Aini Ali’s jewellery studio in the quiet and leafy suburb of Taman Tun Dr Ismail truly reflects her creative spirit and the nature of the silver jewellery she makes — clean, elegant and with just the right amount of boho-chic. The 36-year-old self-trained silversmith creates beautiful bespoke silver jewellery anchored in a range of colourful semi-precious stones under the label Aini Ali Designs.
“I used to like beading, which I did a lot of with a former colleague,” says Aini, an alumna of The Edge and former advertising sales executive. “We used to participate in the weekly bazaar in Mont’Kiara and we actually did pretty well. It’s something I really enjoy doing.”
When her partner migrated to Australia, Aini was left to decide on the future of their fledgling creative enterprise. She figured getting proper training was the best way to go, and took classes from a silversmithing company and subsequently from Mexican silversmith and jeweller Martin Naf while he was based in Kuala Lumpur.
Aini gradually developed her own design language, resulting in creations that were quite unlike those available on the market. She began Aini Ali Designs about four years ago with a small collection of ready-to-wear pieces, which were snapped up. New orders soon poured in but the demands of a select coterie of customers making individual requests became increasingly evident. This was how the bespoke side of her business began, and which now takes up most of her time.
Consisting of earrings, the rare bangle and a wide selection of rings, Aini’s pieces begin at RM230, depending, of course, on the stone that is being used. The uniqueness of naturally occurring gemstones lends itself to rings, unless, of course, clients are all right with a slightly asymmetrical pair of earrings. Aini has a special love for blue, so there is a lot of lapis lazuli, tourmalines and turquoise in her velvet jewellery trays as well warm-red carnelians and pink tourmalines. Yellow is her least favourite, Aini admits with a grin, which explains the smaller number of citrines. Customers can either choose from her selection of stones — which she sources from Nepal, Thailand and India — or bring their own for her to set.
It has to be said that Aini has a good eye for stones — her selection includes some breathtaking lapis lazuli with gold-flecked inflections that provide the stones with so much character. And despite her misgivings about them, the citrines in her collection are also quite beautiful. “I prefer to work with cabochons; pre-cut stones reflect the light and are very beautiful but they are harder to work with,” Aini says, running her hands over the small black boxes on the table before us.
“This may sound a little hard to believe but I actually let the stone I am working with lead the way in the design of the piece,” she adds. “That’s why sometimes the pieces are more modern while some feature a more ethnic or traditional motif. A lot of my pieces are custom-designed as well, so the client’s input is also a guide.”
Although the business is flourishing today and Aini has even been able to hire an assistant, it was not plain sailing for Aini Ali Designs. “Financing the business was one of my earliest challenges,” she recalls. “I am no trust fund baby, so getting the business financially off the ground in the early days was definitely tough. Another challenge, although it is much less of an issue now, is the perception of handmade items. Six years ago, not many people understood the value of handmade items or why my jewellery cost as much as it did. The awareness is much better now because of so many other artisanal brands that champion one-off, personally made things.”
Aini relies heavily on Instagram — even more so than Facebook — as a marketing tool, and, of course, the all-powerful word of mouth. Repeat customers often bring in new ones and her business has grown organically over the years in this way. “Instagram has been really great for me, and for other businesses like mine — it’s how I grow the business and get new clients. The visibility on that platform is really quite extraordinary,” she comments.
Social media has also brought a lot of young buyers to her door — those who cannot quite afford the more expensive pieces but are interested in handmade jewellery. For them, Aini has created a selection of simple silver rings that sell at an unprincely RM50 onwards. “These rings are very Pinterest-worthy, and cater for a younger audience who are still working out what their taste in jewellery is like or who don’t want to invest too much in silver accessories yet,” she observes. “Hopefully, they will become more regular buyers later on, and grow their collection with me.”
As the bespoke side of her business continues to flourish, Aini hopes to expand her oeuvre as a designer by incorporating more Malaysian elements into her work. Imagery from traditional batik fabric, for example, or even motifs drawn from art and culture. “I love Jonathan Yun, the way he has translated cultural elements into his jewellery is just amazing,” she gushes, referring to a veteran Penang-based jeweller. “But while he is inspiring, it is important for me to evolve my own design language and I do think I’d prefer something more modern. And since my ethos has always been to design jewellery that I would love to wear, I’d really like to explore that direction and how I can translate it into something fun and wearable.”
This article first appeared on Feb 26, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.