Maker Profile: Anna Lengstrand of Simply Swedish

Staying true to her Swedish roots, this Pemberton-based designer has given new life to a centuries-old practice. Meet Anna Lengstrand of Simply Swedish

Who are you and what do you design?

I'm a Swede that found my ways, very spontaneously, to Whistler in 2010. Today I live on our own horse ranch in Pemberton, being inspired by the power of Mt. Currie and nature every single day.

I design Swedish reindeer and silver jewelry that are traditional Sami (Nordic indigenous) handiwork. My grandfather is Sami from the old reindeer herding Sami family Pokka, and the handcraft has been showed to me since a very young age from older family members. My Simply Swedish jewelry is made by reindeer leather and spun sterling silver-pewter thread woven on a band of reindeer leather, into patterns that bring to mind ancient Celts and Norse Warriors. The buttons are carved from shed reindeer antlers. The reindeer shed their antlers naturally in May every year. The leather was originally stitched together with reindeer ligaments, but I'm using a modern thread alternative. The craft is infused with the no trace, zero waste ethos of the Sami. It’s their statement piece of jewelry. Pewter jewelry has been made by the reindeer herding Sami people of northern Scandinavia since at least the 1600s, and I'm working with both traditional braids and patterns as well as new versions that I design. I also always infuse my jewelry with good wishes and intentions. I believe in energies and vibrations...

I would say that indigenous Sami handcraft meets timeless contemporary design in my jewelry, and I'm very honoured to be able to work with this ancient handcraft that means so much to me.

Tell us about your journey as an artist.

About a year and a half ago, I felt this huge call from within to make Sami bracelets my career. I had been wearing my aunt's bracelets forever and as she is getting older I just knew that it was up to me to keep this tradition, that I love so much, alive in our family. Something just told me that I had to do this. So I took the leap and quit my job. I went back home to my roots in Sweden for a few weeks. Spent some time with my family, asked my aunt for advice, met up with another Sami jewelry designer for inspiration and help, and when I came back home to BC again I was ready to start my own jewelry business. It has helped me a lot that I've been working with photography since 2008, as well as worked with both fashion and modelling. So I had some ideas of how I wanted things done, and I've been able to work on my own branding myself from day one. Doing everything myself from designing and making the jewelry, to taking photos, editing, building websites, accreting, and even do much of the modelling. I really enjoy the whole process.

I feel a great pride to have the opportunity to spread my passion for this ancient handcraft to the rest of the world as well as spreading the knowledge about, and speak up for, the Sami people. I also strongly believe in timeless, conscious, and sustainable fashion, which is something that Sami jewelry represent. I loved Sami bracelets my whole life! It feels absolutely amazing to be able to work with something that I truly believe in. I’m representing my whole family, the traditions and culture. I’m tying my heritage from back home to what I do here in Canada, the life that I live here. And I hope that my handcraft will inspire you to get back to your roots, stand up for who you are, and live a simpler life

If you could choose one word to describe your collection what would it be?

Traditions, and pride.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I draw my strength from the land, nature. And it really inspires me that I'm working with something that has been in my family for hundreds of years. That I have the opportunity to show the world our beautiful art and keep the tradition alive.

Have you taken any risks to land where you are now?

So many! Firstly, just moving over seas from Europe and trying to stay in Canada permanently was a tough one. A real fight! Secondly, it was extremely scary to quit my job and take the leap to work with my jewelry full time. But I needed to commit hundred percent, have my full focus on this project. I can't do anything half-heartedly, so I took the risk! I know my own strengths, and if I want to do something I'll make it happen. Face your fears. Just do it. Follow your inner light.

Is there a designer or brand with whom you’d love to collaborate?

I always love working with Miriam De Langley. Miriam is such a talented silversmith. I adore her work and her jewelry goes very nicely together paired with my Simply Swedish pieces. We are doing photo shoot collaborations where we pair up our jewelry, and I absolutely love how amazing the pieces look together!

Looking ahead, what do you hope to accomplish?

I want to spread the knowledge about the Sami people to the rest of the world. Fight for the land. Support indigenous  all over the world. Collaborate with the indigenous people here in North America (spoiler alert - I'm already working on my first collaboration bracelet!). I'm hoping to keep weaving and sewing jewelry for many more years, and spot our ancient Sami handcraft on as many North American wrists as possible.

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