Minneapolis-based Koonyai Studio was conceived nearly two years ago when Beau Sinchai was in graduate school at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.
At the time, Sinchai was working closely with concrete for a design project. She became fascinated with the making experience and the versatility of the medium. “Concrete is really strong when used for large-scale buildings,” she says, “but it’s not a material that is generally used for smaller projects, like earrings.”
With distinction in mind, Sinchai set out to make earrings out of untraditional, architectural materials – like concrete and copper tubing.
Sinchai spent several months perfecting a specialized concrete mix, and is now churning out about ten pieces each day, “What I like most about concrete is that it’s process-driven. Every step is different,” she says.
Between casting, mixing, drying, sanding and finishing, Sinchai still has time to experiment with new concrete formulas. In fact, she sets aside one day each week to perfect her recipe. “I am committed to consistently improving our products, and the best way to do that is to experiment more,” she says. Her goal? To create a waterproof and break-proof version.
Sinchai’s hand-sculpted, industrial jewelry features minimalist, geometric shapes – like half circles, triangles, and hexagons. Her background in architecture and conceptual design have informed Koonyai Studio’s look and feel, but for her, there’s not a huge difference between designing jewelry and designing buildings, “Everything that we wear is architecture. It’s just a reduced scale. Things like a building are architecture in the shelter aspect – when you reduce that to clothing and furniture and jewelry, you realize that all of those things are connected to us. For me, it’s a different kind of architecture in the sense that it deals with different levels of space. Our pieces are a large-scale aesthetic with small-scale use,” she says.
Everything that we wear is architecture. It’s just a reduced scale. Things like a building are architecture in the shelter aspect – when you reduce that to clothing and furniture and jewelry, you realize that all of those things are connected to us.Beau Sinchai
Koonyai Studio is more than a design company; it’s a design company with sustainability and social empathy etched into its core. Sinchai’s grandmother, a philanthropist, played an integral role in inspiring these initiatives – the word “koonyai” means “beloved grandmother” in Thai.
When looking to the future, Sinchai hopes to hire women from local shelters, “This provides women with an opportunity to gain confidence and self-worth while learning new skills,” she says. Additionally, all of Koonyai Studio’s products and packaging are mindfully made in the United States, and are locally sourced when possible.
Sinchai ebbs and flows between design research, architecture and entrepreneurship. For her, the three often coincide. Though most of her time goes into her one-woman run business, Sinchai also teaches design thinking at a local college, participates in a social design collective, works with homeless teens, and is planning to conduct research about wearable architecture (clothing, jewelry, etc.) abroad.
A limited number of Koonyai Studio pieces will be available for purchase in the Modern Midwest shop this week.