Submitted by Marjorie Cunningham, owner of Marjorie’s Cracked Plate Jewelry and manager of the Reclaimed to Fame Market at 1000 Markets.
Tanya Boden, who together with her husband, Attit, owns Aardvark Silver in Bangkok, Thailand.
Tell us a bit about Aardvark Silver and what it’s all about.
Aardvark Silver is my way of giving back and sharing the lovely things I have access to. After all, how many people can get on a plane and come to Bangkok and even when they get here, are able to find the items I have access to at the great prices I have them for? It’s about making new friends as well as customers and about providing the best I possibly can in both product and service. It’s about giving a quality product at a competitive price so that the savings can be passed on to others. Aardvark Silver is about allowing me to give a business point of view to the qualities I hold near and dear to me. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, share and care, honesty and loyalty.
Where did you come up with the name for your business?
I love the much misunderstood little Aardvark. It’s a great insect eater and works behind the scenes a lot. A bit like I have for most of my life.
You and your Thai husband Attit run Aardvark Silver together. What advice do you have for married couples working together?
Keep your own individual interests alive so you have something external to chat about. I still go to work a few hours a week (I teach Science in English) and we talk about my job or students or whatever and it gives us non-business stuff we can share. Make sure your pillow talk is not all about orders and customers, forward planning and inventory. Make a date once a week and go and enjoy yourself separate from the business stuff. Communicate as clearly possible so there are no misunderstandings. This is essential in our house due to language barriers as well.
Do what you do best and let them do what they do best. If you are not so sure then test your skills out on the side so you don’t step on toes and take over. Maybe after that if you find a better way it can make for change but be gentle in how you approach it all. You have to live with the other person still. Sharing tasks and decisions is what a partnership is all about. Credit where credit is due. Make sure you say Thank you when a job is well done or completed on time. “Thank you” is so important.
I read on your Facebook page that you now read, write and speak Thai but that your husband does not speak English. Did this ever create any difficulties in the two of you working together?
YES LOL I use a dictionary still quite often because my vocabulary is still quite small. I am going to school for up to 10 hours a week and my language skills have improved but still have a long way to go. We have to speak with pictures sometimes and so I use drawings, maps and even printed pictures to get across what I need so there are no misunderstandings.
There are times when I get upset at things, like when the computer wipes out my documents or whatever, and I sound off in English. Attit gets quite confused as he has no idea what I am going on about but he sees me angry. Thais don’t express emotions the same way as Westerners do so they tend not to understand strong emotional outbursts. His English usage is limited to Thank you and Sorry, LOL so I have learned to take more care with my words and to think things through before running off at the mouth. Training and teaching new skills has also been a challenge because I just don’t have the words to explain sometimes. Sometimes it’s not even the language that is the problem. There are a lot of cultural things that are also very important and these are a challenge at times to say the least. As Attit doesn’t read English and he still has problems with my handwriting, I have had to write labels in both languages. So for example if you get a funny squiggle on your label it may say “pair” in Thai because Attit needs that so he can get the order right. It’s a fun skill but means I write things twice a lot of the time.
Tell us about the quality of the silver that you have available.
Our silver is 92.5 Sterling with a hallmark most times. Those pieces without a stamp are because to stamp the piece would ruin the surface or because the item is unsuited to a stamp and so it’s better without one. We also have Fine silver, which is made by the Karen people. Our Fine silver is 95-99% pure silver and is sometimes quite soft. It is lovely to work with though. The Karen are a Hill Tribe and have been working with Silver for 100’s of years. All their items are handmade and so each has its own little differences which add to the character of the piece. I do specify which item is which silver. Fine silver tarnishes less easily as it has no copper content to oxidize and for this reason some people prefer to wear it.
You have a wonderful new website at http://www.aardvarksilver.com. Do you sell your products at any other places?
http://www.aardvarksilver.etsy.com is our Etsy store http://www.9dollarearrings.etsy.com is our Etsy jewelry store. http://www.artfire.com/users/Aardvark is our gems store on Artfire. We have special offers on a regular basis. You can email me or subscribe to our newsletter through the web site to be kept updated about what we have new or what we are offering as special items or discounts. We also have been selling here in Bangkok.
Which of you creates the lovely jewelry that is sold on your website?
We both make items together and separately. I make a lot of painstakingly wrapped stones and fiddly bits that are time consuming. I have also begun to use the torch and make some bases for my wire wrapped items.
Attit does a lot of knotting, tying and threading. He also uses the torch but mainly for making supplies. Currently he is working with crystals and memory wire as well as rhodium plated cubic zironia set spacers and a very cute Sterling silver spacer that he has claimed as his signature feature.
Sometimes we work together and then go out of our way to compete to get ooohs and aaahs from the other one. We sat one day and made earrings, 50 pairs in 3 hours and none were the same style. It was a little competition between us to see what we could do. The charity we sent them to was so delighted and has sold them to raise funds towards a new clubhouse. It’s another way we Pay it Forward.
When did you first realize you have a talent for creating jewelry?
I love the stones I sell and I had some base metal findings that were lying around so I decided it couldn’t be that hard to make my own pieces. Well, I sat and taught myself and put together some very passable first pieces that my Thai friends wanted and so I went from there. The positive feedback about the pieces I make and wear is what keeps me making things. I have always been creative from when I was a child and now have the time and the materials to be able to express that better. I am a seamstress by trade amoungst other skills and so have had design training and can pick trends for future colour ranges etc.
Attit learned to play with tools and metal when I put a couple of pairs of pliers in his hands one day, gave him 5000 jump rings and he proceeded to make some base metal chain maille. That was an eye opener for him and he saw he could easily do what I was doing. He has not looked back and has learnt from watching me or from playing and messing up stuff. Like all good artisans learn.
What advice do you have for aspiring jewelry artists?
Just go for it. Don’t get too hung up on the technical stuff and just because someone else does something one way doesn’t mean you have to as well. I have taught myself most of my skills and yes they are different and my end item is not the same but that it what makes the pieces unique. You want to find your own style along with the technical know how but if you get stuck in the details of techniques your flow will be stopped and when that happens and its not fun, its much harder to create.
What is the most satisfying thing about your business?
When someone says “Thank You, I love it”. When I get to see what someone else has created with items I hand chose to sell. The honour of meeting so many many wonderful people. Turning a bad experience into a great friendship. I have some great friends now that came into my life because a parcel got lost or something else went amiss and we were able to sort it so that we were all happy.
What qualities do you think you need in order to manage a home-run business successfully?
Focus and dedication. In our house there are no days off. We don’t have time even for the holidays like Xmas because there are customers that need to be taken care of. Here we don’t celebrate traditional days like in the West so the post office is open Xmas day and other odd times when it would be closed in the West. Organization and communication are paramount and need to be taken care of carefully and often. Set your foundations up first so you don’t have to struggle later to put them in place. Systems of accounting and stock control etc need to be set up from the beginning even if you are only doing it as a hobby. You never know when it might take on a life of its own and grow so big you do it as your day job and if you have all the basics in place it is so much easier to change from part time to full time. Use the support systems that are available. It is amazing how much free stuff you can get these days and some of it is invaluable. Things like software for web pages etc can make your job so easy and they can be free also.
What are your future plans for your business?
To grow our small business into a larger one and to supply both retail and wholesale customers with the best possible products at the best possible prices so we are all happy. To meet lots of new people and to share what we do. I want to go to Tuscon next year for the Fair as well. It is a worthy goal. We want to employ an English teacher in our boys village. This is an expensive goal and will cost about $12,000 a year so we are saving to make this a reality. Hopefully next year we can do this and it will help to keep the kids in their home area longer instead of them coming to Bangkok at 15 or so and not completing their education. Learning is so important.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Aardvark Silver?
I want to say Thank you. It is an honour to be trusted with your orders and your requests. It is an honour to be a part of your hobbies and your businesses. It is an honour to be considered your friend. Thank you.