Boss Babes: WAIF
We meet the South African jewellery-maker GISÈLE HUMAN who has an eye for beauty and a vision of romance.
"Creating gives me a spike of serotonin, I’m certain of it!"
Q. How did Waif come to be?
I think most people start businesses based on a connection they have with that product or service. Mine was the fact that my mom is a jeweler so from a very young age, I was exposed to the mechanics of jeweler making. I made a lot of jewellery throughout my childhood and started my first business when I was ten, selling simple silver rings to school friends. I didn’t study it though, and worked in advertising for four years before realizing that I wanted to start a business and eventually go full-time with jewelry. And so started the very long and sometimes harrowing journey towards self-employment.
Q. There's a very nostalgic quality about your work. I remember my mom had a jewellery box with all kinds of earrings and even though I didn't and still don't have pierced ears, I'd spend hours looking at them. Was it the same experience for you?
Besides my mom’s jewellery, which was an enormous influence (although she made totally different work to me), I have a hair clip which my mom bought for me when I was going through a really tough time, and to this day I still love to stare at it, even though it broke about ten years ago. It’s got the shape of an uneven rectangle, with one side higher than the other and rounded corners with a super smooth texture. It’s made out of resin with an art deco pattern in copper and black below the clear resin. This makes the pattern bulge and recede from different angles. This hair clip was so beautiful to me that I felt compelled and inspired to make things that take people on a little journey and make them dream a little.
Q. Which designers, artists and makers inspire you and why?
I am increasingly finding myself drawn to the art of 60s and 70s artists from South Africa, namely Cecil Skotnes, Gerard Sekoto, Walter Batiss, and the American colour field artists Mark Rothko, abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell, sculptor Henry Moore and Umberto Boccioni of the Italian Futurists is also one of my favourites. All of these works are so generous in their use of colour and shape and I love bringing elements of that into my jewellery.
Q. What has been your best boss moment so far and what has been the worst?
On a daily basis, there are times where we’ve had a small break-through such as finding a better or more efficient way of doing things. I really enjoy mentoring my employees and sharing in their joy of figuring something out. Equally, there are lows and set-backs and you’ve just got to learn from them and move on as quickly as possible.
"Equally, there are lows and set-backs and you’ve just got to learn from them and move on as quickly as possible."
Q. What do you wish people knew about what it takes to get a business off the ground?
It’s really isolating. In comparison to being part of a large company with friends to see every day and share the burden of stress, when you’re the face, the maker, the designer, the inspiration and the financier, it can be really hard, and the busier you get, the more isolating it is. It’s therefore really important to build in social activities, exercise and getting outside into your daily life.
Q. Who are the most inspirational female creatives to you and why?
I’ve recently discovered Gabrielle Achadinha, a Cape Town based photographer, whose work is purely art for art’s sake, since she only shoots for pleasure, and not for brands or corporations, which has resulted in her building a strong and defined aesthetic. She sets up incredibly cinematic scenes with people she street casts, and before shooting, she knows exactly what she wants, so it’s not a whole day of shooting multiple scenes and multiple looks. The images tell a story, and they’re more often than not founded on femininity. I really love her work because of the strength of each image. She’s really built up a body of work, for someone who doesn’t get paid to do it. Quite amazing.
Another woman I am utterly blown away by is Manthe Rabane. I love the contradiction of her brand. She has the sweetest, purest, most innocent face, which juxtaposes massively with the deep qgom beats of her music and then there’s this positive, uplifting, optimistic message in the lyrics. My favourite song of theirs repeats the line “Remember what you’re here for, what you came for, what you stand for”. It’s so beautiful, so simple, so uplifting and inspiring.
Finally, Kate of Doktor + Misses is a powerhouse of a woman. She (and her husband) have spearheaded South African design for ten years and I am in awe of their standing power and their many successes. They’re the original cool kids of South Africa, despite their being the most humble, kind and generous people.
Q. If you could invite three women (alive) to dinner who would they be and why them?
Iris Apfel (sigh), Manthe Rabane (girl, let’s hang!) and Kate McKinnon (the living funniest woman alive).
Q. They say creativity is a form of therapy, would you agree with this?
Definitely. When I feel sad, I’ll cook, draw, or try to make something new in the studio and I generally feel a lot better after doing that. Creating gives me a spike of serotonin, I’m certain of it!
"We often continue working late into the night because we’re both still starting our businesses and sacrifices have to be made."
Q. What's your typical day like? Do you need to balance the business with home life?
Mondays are admin days, but the Waif studio is open and working from 7am until about 3:30pm. Then my partner and I take our dog for a walk at Emmarentia. We often continue working late into the night because we’re both still starting our businesses and sacrifices have to be made. When we don’t have to work at night, we like to go out for dinner or a drink or check out a movie at the cinema. ‘Going to the movies’ in the traditional sense is one of our favourite things.
Q. Where does the influence for your look-books come from?
My most recent shoot, featuring Niler Mrumba, was inspired by my time in China in 2010. I lived there for a year teaching English and while there, I visited a forest which was vast, dark green in parts, and had views of rolling landscape upon rolling landscape.
I moved to Johannesburg this year, and visited a park that gave me a similar feeling. So I decided to recreate that feeling in my shoot. I sourced clothing that had an eastern symmetry to it, such as Lukhanyo Mdingi's Hanten padded jacket, and Ruff Tongue's kimono-esque golden dress. Incorporating lanscapes, green walls and forests into the shoot, my partner and II created that dreamy feeling that I'll never forget.
"The collection is dramatic and cinematic, so the shoot had to be. "
The Technicolor Melodrama shoot was entirely inspired by David Lynch films, namely Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. The collection is dramatic and cinematic, so the shoot had to be.
The Classic Colllection shoot was inspired directly by the jewellery, styling around the simplicity of the jewels and creating a reflection of the shapes and tones through the use of clothing and backdrops. Those images of that model got her signed, I street cast her.
The film below is a visual film The Technicolor Melodrama.
Q. What is your self-care routine?
I think self-care is about incorporating healthy good things into your everyday lifestyle. So for me, getting regular exercise and enough sleep is important, so is cutting out animal products from my diet, being more present, spending less time on my phone and enjoying time with my family and friends, are the things I try to do more and more to ensure happiness and mental stability.
Q. What do you do for exercise?
I do rock climbing ( I try to go twice a week, once to the gym, once outdoor), and on Sundays I do a Yin Yoga class which is a slow stretching yoga, which helps counter stiffness from long days of sitting or standing and all the negative ways in which life impacts our bodies. It’s very meditative and it sets me right for the week.
Q.Best song to workout to?
I don’t actually listen to music while climbing because it’s the kind of sport you have to be completely alert while doing, but I do love Waiting on the Warmth by MorMor which is on repeat in every other aspect of my day.
Q. Future plans for your brand?
At the moment, I’m preparing for Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair which is in October, otherwise, my only plan is to stay making, stay selling and continue to grow in the small ways. Big things will come later, right now it’s the small stuff that’s keeping me busy!
Check out the WAIF website here.
GISÈLE HUMAN, Owner and creator of WAIF.