I don't know about you but I follow Hex Metals & Minerals on Instagram. If you've ever wondered about the story behind HEX's sultry jewelry, here's your chance. Shortly before a photoshoot with poet Ivan Leonce, pictured above in photographs by Kayla Isomura, I sat down with HEX Metals & Minerals' Adrienne Yeung to ask her about her one-person business. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I have!
What’s your name/pronouns?
My name is Adrienne Yeung, and I use the pronouns she and her.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I was born and grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s a city that I grew to love in my early twenties for its resilient activist communities, amazing food, and the sense that anything creative can pop up anytime, anywhere. I currently live in a sweet little house in East Van with my partner.
How did you come up with the name HEX Metal & Minerals?
It was a long and kind of pathetic process actually. I made a shortlist of about 10 names, and believe me it was a terrible time whenever I’d run a perfect name through Google and discover it was already taken by a defunct website that had stopped posting ten years ago.
But I’m happy with HEX Metals & Minerals. It evokes geometry and witchiness in the meaning of the word “hex,” and also plays on the visual idea of a gemstone with facets when you look at the sharp angles of the capital letters. “Metals & Minerals” was a way for me to add a description of what I made without locking myself into too tight of a niche. I knew I wanted to keep working with both materials, but also knew my style would change. And it has.
Your website says you’ve been making jewelry since you were a child. What first inspired you to put gem and metal (and body) together?
I have to include accident and convenience as inspirations because those two creatures are a huge part of every creative’s reality. They can bring you incredible things if you don’t fight them, though it’s really hard not to. Sometimes I just gotta trust that if I don’t know what to do with a stone, I need to just leave it! Somehow, in four months or so the perfect project will appear.
Basically I’ve learned that as an artist I take a reconstructivist, rather than a “create something from scratch,” approach. Starting from raw crystals is an exciting challenge. I’m limited by the roughness of the stone, but I try to make that the central focus of the piece. I like the idea of a stone + metals as representing the tensions we carry: for example, simultaneously sticking out / being invisible to your cultural community; being tokenized / being spoken over. And contradictions that are not mine to hold but which are so important to mention: being read as masculine with your folks / being femme with your queer fam; being told you're at once too dark / too light to fit in. I like that HEX is a chance to embody other sets of dichotomies and wear them proudly.
Metals and crystals make sense together. I like how both are naturally occurring in the same sources. I’m drawn to delicate chains lately that look like veins of gold through rock, and rough and dirty crystals with flaws and inclusions.
Where do you primarily get your materials? Do you face any challenges in sourcing them ethically?
I get my materials from a mix of local and online sources. Whenever I travel, I visit a local crystal shop and pick up some crystals - currently I have pieces that were sold in shops from Chicago, Boston, Hong Kong, Thailand, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, and Winnipeg. I buy wire and fastenings locally. I use online marketplaces to source some findings and chain in bulk.
That being said, it’s difficult to trace the origins of many of these crystals and metals, and I definitely face ethical challenges. The labour that goes into mining and refining these materials is obscured. Even if I support small family-owned crystal shops that can tell me what country their crystals are from, that doesn’t really say much about working conditions. I don’t know if it’s a false hope, but the flawed and rough semi-precious stones that I use require relatively less production and also don’t fetch a high market value, and I correlate this with potentially less oppressive working conditions. I’d love to know more about this from anyone who has info they’d like to share.
I once worked at a jewelry shop in Gastown Vancouver. One thing that struck me while working there is that most of the people who came in only window-shopped (granted, I may not have been a very convincing salesperson, knowing as much about gems as about astrophysics). Is there more of a market for jewelry online than in stores?
I’d say the markets are different, but it’s an interesting question. Generally, people who shop in brick-and-mortar stores belong to a different demographic than people who are more comfortable browsing online. These differences can indicate how much leisure time someone has in a day, how much they can afford to spend spontaneously, their proximity to the shop, what’s around the shops etc.
To start with in-store, it’s definitely easier to talk to people and know what enables them to take a piece home or not. Apart from the online shop, HEX has been sold in upscale furniture stores, farmers’ markets, local bookstores, small cafes, and community art events. People who are already looking to buy a $500 chair have come in with a very different mindset and expectation of pricing while window-shopping than someone who’s browsing while waiting for a latte, or someone who’s picking through rutabagas and preserved peaches. So the pricing is a little tricky as I diversify my retail locations - it’s important to stay consistent, but it’s also important to reach out to a variety of markets.
Online analytics show me the volume of people who make contact with the website, but not who they are, so a lot of inferencing about who’s buying, who’s browsing, is tied up in that. There’s more competition online for sure, but people also feel more comfortable taking the time to browse and come back. Also there’s less pressure online, which carries both positive and negative consequences.
Do you plan on selling at physical shops in the Lower Mainland, unceded Coast Salish territories? How hard is it to get into that field?
Physical shops are tricky - it depends on so many factors, like the alignment of aesthetics, the alignment of price points, the clientele, and the timing of the buying season. It’s important to me to partner with businesses owned by people of colour, and which are demonstratively queer- and trans- inclusive. Do they employ queer and trans people? Are their products gendered? Does the community support the organization? Is the advertising exploitative? Is the shop contributing to gentrification of the surrounding community? I’ve also been looking for shops owned by white allies.
Unfortunately it’s not really common (as far as I can tell) for businesses in the Lower Mainland to make public announcements about their staff and/or commitments to ethical employment. So it’s been a bit difficult to find a physical shop to partner with. Let’s just say I’m very selective, haha. I’d love to hear from people who’re reading this and thinking, “hey, that’s me!” Message me, I want to meet you!!
Recently, I watched a video by Kat Blaque in which she shares that she isn’t going to change her content based on what would make her more money. I was also recently at a queer witches of colour panel in which some fantasy/sci-fi comic artists on the panel shared that niche audiences are most suitable for their needs. Who tends to buy your jewelry? Do you ever feel pressured to change your presentation based on who ends up making the purchases?
Certainly I feel pressured, but I’m not sure that there’s such a necessary moral distinction between “being adaptive and receptive” and “selling out.” How the process is: I’ll start with materials that I’m drawn to on my own terms, and as I watch which items people are more interested in, I’ll make more pieces in that theme or with that style. But that still leaves room for variety that reflects the spectrum of clients I make for. There are people who are interested in the healing aspect of crystals, witches, clients who want a sparkly thing on their wedding day, femme folks, masculine-of-centre folks… everyone who wears HEX has a different personal style and it’s amazing, I love that.
I felt pretty conflicted for a point about a year and a half ago when I felt a shift inside me which was reflected in what I made. I’ve always been femme-leaning, but at this point my gender presentation took a resolute turn in that direction after a formative four years of coming out to myself and others. When I moved to Vancouver, I packed all my favourite ties and button-downs, but they hung strangely on my body and still do. It felt like I was letting down the androgyny that I once wore and created about.
But I realised that isn’t true at all. What I look like doesn’t change my queerness. What my jewellery looks like doesn’t change the fact that there will still be people who align with it. It’s not the jewellery itself that is androgynous. It’s not the jewellery itself that is QTPOC. If I make what feels right for me now, I can trust that others will come.
HEX Metals & Minerals features many beautiful QTBIPOC models of all genders and bodies, including yourself. It seems like photography and portraiture are part of your craft, too. Even as a viewer who doesn’t wear much jewelry, I am taken in by sensuality and pleasure expressed in your photographs. To what extent is portrait photography and modelling an end in itself for you, a way to highlight our beauty in ways that haven’t been expressed before?
Thanks so much for your sweet words, Jane! I love that you can see those things in the photographs. I’m so interested in what occupies the in-between and simultaneously both sides of gentleness & strength, vulnerable & showy, grace & utility, rough & shine. I don’t think of myself as a photographer by any means, but there’s something really special about making a connection with someone who’s made themselves so open in the act of making a photograph. Those moments are priceless. The beauty of that trust is truly incredible.
I was a freelance model for about five years. As a one-person business, modelling is just another skill that comes in quite handy when I need to show how a piece looks on the body but it’s, like, 7 am on a Sunday morning and all of my friends are still sleeping, ya know? In my self-portraits, I think about how not to perpetuate harmful messages I’ve seen in photoshoots that glorify domestic abuse, position women as children or objects, and Orientalist depictions of beauty. I also try to think, “does this make sense?” and if I find myself contorting in an odd way, “why am I doing this to myself?” It makes me laugh as I realise I’m in control and I can actually look however the hell I want because it’s my website.
A lot of people wear jewelry not just as style, fashion, or aesthetics, but as healing, spirituality, and culture. Each of your pieces are different and unique but taken together they seem to breathe and speak in one voice. What would you say is your jewelry saying to the world (and beyond)?
“We’re made of contradicting dichotomies and that can be beautiful.”
There is a birth tradition in Chinese culture in which the first thing you pick up as soon as you’re born from a box full of different items symbolizes what you will be when you grow up, your life work. Do you anticipate that you’ll be continuing with HEX for a long time yet?
Jewellery-making in general is a way to meditate for me: When I feel overwhelmed, I need to do things to stop ruminating; I need to do something productive. So I guess as long as I need a coping strategy, jewellery making will be there for me as in introverted, hyper-focused activity.
HEX, on the other hand is so much more than that: it’s the complete opposite, an expansion outwards, and community building expression of joy. I’m not sure how long I’ll have the time and resources to continue, but I’m looking at least a year into the future and smiling at the thought. xo