This Canadian Designer on Creating Issa Rae-Approved Jewellery
Omi Woods' contemporary heirlooms are rooted in heritage and culture.
Can any industry be truly sustainable? Ashley Alexis McFarlane, owner of Canadian jewellery brand Omi Woods, thinks not. Unlike a certain bejewelled House of Gucci character, McFarlane does, however, believe in being ethical.
“Living 100 per cent off the land is the only way to be sustainable, and even then humans will have some impact,” she says. “I do believe in being ethical. Both words are thrown around a lot.”
Omi Woods’ treasures are created with fair trade African gold sourced from small-scale artisanal mines that use traditional low-impact methods. Its silver is sourced from casting houses that use a blend of recycled and pure silver.
“Sustainability is also about relationships. Our staff are paid fairly, our contractors are paid fairly, and our ecosystem supports, nurtures and builds with each other as a result,” McFarlane says.
The designer’s contemporary heirlooms are also meant to last, and in a world of cheaply produced, Instagrammable costume jewellery, this multi-generational mindset has earned Omi Woods due recognition — including several appearances on HBO’s Insecure (season four AND five).
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Per its website, the Toronto-headquartered brand’s name reflects McFarlane’s Jamaican-Ashanti-Indigneous-Maroon heritage (Omi meaning “water” in the Yoruba language; the word Jamaica deriving from the indigenous Taino word Xaymaca, meaning “land of wood and water”). Her modern day keepsakes include pieces like the ‘Cowry Infinity’ necklace, a nod to the shell once used as a form of currency in West Africa, and ‘Classic Fula’ earrings, referencing the Fulani earrings that were once marker of wealth among the Fula people of Mali.
“I hope people feel proud of their heritage and culture,” McFarlane says of her customers. “I hope they feel seen. I hope they feel connected to Africa and her diaspora in a way that transcends race, ethnicity and culture but is equally rooted in it. I hope they feel beautiful and good about purchasing something that has impacted many lives for the better because it was made fairly.”
FASHION spoke to McFarlane about Omi Woods, how she would describe Toronto’s style, her current favourite fashion trends and more.
How would you describe Omi Woods in three words?
Ethical, cultural, jewellery.
What’s something about your brand that would surprise people?
That our jewellery is all made in Toronto.
What’s your most-worn piece of jewellery?
My gold nugget stud earrings. They’re small and versatile. I don’t really take them off.
How would you describe Toronto’s style?
I think Toronto’s style is diverse like the city. I would say lots of greys, blacks and neutrals, but the new generation is embracing a more vintage style so things are changing up. I feel like Toronto’s style is always a reflection of the world’s style — both past and present — because we’re really from everywhere in the world.
What’s your top tip for layering jewellery?
Start with small pieces at the top and get bigger as you go down.
Favourite and least favourite style trend?
Favourite: Comfy dressing.
Least: Holes in clothes. I love a good cut out, but not when I can’t wear underwear or have to worry about my movements.
What are you watching or reading right now?
The news, The Cartiers, African movies on Netflix.
Five items bringing you joy at the moment?