RALEIGH — Beer and drink cans, vinyl records, and party invitations are all recyclable materials. Instead of tossing them aside in a bin, a mother-daughter duo with a creative flare and graphic design talent developed a way to turn those pieces into wearable works of art.
Zass Designs, the artistic invention of Zulay and Steph Smith, creates handmade, sustainable jewelry from rescued aluminum cans from around the globe.
“We want to make people more aware of recycling — that drives us the most. You can wear beautiful pieces that are helping the environment, making you feel good, and helping you make a difference,” said Zulay.
“Look around the house. You can find beauty in what people normally throw in the garbage.”
Beauty in ordinary objects they did find. Back in 2009, when Zulay’s daughter, Steph, was a student at East Carolina University she used her tickets stubs from football games and turned those into earrings. Her friends loved them, and the jewelry line evolved.
“The earrings made from the paper of football tickets were a big hit at tailgates. Everything started with paper, and we’ve evolved to using different materials to create beautiful jewelry that has a sustainable aspect,” said Steph.
The paper line of earrings now includes custom orders made from wedding and baby shower invitations. Zass Designs has evolved to also carry earrings made from old vinyl records and cuffs from aluminum cans.
Inside the studio you’ll find a wall of cans where cuffs are made depending on color patterns and seasons (pinks, yellows, and oranges for spring) or from graphic images and words printed on the can.
“I have a sketchbook that I carry with me everywhere and have one on my nightstand. When ideas pop, I’m ready to jiggle, pencil, and draw until it’s done,” said Zulay.
“Designs start from Mom’s sketchbook, and she often texts me in the middle of the night with ideas,” laughs Steph. “She’s a designing machine.”
Both boast degrees and previous jobs in the graphic design field. They use those skills and talents to design their pieces.
A lot of our pieces are organic and geometric in style,” said Steph.
“In the studio, we want to design, create and go for it,” said Zulay. “I’m always studying the latest trends – tassels, bright colors, circles, and geometric shapes – to design our lines.”
“When designing a piece, we ask ourselves, ‘What material would work for this? How should it hang? What colors pair well together? Should the earrings be studs or dangle?’” said Steph.
Friends and customers leave packages of cans on their studio doorstep. Old records are given from the record shop. People have come to send them items they would otherwise recycle.
“Working in the industry creating something that also helps our environment makes it so much more precious,” said Steph. “We are happy and excited to represent something sustainable and through our jewelry we are encouraging people to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle that keeps the environment in mind.”