The Commoners - Miry Mayer

Over the past year The Common E2 has connected with an incredible number of talented and skilled artists and entrepreneurs. We have started to interview these talented individuals for a piece we call The Commoners, these people are the creatives, the smiths, the makers of Bethnal Green, East London.


This weekend we spoke with Miry Mayer the creator of Miry’s Menagerie. Over the past few years Miry has developed a thriving jewellery business while challenging traditional styles of the craft. The majority of Miry’s jewellery is focused on animals both common and unusual. In our interview with Miry she tells us why following her own creative path can be both daunting and invigorating.

Lets start off with the simple bits, what do you do?

Sterling silver animal themed jewellery, all handmade in Hackney Wick, East London. I sell them in Covent Garden’s craft market – The Apple Market, a market which is focused on British made designs.

What motivates you to create these pieces?

I enjoy the making process, and the fact that I get instant feedback from the public on my work. The best type of market research is to just put the new designs out on display and listen to the comments. I appreciate the fact that it is rare to be able to make a living out of your handwork – and I am very grateful to be able to do that. I am not reliant on suppliers, and I can change my designs to reflect the changes in fashion. But at the same time, I am not as affected by changing trends, and thus not compromising my design process.

What excites you about your work and the product you create?

I enjoy watching my jewellery make people happy – animals remind people of their pets, or of their travels. So I get to hear a lot of personal stories when people choose a piece of jewellery, and I love the thought that by wearing that piece they will constantly reminded of those lovely moments. In addition, I have the freedom to be creative in other fields – as I am the sort of person who enjoys many aspects of art and design.

What led you to your work as a jeweller?

I was working as a stall minder in Covent Garden and quickly realised that I liked the freedom of that lifestyle, and didn’t mind the hard work. It seemed like a good way to make a living while staying in relative control of your own time. So I applied to get my own stall, got refused the first time – there were too many jewellers and I my designs weren’t unusual enough. The second time – I applied with the animal jewelery and got in. It’s been 7 years now…

What were you working at before you took up your own business?

I was working in retail, as a concession supervisor in Debenhams. I traveled around the country, visiting branches of Debenhams, but when my job changed to include mainly head office based responsibilities – I quit. I had no backup plan, but a friend who worked in Covent Garden introduced me to a trader who needed a helper. It started off as a temporary job…

What drew you to jewelry, and more specifically, animal based jewlery?

I always made jewellery for myself, mainly as I couldn’t find what I wanted in the shops. At first it was just colourful beads, then I’ve moved on to gem stones. I joined a silversmiths course, but ended up leaving as the teacher was very discouraging to ideas that were a little different. I already had a workshop for my artwork, so I started experimenting with metals, badgering jeweller friends for tips and demonstrations, watching YouTube videos, gaining experience through trial and error. I love animals, bears in particularly, and I made myself a necklace with a polar bear. A couple of people stopped me on the street to ask me where I got it from, and inspired me to make a tiger necklace. When I saw the responses – I realised that I have a great subject on my hands.

Tell us about a specific project that you’re most excited about.

Not so much a project, more the evolution of my designs. When I started out – I would hand cut each and every piece from a sheet of silver and then engrave them. This meant that each piece was truly unique.

Were there any key turning points for this “evolution”?     

It was very time consuming and I also noticed signs of a repetetive strain injury. This led me to teach myself wax carving, which allowed me to produce larger quantities of stock to keep up with the demand. I am now at a point where I have enough time to explore other avenues of creaivity – through writing, acting or even cooking, with my stall being an anchor for all other activities.

What were some surprises along the way?  

I was pleasantly surprised that people seem to prefer the more unusal animal designs, such as Sloths, Giraffes and Wolves, over the “safer” butterflies and dragonflies.

What are the lessons for someone who might be taking on a similar role to yours?

Trial and error are the best way to learn. They can only teach you so much in college, but you have to be prepared to be adaptable when it comes to the real deal. You cannot foresee the responses to your designs, and you have to take things in stride – if you believe in something, don’t let yourself be deflated by negativity.

What keeps you returning to The Common E2?

I love the combination of a working space and a coffee shop. The coffee and food are great, and the atmosphere is very casual, yet it’s not a “come to lounge” sort of place. There’s a buzz of ideas in The Common, the artwork on the walls is constantly changing, and the staff are getting on with their projects in between serving the customers. Great place for a multi-tasker like myself.

How do you feel about collaborating in the jewellery space? Is it possible?

I’d love to collaborate with other designers, in the jewellery or even outside it. Ideas grow from different perspectives, and I lack that creative environment working on my own in the workshop or trading in Covent Garden which can be a bit limiting.  

What’s next for you in your work?  

I am currently working on a dinosaur range. I would also like to expand online, to reach a wider audience.

Who would you most like to see wearing your jewelry?

Eva Green – she always looks so elegant, yet she doesn’t shy away from a touch of quirkiness. And I’d love to make something for Chris Packham, I love his work and the fact that he is passionate about nature and wildlife and not afraid of expressing his opinions. And Kate Bush…

Sean Errey