Florie Salnot, Jewelry Designer

For the product designer Florie Salnot, crafts can be a way to advance social change. In “Plastic Gold” Salnot collaborated with Saharawi refugees to create high-end jewellery from plastic bottles. The project’s success, which won her a nomination for the prestigious Jameel Prize, highlights the life-changing capacity of design.
In 2009, Salnot, then a student at the Royal College of Art, London, met with Danielle Smith who runs Sandblast, a charity to support the Saharawi population through the arts. Salnot proposed a project which could use the manual skills of local women to empower them economically. The result was a series of hand-crafted jewellery inspired by the Saharawi culture.
The Saharawi craftsmen were, traditionally, nomads who produced useful and decorative colourful leather goods. However, as the political and economic situation in the area has deteriorated, these crafts were in danger of being lost. Their recovery by women represents not only a successful revival of local economy but also a way to preserve ancient skills.
“In this project,” Salnot tells Maison d’Exceptions, “tradition was one important aspect because it is very much linked with the Saharawis’ situation as refugees. Their cultural identity is one of the only things they’ve got left. However, in the extreme conditions in which they are living now, maintaining their culture is quite challenging. As far as craft is concerned, it is almost not practiced anymore since there are virtually no resources in the refugee camps. We visited one of the museums that they built in their camps to show the Saharawi culture and history, and drew together with the Saharawi women some traditional Saharawi patterns and symbols from diverse traditional craft objects.”
For Salnot, technique was a key feature of this project: “I spent a lot of time to develop the tools so that they would enable a lot of variations in the design they can produce.” She used discarded plastic bottles which are painted and cut into thin strips. Then, with the Saharawi women she created the woven pattern and submerged it into hot sand. The plastic reacts to the heat and keeps the desired shape. Despite the simple procedure, the outcome seems complex and refined. The jewellery items include bracelets, necklaces and belts, designed in minimalistic elegance with an eye for the international market. Thus, the sustainable jewellery will help improve the economic situation of the Saharawi refugees and also uphold their unique crafts traditions.
Photo Credits: Florie Salnot