Quite apart from the awesome name, Rosita Bonita’s stunning leather jewellery pieces truly are one of a kind. My personal fave is the Hummingbird necklace (featured below) but everything she makes fits into a fabulous 50’s-burlesque-rockabilly vibe. Seriously, her branding is just so ace and the pieces she creates so detailed and individual, that it took me all of about, ohhh, 10 minutes from discovering her stuff to contacting her for an interview. I would love to be one of Rosita’s girls* dancing around a beach bonfire somewhere in Mexico wearing as many pieces from her collections as possible. I spoke with Rowenna (real name spoiler alert) about her path from nipple tassels to bona-fide jewellery maker via K-pop sensations and saying no to traditional fashion ‘seasons’.
Rowenna, wearing her own Rosita Bonita creations
Hi! Please can you introduce yourself , your work and how your background got you to this point?
I am a London-based designer, specialising in printed leather jewellery. I made my first collection in 2010, & now have 6 permanent collections (I don’t support the disposability that is encouraged in the fashion world, so I like to keep all my designs available to order at any time).
I’ve always been a drawer & a maker. I didn’t necessarily think I’d end up doing what I’m doing now, but it encompasses many of my different experiences & interests. I studied illustration, then pursued freelance work in illustration, graphic design & prop making, all the while balancing these with more regular day jobs. I ended up managing a vintage store, but got to the point when I couldn’t stand working for other people or waiting for commissions, so I decided to make some things to sell. I’d made some sequined nipple tassels for a friend’s birthday, which were much admired, so I made more & took some to a lingerie shop. It seemed a shame that no one could wear them out, so I made brooch versions, in the form of cloak pins. then it occurred to me that I could incorporate my illustrations into accessories with printing.
What is about leather that appeals to you as a material? Can you give me a brief idea of how one of your pieces is made?
I had played around with leather already – making bags, purses and various accessories, including the nipple tassels. I’d even made myself a very primitive version of my winged heart milagro necklace many years before. It has a very pleasing feel, is really malleable & easy to work with & you don’t have to sew the cut edges, which was a bonus. I had got into screen-printing at college & leather just seemed like a perfect surface to print on. My screen-printed pieces (the orchard collection & parts of the Amulet collection) are made from separate elements – all printed individually onto soft coloured leathers, hand cut & collaged together. The more recent collections are foil embossed. For this each shape is either laser cut, or stamped out with shaped knifes, then heat pressed with metallic foil and embossing stamps, which have been made up from my drawings.
Double Hummingbird necklace // made to order
Rosita Bonita has a really strong brand identity – how easy/hard was it to come up with?
The Rosita Bonita brand appeared early on. When I took my first batch of the nipple tassels out to sell, I needed a name. I didn’t want to use my own, but wanted something related to my name – Rowenna. I love the sound of Spanish & Rosita was an obvious choice. I imagined some glamorous ’50’s Mexican movie star or burlesque dancer, & the Bonita fell in to place. The rest of what you would call the brand identity is just me & all the things I like, so creating the brand imagery is the easiest, & funnest part of the job.
Can you talk me through a ‘typical’ day?
There is no such things as a typical day in Casa Bonita. Running your own small business is like having 5 different jobs. Some I love, some are necessary. Most days, after having breakfast with my boyfriend & our 2 cats, will start with answering emails. This can take anywhere from 5 minutes up to the whole day & happens either at home or in my studio. My new studio is in a boutique called Wall & JOnes on Hackney Road, London. It has been a great opportunity to have an open studio/ showroom & to work alongside a lovely bunch of designers. My studio space is nestled in a corner at the front of the shop, so I get to people-watch through the window display & to greet customers & visitors who stop by. The rest of the day will usually involve making, working on new projects, updating my online listings / website / social media, paperwork, meetings & trips to the post office. If I have time I will sneak out for a coffee break with a friend – usually my dear friend Vicki, designer of Silken Favours, whose studio is nearby. I love the cycle home from Wall & JOnes. It is just across the road from Hackney City Farm, so I get to cycle past the farmyard & pretend I’m in the country for a moment, then through the beautiful Haggerston park & onwards. I pass through Ridley Road market in Dalston just as they’re cleaning up all the debris left by the stalls or when it’s empty. The evening light there is beautiful & it always looks really surreal, like a film set.
Sneak-peek into Rowenna’s workspace at Wall & Jones.
Nosing through your Twitter pictures, I saw that your winged heart bolo was worn by G-Dragon on a Big Bang cover. I used to live in Korea so this makes me really excited! How did that come about?
I only saw the photo of G Dragon wearing my Winged heart bolo last year, I think about a year after the album came out. To be honest I’d never heard of him! A friend spotted it in a magazine. I guess he or his stylist found it online, or visiting Europe.
Which other designer-makers do you admire and find inspiration from?
Through doing shows, market & pop up events over the last few years I have met tons of designer makers, & a few of my old friends also fall into that category. I admire each & every one of them. None of us have any kind of business background, so we’re all learning as we go along. Everyone has their own path and we learn so much from each other’s experiences, and that support inspires me to keep going when times are tough. It is also a great pleasure to see their work evolve & to share their successes. There are too many to mention – but amongst my favourites are Silken favours, Janine Barraclough, Claire English & Henriette Lofstrom & E.A.Burns.
What has been the a) biggest challenge and b) greatest moment so far since starting your own business?
The biggest challenge is general & ongoing – money! I started the business with no funding & that has dictated so much of what I have done. I could only produce products that I could make myself, with materials that I could easily afford & skills I already had or could teach myself. I (or my boyfriend) have shot all my campaigns & videos using friends as models, I built my website, I’ve never paid for PR or advertising or an accountant. Everything I make is invested back in the business, but there is never enough to make all my ideas a reality, which is frustrating.
I can’t think of any particular greatest moment. It’s the small things that make me smile. When I walk down the street or go out & see someone wearing one of my pieces, or spot something in a magazine or when I get lovely emails from customers saying how much they love their Rosita Bonita piece or asking me for a custom design for their wedding or something.
What are your plans for the future?
I am halfway through designing my next two collections so the plan for the immediate future is to get on with those!
All seeing eye earrings // £32
How lovely is Rowenna’s description of her walk home through East London? Gawd, it makes me miss that city! I’m sure you’re as taken with Rosita Bonita as me so make sure to check out her site & shop, and follow her on instagram, twitter and facebook. DO IT. Ha, I’m such a bully…
* umm, you know what I mean.