For the last year, Clare Hynes has run her small handbag and jewelry business, Soli & Sun, from her family home in Sammamish. The company’s roots, however, are diverse and multi-national, with Hynes hailing originally from the U.K. and having lived for years in both China and the Philippines with her family before moving to the Eastside last summer.
What has resulted is a young company with a strong mission of collaboration, social responsibility, and sustainably made goods by women.
Hynes, whose previous career was in graphic design, got started in jewelry-making when she became a mother 10 years ago, diving into the pursuit more fully when her husband accepted a job that took the family to China for five years.
“I started selling to other ex-pat ladies in the city and become kind of well-known for doing that,” Hynes said. “It seemed like everyone had a piece of my jewelry, which was great for confidence because, you know, I’m just an independent designer, creating things and then putting them out there. Getting feedback from women there gave me the confidence to push forward with my designs.”
When the family moved from China to the Philippines, Hynes was introduced to the concept of social enterprise and witnessed companies that were taking ethical, measured steps to help underprivileged communities.
Hynes knew that she wanted to do something similar and was introduced in 2017 to a group of women in the community of Tacloban through GKonomics, a social enterprise group located in the Philippines. At first, she taught them some of her jewelry-making techniques with the idea that doing so might help them make a living through new skills. As time went on, she said she wanted to expand her brand and figure out how to incorporate the traditional weaving techniques that the women she was working with were experts in.
“It was a slow process, because I was very conscious of doing things correctly and not taking advantage of them,” Hynes said. “There is so much creativity that these women have, and I just thought that more people should know about it.”
The handbags designed and sold by Hynes through Soli & Sun therefore incorporate traditional weaving techniques, with different elements — like the straps and handwoven fabric — made by a small group of eight to 10 women in the Philippines, all of whom Hynes said are young mothers. She pays them upfront for their work, which acts as a supplemental income that they can earn from home while being active caretakers.
The business is still small, having been established in the States under its current name, Soli & Sun, for less than a year. Hynes said there is room for growth, certainly, but at no point does she want to be running a factory-type operation — she “wants to work around the amount of work the women can do, and what they want to do.”
Soli & Sun currently is a finalist in the 14th annual Independent Handbag Designer Awards, which celebrates creative handbag designs from around the world. Though Hynes also was a finalist last year in the “Overall Style” category, she said that she is pleased this year to be a finalist in the “Global Good Partners Most Socially Responsible Handbag” category.
The five brands nominated in this category all meet “specific ethical and moral standards with regards to production, employment, and philanthropy — all while impacting the local culture.”
Winners will be announced this year at a virtual award ceremony on June 10, replacing what is typically a live event held in New York.
Hoping for the honor of winning the award, Hynes still is patient in terms of her overall brand growth. “I feel like there’s no rush, and the main thing is just to be authentic,” she said. “Just building and maintaining those authentic relationships. That’s what’s really important to me.”