Poland-based soutache designer Manuela Wąsik established her brand MANJA in 2012. What sets MANJA apart from ordinary soutache jewellery is the melodic colour palette and the discerning materials combo, combined with her ingenious craftsmanship. Manuela creates soutache outside the box, and her unconventional monochromatic pieces have won her praise and a great reputation. They have now become her signature collection too.
Road to soutache
“When I first started making jewellery, I used the decoupage technique; but when I happened to come across soutache, it was love at first sight, for its boundless possibilities of form, colour and material choices,” she explained.
Originating in France back in the 1800s, soutache is a word derived from the Hungarian term “sujtas”, meaning “braid used as trim”. Today, soutache has become a unique and sophisticated braiding technique in jewellery making. Handicraft jewellery is blooming in Poland in recent years, while the soutache trend emerged on the scene around three years ago.
Anything – fashion, movies, photos, paintings, music – can inspire Manuela to create a variety of collections such as the Polish (dedicated to Polish folklore), the Classical, the Colourful, the Eco (in which she uses jute as soutache string) and the Monochromatic – a monotone colour series employing such materials as leather, waxed ropes and tassels.
The soutache techniques
Lately, she has been focusing on a new collection of geometric shapes, i.e. using triangular and rectangular beadings to constitute the jewellery base, in her favourite colours – black, red and gold (with the addition of grey).
Generally, her pieces retail at US$12 for small earrings, brooches or pendants and US$100 for detailed necklaces, depending on complexity, size and materials used. The overall average is between US$25 and US$50. Rayon-made soutache string is her all-time favourite material for the base of the jewellery, which she always crafts with natural and semi-precious stones and sometimes crystals.
“Back when I first came across soutache embroidery, it was not really a thing. Given the inadequate learning materials, I kept experimenting with different materials and types of know-how. Eventually, I developed my own set of techniques. So, technique may not be my main challenge. Instead, how not to cross the line into tawdriness really does matter,” she said.
Having a strong sense of colour, Manuela is good at playing with different palettes. She mentioned that Asian clients usually love a multitude of hues; clients from Central Europe go for more toned-down models, such as monochromatic; while clients from Southern Europe are fond of large, shiny and bold pieces.
Speaking of her clientele, in her years of soutache making, there was one occasion that had a huge impact on her. An Italian client needed three sets of jewellery for her birthday party at quite short notice. Each set consisted of earrings, necklace, bracelet and a foot bracelet that fastened on one toe and on the ankle, which she had never created before. “It was something completely new to me, and I had just two weeks to complete the order. I worked for very long hours for days to get the order done. Luckily, she was very pleased with the jewellery and also found a new way to wear one of my pieces as a hair accessory. This was a really memorable experience that gave me enormous satisfaction.”
At the moment, Etsy is her main sales channel. “I am planning to create a custom-made service platform for clients to talk freely about their ideas and requirements. Also, I want to share my skills with an apprentice who can help me in execution and in the creation process. I would certainly love to see my pieces shown on the fashion runways one day,” she concluded.