“All of a sudden it’s just gone crazy,” says Athena Smith of the seemingly instant popularity of her fine beaded jewellery label. Smith has been labouring away at her home in Sydney’s Cronulla for three years now, making delicate pieces by hand for her label Athena and Co.
“I’ve been sending out so much – between 50 and 100 units of stock to one retailer at a time and they sell through it,” she says, endearingly surprised that retailers including Hansel Gretel and The Standard Store can’t get through it fast enough.
Smith’s delicate ’90s-style chokers, necklaces, anklets, bracelets and earrings are made with tiny Japanese beads and freshwater pearls – assembled in a myriad of bright, sometimes left-of-field summery colour combinations. “I remember as a little kid going around the bead shops, which were pretty amazing back in the day. I started making necklaces and thought no one is going to buy them – all of a sudden there’s a whole lot of people wanting layered beaded pieces. I thought of this ages ago [but] nobody wanted it [then].”
Instagram personalities have recently embraced the bright beads, giving the business a kick.
Smith’s career in fashion began as a manager at Sportsgirl in the early 1990s. She then helped to establish the first string of Kookai stores in Sydney, before heading up merchandising for Nike during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She dabbled with a few silversmith courses on the side, before having children, and before dedicating herself to beads.
The price point is reasonable for the level of craftsmanship involved, with bracelets selling for $45, earrings for $24, and necklaces for $79. The beads are also accompanied in some pieces by gold or gold plating. The imagery doesn’t do justice to the size of the beads or the level of detail.
“It’s intricate work – the beads are tiny,” Smith says. “The smallest one is about one millimetre and they’re all strung on fine silk threads.”
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on December 17, 2019. Some details may have changed since publication.