Tribal art pieces with a modern twist

Whether you are wearing the pendants to repel evil ghosts from the runways or just simply because you admire the design, Hill to Street jewellery is definitely a must-have for tribal jewellery lovers…

by AZALEA AZUAR/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

TRIBAL jewellery is more than just aesthetically pleasing. According to certain cultures, the jewellery has specific purposes.

For instance, the nazar talisman takes in a form of a blue-coloured glass with many rings in the centre. Apparently, it is designed in the form of an eye and it is meant to protect the wearer from the “evil eye”.

While the nazar talisman originated from Turkey, it has also been a popular fashion choice worldwide, worm by many as pendants and bracelets.

On the other hand, the Maasai women of Africa wear jewellery to distinguish their marital and social status.

Women from a higher echelon of the society would wear more colourful beads. As a symbol of grace and flexibility, unmarried women would wear large, flatbeaded discs around their necks when they attend any dance event.

An example closer to home would be the spirit locks, which is usually a square-shaped pendant with large hooks worn by the Hmong people to ward off malevolent spirits.

These spirit locks are made out of pure silver. If you feel that it is the accessory you need, head to Hill to Street — a jewellery brand that brings tribal jewellery that would complement the most casual of street wears.

The collections at Hill to Street range between RM50 and RM800 apiece

Hill Tribe to Street Style

The brand was established by Tiffany Teoh in 2018, a business inspired by her passion to incorporate the hill tribe look into street style.

Teoh has always loved silver jewellery, especially big, chunky pieces, as well as tribal accessories.

“I do travel quite often across South-East Asia and I’ve been so intrigued by tribal jewellery. I would buy a lot of them as I like dressing up with tribal jewellery,” Teoh said.

During one of her holidays, the thought of starting out a jewellery business suddenly struck her. With the encouragement of her family, Teoh started Hill to Street.

“I was in the corporate world for 13 years. I’ve always been in sales and marketing for different companies, different brands. That’s why the transition is not as hard because I’m familiar with selling, marketing and branding,” she said.

Naturally, all she had to do was come up with her own brand and the rest is history.

The name Hill to Street is rather self-explanatory — bringing the designs of the hill tribes to street fashion.

“I started as mainly selling tribal jewellery. When I travel across South-East Asia, I’d handpick and curate pieces that I like, especially certain pieces that have such strong characters and meaning,” Teoh said.

She also has plans to add more categories into her brand.

Inspired by Different Tribes

Each tribe offers its own unique design. Teoh is particularly fond of the Karen hill tribe from Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the Akha tribe from Vietnam.

“They’re particularly good and known for their workmanship in weaving, so, you see a lot of weaving products from the Karen hill tribe. And then, there is the Akha tribe as well from Vietnam. They also have the distinguished, distinct style such as twisted wires,” she said.

The Karen people are known for weaving red tube skirts with stripe motifs.

However, the most distinguishing feature of the Karen hill tribe is their neck rings, which is made out of brass coils.

These rings extend the length of their necks, and by the Karen tribe’s beauty standards, the longer their necks, the more beautiful they are.

Meanwhile, the Akha tribe wears black shirts with colourful embroidery.

They are known for their unique headdress which is made of silver bauble and coins.

“Then, there is the Hmong tribe from Laos. I particularly like their necklaces, which are among their amulets. I like the design and characteristics of these amulets,” said Teoh.

Apart from the tribes she mentioned, Teoh also hopes to collaborate with local artisans who can bring different styles to her line.

“There are many good local artisans whom I feel are underrated. Malaysians are always looking out to different foreign brands, such as American names or even from Thailand. But there are many good local jewellery artisans here (in Kuala Lumpur) as well,” she added.

Teoh believes that it is always about the craftsmanship. There are many designers and artisans who are equally talented out there waiting to be discovered.

The jewellery pieces come in the forms of rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and anklets

A Range of Unique Collections

There are four categories of Hill to Street products, namely the original Tribal Silver, Classic Weave and Braid, Minimalist, as well as Nature collections.

These jewellery pieces come in the forms of rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and anklets which are affordable — ranging between RM50 and RM800 apiece.

The Tribal Silver collection is handmade and beautifully crafted.

Apparently, Teoh personally meets the craftsmen and women who applied the traditional techniques, styles and patterns associated with their tribes into the designs.

Meanwhile, the Classic Weave and Braid collection is a combination of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary style.

The technique involves weaving and braiding of silver threads, as well as hand hammering of silver pieces with metal pieces, which creates the imprint.

As its name states, the Minimalist collection, on the other hand, describes the jewellery itself — quiet, simple and clean, while keeping the overall feel chic and classy.

If you are into snake earrings or leaf pendants, the Nature collection might be the one you’re after. The collection draws inspiration from the wild beauty of nature and it pairs well with casual or boho-chic style.

Teoh also designs and makes her own jewellery under the “HTS by Hui” collection.

“I had no real desire to make my own (jewellery) at the time I started. Everything I loved was already out there for me to enjoy. However, I could not resist the temptation,” she said.

Teoh enjoys the process of coming up with mostly minimalistic designs and she also likes making the designs while sitting on a bench.

“For the more intricate pieces, I work closely with artisans to bring those designs to life,” she said.

Hill to Street also has special designs for Chinese New Year which falls under the Festive collection.

“You will see a lot of flowers, stems and also cut-out diamond shapes. We have them on our website under the Festive category. You’d see designs which are more relevant to the festive season,” she said.

For the more intricate pieces, I work closely with artisans to bring those designs to life, says Teoh

Different Styles for Everyone

According to Teoh, the different categories cater to different niches with various styles and characteristics for different needs.

“We have a very wide range. For those who are into bold jewellery, we have pieces that are designed by me, or the tribal pieces. For someone younger who wants dainty, minimalist jewellery, we have that as well,” she said.

Realising that there are not many choices for men’s jewellery, Hill to Street has decided to offer a separate collection.

“We have clients who come to us and say, ‘Oh thankfully I can find men’s collection from Hill to Street’. These pieces are handmade — big and chunky bracelets and chains for men. This is one part that we are looking to expand.”

A Little Education on Style, in Style

When she first started out, Teoh had to face some challenges in her at tempt to make known her big, chunky tribal pieces to the public as people mainly relate the type of jewellery to ethnic wear, instead of street wear.

“A lot of the pieces are made of pure silver. It can go up to 90% content of silver, so they tend to be softer. But they’re very intricate and big, so many people relate tribal silver to ethnic wear,” Teoh said.

Her initial thought was, how could she educate the public to wear tribal jewellery with everyday street style?

“That was my first challenge in branding positioning…and to explain to people in general how tribal jewellery works, as well as educate them on the different types of silver.”

According to Teoh, many are more familiar with 925 silver, also known as sterling silver, instead of pure silver.

“Pure silver is more expensive compared to sterling silver, simply because it has a higher content of silver. A lot of tribal jewellery is made of pure silver because they’re all handmade. It is softer, easier to mould and shape,” she said.

For this year’s jewellery trends, Teoh is expecting big, chunky pieces, and she believes that a lot of designers are already incorporating the style in their Spring-Summer collections.

“You will see a lot of big, chunky pieces and tribal pieces, so it’s definitely making a comeback. I’m very excited because that’s what I like!” she said.

Whether you are wearing the pendants to repel evil ghosts from the runways or just simply because you admire the design, Hill to Street jewellery is definitely a musthave for tribal jewellery lovers…