MEET: Roo Bannister
Owner and Creative Director
I walk into the cafe, absolutely and unequivocally drenched, and wearing thick denim. Fair to say I’m unhappy, and to make things worse, a little bit late for my meeting. I look round to see Roo and then suddenly, I see her standing in the queue. ‘Come in for a cuddle’, she says, ‘do you want some cake?’. I feel a lot better after that.
Roo Bannister is an absolute inspiration, both talent wise and as a beacon of friendliness. We spent the next hour, hiding from the rain, talking jewellery and about selling chocolate, and whether she could fit a jeweller’s desk on a bus.
What’s the story of how you got into jewellery?
After Sixth Form I knew I wanted to do either Art or History but I wasn’t sure. I got into uni but then decided to take a gap year in London. So I did that and sold chocolate with my best friend. Then I went to UCL and studied Ancient History and Egyptology. I only did a year because turns out hieroglyphics are very hard. I was always interested in jewellery, especially ancient jewellery, but it was when I was at UCL that I really decided that I wanted to make these treasures. I would go to the British Museum and stare at their beautiful Egyptian collection. Everyone loves them but obviously you can’t have them unless you have thousands so I thought, right, I’ll make my own.
How did you get into making jewellery?
So I wiggled my way from working with chocolate to stationary to jewellery. There was a brand called Annina Vogel which specialised on beautiful vintage, antique jewellery. I worked there for a few years and did a collaboration with her. I think they’re still selling my marbling there in liberty, in the lockets. I started playing with jeweler's wax and my brother, who’s a jeweler too, would cast it for me. My life ended up taking me in a different direction so only this year have I got back to it. It’s my dream. My inspirations and aspirations have changed since then too. I’m studying silversmithing now as well, so I’m learning soldering, filing, polishing, all of it. It’s about confidence and practise and trial and error. The rest I teach myself.
So you’ve mentioned you started off with marbling, why did that start?
After a 7 year relationship ended I went through a tough time, so to calm myself down I used to marble. It’s so therapeutic, it’s just a tray of water and you dot the ink in and the colours dance and they swirl. So I’d marble until I was surrounded by a sea of beautiful papers. I originally started making marbled phone cases, it was a baby project that I learnt a lot from. I sold them on Etsy and digital markets. It was lots of fun but my heart wasn't in it.
So that’s when your jewellery came about! How did your maple wood collection kick off?
I was in Wilko when I saw some curtain hoops and I thought ‘oo they would be fun as earrings’, so I bought two packs. I chopped them up and put a pin in them but they were way too heavy, but I liked the design of them and I liked the chunkiness. I also thought I could marble them. So I knew the next step was to make them smaller, so I looked on Ebay, watched a load of videos and then found you could buy craft rings. It took me ages to find suppliers but it was a case of sourcing the right size.
What motivates your work?
Going to the Victoria and Albert Museum into their lovely little jewellery room and looking at the first ancient treasures. I’m smiling right now just thinking about it. What motivates me is looking at them, standing next to lovely ladies also looking at them, and thinking I want to touch them and wear them and feel like that ancient queen. I want to hold that piece of history. It’s that wanting but not being able to that makes me do it. I want to make and teach. Like with my Pillars of Strength collection, it symbolises a bit of history and the strength of women. To me, they’re made beautiful by their meaning.
What have been your happiest moments doing what you do?
There’s been a few! One was definitely getting my first interest from a shop. That was from Collection & Co. I was ecstatic - a proper shop wanted my stuff! Another one was small but it meant so much. Basically, there this blogger called Head On. She has the most incredible jewellery. For 2 or 3 years I’ve been swooning over her things and recently she followed and re-blogged one of my pictures. Like I’m on a platform with cult jewellery brands. I danced around my kitchen, told Mum and Dad, probably gave the cat an extra cuddle.
What’s the plan for the future?
So right now a lot of my brand is the naked wood but actually this will be the past of my brand, the rest will be more precious metal. I’ve also just come from the Princes Trust, so I’m hopefully getting a ‘Will It Work’ grant to start making in brass too. But long term, I want to finish University and have a brand established. I want to work for myself full time, have a little studio, maybe a little dog. I want to do things I believe in. I want to include models of all shapes and sizes, have rings in belly folds, celebrate body hair.
What do you like doing when you’re not making jewellery?
Hmm.. Hang out with boyfriend or friends, or recently I’ve just been on the Met Museum looking at their collections. I play a lot of Words with Friends. And I love nice walks. I do just love making so if it’s not jewellery I love playing with clay.
Who is the most influential person in your life?
Mum and Dad. Mum is creative and does things like scrapbooking and she does a bit of beading. Dad isn’t very creative, well he likes re-arranging rocks in his fish tank so that’s his creative flair. They very much influence me as a person, my work ethic, everything. Mum is super calm and happy and the kindest lady. I adore my dad, he’s always doing projects and I get my logical, more business-y side from him too - as well as being a stress head sometimes! Everything I achieve I want to do it to make them proud and happy.
What’s your favourite piece of Art?
*Laughing* The Prince of Egypt. I used to listen to the soundtrack on my Walkman. It wasn’t Walkman times but I had a walkman. Then also Colours by Shirley Hughes. It’s a children’s book but I think it’s my favourite book. Every page there’s a new colour and a new poem, it’s just really beautiful and it makes me so happy to look at.
Is there anything you know you do differently to most people?
*Laughing* I like cooking my pasta really really mushy.
And last question! What does it mean to you to be be creative?
Making things with my hand to keep my brain happy.