Sister act

We chat to Cape Town-based sisters Astrid and Karen Schwarz about living, working and designing together.
Astrid and Karen Schwarz.
Astrid and Karen Schwarz.

What's it like working so closely with a sibling? If Astrid and Karen Schwarz are anything to go by, it's a smooth, upbeat collaborative affair. They are the sisters behind Schwarzie™, a jewellery and stationary brand known for its delicately patterned, colourful aesthetic. While Astrid is the graphic designer and Karen the jeweller, they conceptualise and work on their designs together from their home-based studio in Harfield Village, Cape Town.

What is your design mission?

Simply put, we design because we love it. Even if it were just for ourselves we would still do it, but now it's about sharing that love and spreading the happiness.  

When did you realise you wanted a career in design? 

Both art and music played a role in our education growing up, which matured into a career option. Living and studying together simply became us working together; it was the natural next step for both of us. It happened organically.

Which designers' work do you admire?

Karen: I have several, but my top two that I always get excited to see are the fine jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany's. They're storytellers too, and their words are their jewellery - I love that.  

Astrid: Sir Alan Fletcher sits at the top of my list. His approach to design, which lingered greatly on play, I find refreshingly honest. Also designers such as Christoph Niemann and DJ Stout, who I've had the great pleasure of meeting in person.  

Do you have a favourite design? If so, which one and why? 

Oh dear! Both of us find it quite impossible to choose one favourite. It's a bit like having to choose a favourite colour! May we go for a flavour of the day instead? But in all seriousness, each design that we create entails a journey. Some may be rather amusing, which may then show itself in a greeting card that will make you giggle, while others entail a great deal of emotion and growth. 

Can you tell us a little about how Schwarzie™ started? 

Of course! Our brand started with small steps fused with big dreams. In fact, our first print run entailed ten designs, which we applied to notebooks. We then launched to the public at Design Indaba Expo in 2013 as part of Emerging Creatives. Since starting, we've been privileged to work with companies such as Seattle Coffee Co., Cell C and Zando to name a few. 

Can you explain your collaborative creative process? How do you go from conception to final product? 

We both work on developing our stationery line and the process is an ongoing one. For example, many of our greeting cards start from conversations we have together that aren't specifically set on the idea of conceptualising: they are an organic, unplanned happening. Hence, the whimsy and play factor that they radiate.  

When it comes to the more "serious" side of stationery like our yearly diaries/planners, we set up timelines, very specific deadlines and have regular sessions to check where we are. Our diaries are where Astrid applies her fascination for layout and type. The designs all begin in pencil and on paper. They are then taken to on-screen development and once the colour starts to get dropped in, things get ridiculously exciting! 

The jewellery side is Karen's speciality. She sketches ideas roughly or does intricate technical drawings before starting. Sometimes the piece evolves as its being made. The manufacturing process can be long and patience-testing but it’s always worth it in the end.  

Describe your workspace…

We've 'split' our living room with one side as our 'relax' zone and the other is where we have our two, overly large desks (sometimes they don't feel big enough). 

What is the most rewarding part about being a designer? 

We’ve experienced this more and more and the novelty never wears off: when people look at our work and the result is a smile.

What are you currently working on? 

A new collection, "Nature's Confetti", will be launching soon. Its different from what we've done before, and we're very excited about adding new products to our offerings. The theme is nature in an elegant, majestic light. Its colourful, as always, but we don't want to give too much away yet!