Coconut shells repurposed as stunning jewellery

April 16, 2023 - 10:59
Nguyễn Băng Nhi converts wasted coconut shell pieces into beautiful and valuable jewellery, favoured by the market. She is currently the owner of a brand specialising in handicraft products made from coconut shells quite famous in the province.
Decor hangings with lotus flower patterns made of coconut shell by Nguyễn Băng Nhi who converts waste into beautiful products. -- Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Băng Nhi

Thanh Hà

Nguyễn Băng Nhi is busy all day, working from sunrise to sunset. She does the job of many people, checking production, buying materials, consulting, and selling products. But she is happy because she is doing what she loves: producing coconut shell jewellery and souvenirs.

Born in the southern province of Bến Tre, Nhi grew up and played with coconut trees from when she was a baby girl.

Nguyễn Băng Nhi loves to use rough materials to make her designed works since she was a student. -- Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Băng Nhi

The 27-year-old has always been in love with the trees which have made her home town famous as the country's largest area of coconuts and products like coconut candies, juices, and jelly.

Thousands of thousands of coconuts are sold at markets every day. Unfortunately, their hard shells are mostly discarded after use. Nhi is among several artisans repurposing them.

"I graduated from the HCM City University of Architecture's Industrial Design Faculty in 2018. When I was a second-year student, I was interested in working with rough materials," Nhi told Việt Nam News.

"Once in my hometown, I was attracted by a coconut shell in a corner. I found a beautiful natural curve on the shell with an eye-catching pattern on it. It is different from other materials. From then on, I kept thinking about the shells."

In her final year at the university, Nhi made a bold decision, choosing coconut shells to produce a collection of jewellery as her graduation thesis.

With only three months researching the new material and making items, Nhi knew that it was what she would pursue in life.

"My thesis was not highly appreciated because my skills were still poor. But I made a braver decision: staying for a year at home in Bến Tre to spend more time studying the coconut shells," Nhi said.

A set of earrings, necklace and bracelet made of coconut shell and threads. -- Photo of Nguyễn Băng Nhi

Her first product was a set of leaf-shaped earrings, bracelets, and necklace combining coconut shell and embroidery thread with five different colours. The set is still one of her most popular items.

A year later, she had a chance to introduce her products to the public at a Coconut Festival.

"My designs grabbed visitors' attention and received good feedback. These were a strong push for me to kick off my startup," she said.

Cocohand was born, a startup that focuses on products made of coconut shells, using natural materials as a way of upcycling food waste.

All of her necklaces and bracelets consist of coconut shell carvings, waxed cotton cord, and beads.

Besides jewellery, she also designs souvenirs such as decor hangings, keychains, brooches, Christmas badges, pins, and charms. They are masterfully cut, light-weighted, low maintenance needed, and always stylish. A thin coating of natural oil varnish brings out the natural sheen, making it even more durable.

Nguyễn Băng Nhi uses machines to help her production process faster to meet customers' demand. — Photo of Nguyễn Băng Nhi

"Coconut shell products are made of hard, dry and benign wood. It is friendly to the environment, and safe for people because it is non-irritating," said Nhi.

"Its natural curves and beautiful patterns are easy to be recognised and distinguished from others. Of course, there are several disadvantages, as the traditional brown colour of the shell is boring. But I solve the problem by using the young shells that are white, vanishing the products, and adding other materials."

Her products are among the top choices of gifts of local companies for their workers and partners. Tourist agencies, hotels, and homestays have also chosen Cocohand's items as decorations. Meanwhile, individual customers who want to have personalised coconut shell pieces are catered for.

Coconut shell has been converted into beautiful combs, earrings and necklaces. — Photo of Nguyễn Băng Nhi

"At the start, my products were made 100 per cent by hand. But when demand increased, I could not meet it and missed my chance to develop the business. It was suggested I use machines in part of the production process, thereby improving productivity," she said.

"However, I still stick to Cocohand's initial values. Products must be friendly to the environment, beautiful, impressive, convenient and diverse in shapes."

Nhi has recently visited Thailand to learn more about the way they do business.

Coconut shell is carved carefully, light-weighted, and stylish. — Photo of Nguyễn Băng Nhi

Nhi hopes to see her products exported abroad, but she knows it will be a project for the next three to five years if her business is successful in local markets.

"I hope that with my effort and determination, I will help increase the value of coconut handicrafts while creating jobs for my neighbours," she said. VNS