Martine Ali talks jewelry, creativity, and chemical reactions

Owning a business in a pandemic world isn’t easy, but Martine Ali is navigating it beautifully. This jewelry designer isn’t letting any regulations stop her from reaching her community and with her new zine “MOODZINE VOL 1”, she’s flipping the script on what it means to interact with her jewelry, concepts, and process. 


Here we are at the very beginning of 2021, and you’ve already dropped a great project. How has this year matched up to your expectations so far?

Thank you for noticing! It’s so funny because the team and I had our beginning-of-the-year get together last week and I was like “Wow guys, I remember that at the beginning of 2020 I was literally about to shut everything down and start an etsy business” so, to be in such a better place this year feels so great. We’re switching directions and pivoting the whole business. Essentially, before we were so focused on our wholesale business and selling to other stores which was driving everyone crazy. So now we’re really focusing on selling direct to consumer which is ultimately what I’ve always wanted to do. Our brand is so personal, and we lose all of that when we sell to other stores. It was feeling like I had started this business just to work for them. It got to the point where we would design a collection for a store and then within a week they’d hit us up like “where’s the next one?”. I never felt like we could catch up and it was driving everyone nuts. At the end of the day, we are not a factory, and acting like one was really draining us creatively. 

Since your brand is so driven by human connection, I wanted to talk about your community. I know that you’ve stayed within the same two mile radius since the brand’s inception, can you speak to what that hub is centered around? 

Yeah, well basically our first studio space was within a shared space of artists. I was sharing the space with a painter and sculptor and that’s really when I realized that much of my target audience were creatives. Those are the people that are generating the trends that everyone else is looking to for their own personal style. So early on, it became about creative people, artists, and people with a really strong sense of personal style. I wanted to tap into them, whether or not they were famous or had zero following. The authenticity of creatives that aren’t afraid to wear what they want and push the boundary has really always been the base of our community. I’ve always tried to keep our spaces in a building where other artists have studios or in neighborhoods where creatives live, so it’s always felt like we’re surrounding ourselves with people who are moving the culture forward. 

The authenticity of creatives that aren’t afraid to wear what they want and push the boundary has really always been the base of our community

You just released a book of your jewelry that almost seems more like an immersive experience than a book, but how was that experience, what led you to create the concept, and was it in any way influenced by the COVID regulations? 

So it was kind of like a perfect storm. Basically, when I first started working in fashion around 2008, Instagram didn’t exist and the whole digital space was not what it is now. So when I was interning, I would literally have to scan and copy things and save them on my desktop. Shit was old school as fuck, but I got into the habit of documenting my references. I didn’t have a fucking cloud or social media account, so everything was very tangible. I would have paper files full of magazine tears and books and visual references and whenever we were working on projects, it was literally about laying out pages of paper images for mood boards and talking about shit with papers in our hands. Because of that, zeroxing and photocopying all of my designs has always been such an important part of my design process. I don’t spend a shit ton of time sketching, I work with materials hands on, so throughout my process I have to scan my pieces because in a day or two I might take a part off or change it around. As a studio, documenting is always something that we continue to do and I’ve always wanted to put that part of us into book form. 

Creatives used to come into the studio, roll up their sleeves, and play with the product, and when we couldn’t do that anymore because of COVID, I felt like a big part of how people connected to the work was lost. It forced me to move forward with producing these books that could further open up that creative process to our people. What also happened with COVID was the inspiration to insert QR codes that would bring people back to the website. If you were physically in the studio, you’d be able to play with stuff, and I would show you the piece that it was inspired by. Not having that forced us to think of a way to create those connections remotely. It really made sense to produce this zine that included the whole process but also allowed our customer to shop as well. When I was a kid, you would get a catalogue, circle the shit you wanted, and order it, so I liked that process and felt like I wanted to create something in this digital and impermanent world that was permanent and lasted. I also recognized, as we move forward with the business, the importance of not just being an artist and bringing in solid professionals to do the things that I don’t do on a daily basis. We brought in a book designer and we had to find the balance between creating something that didn’t feel overly polished and felt a little DIY, but had all of the expertise from someone who makes books professionally, which was really interesting. Navigating the printing world was also hard because apparently, a lot of printers are actually located in middle america and the midwest, so a lot of them wouldn’t print the content because of the porn images. I actually had to dial back a lot of the imagery, which wasnt the most fun. 

Did you feel like that hampered your creative process? 

I did feel like it fucked with the process, but I also really believe in happy accidents and happy constraints because working within constraints forces me to be creative. It sucked initially and made me go back to the drawing board. But in the end, the way I used those images evolved into something even more beautiful. Having to be more artful about the placement of jewelry over a possibly offensive image only added to the book. I will say though that for the next one, I’m going to look for a printer that will take on all of the original imagery because I’m definitely interested in exploring the way it affects the viewer’s brain. The way that someone can look at a pornographic image and feel this chemical thing, have an actual chemical reaction in their brain, and then flip the page to look at a bracelet and connect those feelings and moments – that stimulation chemically is so cool for me and for the viewer.

Your instagram is so conceptual, can you talk about where you draw inspo from and how you translate it into your work?

I definitely feel like the inspo from my work comes directly from my lifestyle. I almost think of it like a movie, and my instagram is that movie. I have to plan the wardrobe, and setting and location, which all translates into the jewelry I’m wearing, and the things I’m doing directly dictate where I’m going and what I’m seeing, so it’s all really cyclical and overlapping. I think it’s really important for me to be doing that in real time which is why it kind of feels all thrown together on my instagram. The color of the shirt I wore three days ago might influence a piece of art I post four days later, and I might be wearing a particular piece of jewelry that I’ll also post, so it’s almost like creating the blueprint to this movie. Everything is quite interlinked on my backend, but it’s all happening in real time for the viewers. That whole ideology of things unfolding as they happen is also so similar to the experience that I wanted people to be able to have with the book. Seeing the inspiration, seeing the piece, and being able to go to the website and buy it is a cycle that is really important to being a creative right now, and especially a creative that’s producing a product to sell. Unless you have that wheel of things connecting, it’s hard for people to connect to what you’re doing because there’s so much shit. If people see my work on a famous artist and then try to find it on my instagram to then click to purchase it through a store or website then I might lose that sale or lose that person’s interest. I think the most important element is creating that instant relationship with your audience. It’s a miss if you can’t create that in-the-moment vortex for your audience.   

What’s next for you?  

We’re definitely really putting our fucking foot on the gas in terms of printing media and content. Shit is just moving so fast and it’s making every creative project we normally work on feel insignificant. I feel like by printing things, even if they do go fast, it’s fine because we still end up with a tangible thing. Next, we’ll be working on this whole book that I’m so fucking excited about. It was literally like a movie to shoot with photographer Hannah Sider, and we shot this amazing story that we’re gonna print on a hardcover coffee table book. I’m so excited about that, and to be continuing to work on print projects. Jewelry is my love and I will always do it, but i’m really interested in the process and what it means to be creative. My love for jewelry isn’t just about the jewelry itself, but also about the story of how it was made, what went into it, and how the person discovers it. I want to build out the process in a way where people can buy into the story as well.