in minimalism, a perennial favourite, and sometimes they are peppered with petite semi-precious stones or astrological motifs. But more importantly, they become quintessential staples that befit “every occasion, every place, every girl and every invite”.
Explaining to me that the label isn’t too fond of jumping on the bandwagon with niche designs, Trixie says, “I like to take a twist to pre-existing trends. If a certain trend is already out there, I don’t want to blindly follow it. I want to make it better.” And we see these clever changes all across the funky Peyton earrings, which showcases a small segment of chunky chains that tightly hug the lobe, as well as an ingenious (but also effortless) layering of two necklaces across the Honeybee collection.
At present, Trixie and her team, comprising all-female staff, are focused on creating more variants of hypoallergenic jewellery. Regardless of their make and brands, some jewellery, Trixie tells me, can cause allergies to breakout amongst women with sensitive skin. The decision for the label to invest in ridding of the three notorious toxins — nickel, lead and cadmium — in their jewellery was more than a pragmatic choice to make. “I have sensitive skin and I cannot wear any jewellery from the market,” Trixie confesses. “Which is why whenever I get my hands on a sample from the factory, I, together with my girls, will personally litmus test it to see if anything might happen.”
Put differently, Trixie and her team are pushing for a greater sense inclusivity for women who choose to wear the jewellery from the label. And perhaps it is this sense of sincerity, along with Trixie’s penchant for the dainty, that helped the label withstand the ebbs and flows of time, evolving the homegrown label to become a cult favourite since its founding 11 years ago in 2009. Or perhaps, its success could be as simple as creating jewellery, like how Elsa Perrati says it, “for the working girl”. “With accessible pricing, I hope that the collections of jewellery would allow more women to freely change their style without having to worry about infection and breaking their wallets,” Trixie affirms.
To speak of Trixie and her label without mentioning the struggle would do no justice in telling a story on female empowerment. There is, after all, an underlying narrative of gender bias whenever the Singaporean female jewellery designer graces an overseas expo to procure materials or scour for suppliers. “The suppliers weren’t as willing to entertain me as they did to my husband. It was only when he pointed at me and told them, ‘She’s the boss.’ that they talked to me,” she says.
But times are changing. Trixie elaborates, “Today, there are plenty of capable young people who have their own brands and are willing to purchase although in smaller quantities. And people are becoming more open about it.”
Trixie is currently in the midst of dishing out new offerings for the label, but even she herself is uncertain of the designs that will make the final cut for her subsequent collections. Even so, she continues to draw inspiration from her customers and create designs that pander across the dainty, curvaceous and the whimsical. If anything, good design takes time, and the entrepreneur behind By Invite Only has proven time and again to deliver the unexpected throughout the past 11 years.
And all we have to do is wait.
This story is Part Two of three stories on the exceptional female merchants for hoolah. In light of International Women’s Day, we tip hats to the every day women who are narrating their own chapter of female inclusivity and empowerment in their own lives and in the 21st century.
Here’s wishing all ladies a Happy International Women’s Day!