Meet the Maker: Studio Mali

Ali and mark sitting on a sofa with a wooden coffee table inlaid with colourful sections in front of them

Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hey weʼre Mark & Ali, a couple who recently left East London for a quieter life closer to nature near the south coast. We craft contemporary abstract jewellery and homewares from wood, and aim to create pieces that people find joy in using.

Have you always been makers?
Weʼve both always been creative people, and actually met at art school in Kingston Upon Thames back in 2005. Mark has been more of a maker than Ali, as a Design & Technology teacher he would spend summer holidays creating statement furniture for our home, like coffee tables and mirrors. Ali has been more of a designer, spending 8.5 years designing clothes for the highstreet.

What was the first thing you made?
Our first Studio Mali product was a chunky pendant necklace crafted from plywood and cotton cord. We turned up at our first ever market in Spitalfields with only this necklace and 2 other products and somehow managed to sell one! We had no idea what we were doing but it was the best feeling ever.

a pair of brightly coloured wooden abstract earrings
a pair of brightly coloured wooden abstract earrings

How would you describe your aesthetic and how did you develop your style?

I would say ‘abstract contemporaryʼ fits the bill pretty well. We sometimes delve into more geometric shapes and other times more organic and fluid ones, but ultimately they both relate to our love of abstract forms. Over time our style has become bolder and more colourful, as weʼve grown in confidence and reacted more to what our customers want.

How long does it take to make a piece and what is involved in the process?

Homewares are the slowest thing to make, a set of placemats could take a whole day to make as they need to be laser cut, sanded, painted, glued and varnished several times, whereas jewellery can be made in small batches and could range from anything from 30 minutes for a simple pair to 2 hours for a complicated one.

The collections often have fabulous design and artistic starting points and influences. Who are your art and design heroes?

Oh we have so many! The Bauhaus has been a huge influence on both our design practices, we actually visited the art school back in 2017 because we had felt so connected to and inspired by it. Suprematist artists such as Malevich for their graphic abstract artworks, abstract expressionists Victor Passmore and Ben Nicholson for their unique compositions and experiments with shape, plywood-workers Unto This Last and Lozi Design for their contemporary furniture and interiors.

2 pairs of wooden abstract earrings
a pair of brightly coloured wooden earrings

Can you describe your workspace? Where is it and what is in it?
We are fortunate enough to have two spaces in our home: one is a kind of study / studio where Ali works to make jewellery, packs orders and that houses our industrial laser cutter, and the second space is a big shed in the garden which all the messy work is done from, ie. making placemats and coasters, furniture etc. Itʼs way more dusty and the spiders love it.

Whatʼs a day in the life of Studio Mali look like?
Wake up at 6.45am, have a family breakfast, then Ali gets into the studio as quickly as possible and cracks on with making jewellery, packing up orders, online admin... whatever needs doing. We always make time for family lunches and our young children are always in and out asking lots of questions about what weʼre doing and trying to get their hands on little jewellery components! Ali usually works till about 8pm, and always gets out for a quick walk around the park.

Travel is a huge influence and inspiration for your business and lifestyle. Tell us more about how exploration and traveling has shaped your practice.

Before travel there was work. The 9-5 job which was slowly grinding us down, making us feel unfulfilled and anxious and we knew something had to change. We booked a trip to Patagonia back in 2015, trekking in the mountains for a week carrying everything we would need on our backs. The hardship, simplicity of the lifestyle and deep connection to nature made us completely re-think our lives, and we made it our duty to take a whole year away from life in London to give ourselves the time and space to think things through. It was when we visited Mongolia in 2017 that we had a clear vision about what we wanted our lives to look like... escaping the 9-5, living with less, spending more time creating with our hands. The business has slowly developed from there and we are constantly trying to find the ideal balance. The next step is to get Mark out of teaching 4 days a week!

You have a passion for sustainable business. Tell us how that has manifested itself in Studio Mali.

We all know about climate change. Itʼs only getting worse and we all have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint where we can. Our aim is to offer a product that goes against the mass production of the highstreet, so people know where and how it has been made and from what materials.

Weʼve made it our priority to use sustainably sourced wood, our packaging is as eco as it can be, our studio is run from renewable energy sources and we plant a tree for every order too.

an abstract wooden necklace

Tell us your favourite small businesses or creatives you buy from and admire at the moment. Do you have a favourite handmade/maker piece at home that you love?

Thereʼs so many creative businesses that we follow closely and absolutely love their work. Ali really wants to get one of Studio Shimoʼs graphic prints to go in our hallway... the colours are so beautiful, and sheʼs been eyeing up a handmade abstract jumper from Om Pom Pom. We have some handwoven cushions from Heather Shields Textiles and a throw from Donna Wilson which we love using.

Whatʼs the best thing about being creative for a living?
It's that everything is on your own time. When you feel inspired you sit down and make, and when youʼre not feeling it you do something boring like the accounts. Working from home means that weʼre close to our children and each other, thereʼs so much flexibility... it really is the dream job!

How do you relax after a hard day of making and creating?
Making things is Aliʼs way of relaxing! Itʼs what she chooses to do in the evenings whenever she gets some spare time. We spend the last hour of the day sat together unwinding watching something on Netflix. Itʼs not riveting but itʼs whatʼs needed when you have 2 young kids, a business and a teaching job!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about selling their work?

To 100% follow your passions. Remember that you have to start somewhere: just get it out there, see what happens, learn from it and try again. Running a handmade business is a long and time consuming process, so the sooner you make a start the sooner you can make it better.

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