For her entire life, Holly Ryan had been hearing about Taxco, Mexico. Her parents had lived there, they learnt silversmithing from the city’s local artisans, and, perhaps most importantly, it was the town in which she was conceived. Having moved back to Australia before Holly was born, her parents filled her childhood with stories of their past, painting pictures of cobblestone streets and red-tiled roofs. For her upcoming spring/summer jewellery collection, pOla, Holly travelled back to her roots for the first time, seeking inspiration from the landscapes and architecture of Mexico, coming full circle to finally experience Taxco for herself.
Holly Ryan was certain from a very young age that she wanted to work in fashion. Growing up on the Sunshine Coast, she was constantly surrounded by creativity and design, with her parents continuing to make jewellery when they moved back to Australia from Mexico. Despite her parents being silversmiths, however, Holly didn’t always want to follow their jewellery-making footsteps.
She remembers having subscriptions to a number of fashion magazines, and her original childhood dream was to become a fashion journalist. “I started making clothes when I was about 11,” she recalls. “As I grew older, I started entering fashion-design competitions on the Sunshine Coast. After winning a couple, when I was about 15 or 16, my designs made it into Yen magazine. That was when I decided I wanted to make clothes my career.” Towards the end of grade 12, Holly applied to Queensland University of Technology (QUT), where she went on to study fashion design.
In her final year at QUT, she was faced with a choice – write a 5,000-word essay on the history of fashion, or design and create an accessories line to accompany her final collection. Deciding that she couldn’t bear the thought of writing yet another assignment on the significance of the corset, she decided to create a line of jewellery. “I designed the collection, and my mum helped me make it. What I created was my Lush Life collection, which is exactly the same today.” The collection piqued the interest of Thea Basiliou of Brisbane boutique Blonde Venus, who asked Holly if she would consider stocking the jewellery range in the store. “At first I wasn’t keen at all. My initial thoughts were, ‘No! Clothing is my dream! You can’t take this away from me!’ But I thought I would see if Mum was interested in helping me, and she was, so that was how Holly Ryan Jewellery began.”
Still committed to following her dream to design clothing, Holly moved to Sydney to start an internship with designer Sara Phillips. Soon after her move, however, the jewellery collection started attracting interest from a number of different fashion boutiques. “All of a sudden it hit me that I had an opportunity to start my own creative business,” she says. “I was going to be able to have the final say on the design, and, ultimately, that was my dream anyway, to be a designer.”
Deciding to commit to the jewellery label, she returned to the Sunshine Coast, where she lived with her parents for eight months. Asked if her parents were an influence on her career, Holly gushes a gracious yes. “I learnt everything I know about jewellery making from my mum and dad. My mum taught me to sew and taught me jewellery – she’s always been incredibly supportive. She is happy to live my dream, and to do whatever she can to possibly help that happen. I am very lucky to have her.”
Holly explains that her mum now works for her full time as her studio manager. “In terms of my team, I actually have 14 interns at the moment helping out. But when it comes to designing and creating the jewellery, it is really just Mum and me. Every single piece is hand-fabricated from start to finish. It’s a little ridiculous at times, but it’s a lot of fun. There is no better satisfaction than starting with a flat piece of metal and creating an object from that, set with beautiful stones. And because we do everything ourselves, it means that we can melt down and reuse any scrap metal we have.”
Continuing with the thread of sustainability, all of the materials used – from the metal and stones, right down to the packaging – are locally sourced. “That is definitely due to my parents’ influence. To be as sustainable and ethical as possible is so important – it’s ingrained in me and I will never stray from that.”
Before designing her upcoming collection, pOla, Holly made her first-ever trip to Mexico. There she visited Taxco, the town where her parents lived, finally getting a true picture of the stories she had grown up with. “The first night we were there, I was so overcome with emotion that I just burst into tears. This was where my parents lived and fell pregnant with me – if it weren’t for this town I may not exist! And they learnt silversmithing there and now I’m a jeweller … it was a very special moment for me. My whole life had come full circle and I was extremely overwhelmed.” As well as Taxco, Holly travelled around Mexico and the United States, exploring and seeking inspiration.
Considering her influences, Holly names architecture as her number one. From Mexican pyramids and landscapes in Palenque, to an architecture exhibition in Mexico City, she says her trip was brimming with inspiration from start to finish. “My entire new collection was inspired by architects I discovered in Mexico, such as Luis Barragán, Antoine Predock and Pedro Ramírez Vázquez. Their work is just so minimal and pared back – it really spoke to me in terms of how I design.”
Holly admits that while she loves what she is doing, she still hasn’t let go of her initial dream to design clothing. In fact, when asked of her greatest achievement, she decides that it is just about to happen. “I was contacted by Wrangler about a year ago to work on a collaboration with them, to design a range of clothing. It’s my first foray into what I originally dreamed of designing. My passion was always denim, so it couldn’t be better aligned for me.” The collection will be stocked exclusively in General Pants Co. stores nationwide, and will be released in August/September.
Despite having a number of projects on the go, it’s not difficult for Holly to find peace. Working between two studios, one in Red Hill and one on the Sunshine Coast, she aims to spend every morning by the water – whether that be the ocean, a river, or just a swimming pool. “It’s the best way to start the day and clear your head. It is where I come up with most of my designs too – it gives me space to think.”
Gaining inspiration from many of those who surround her, especially her parents, it is no surprise that Holly lives and works by principles that have been ingrained in her from a very young age. Her design process is based on simplicity, wearability and quality craftsmanship, ensuring that everything is created to the highest-possible standard. “Less is better,” she muses. “I believe in clean, honest, simple design.” As for wisdom to guide her through life, her values are much the same. “Be honest and be passionate. Always treat others as you wish to be treated.”