Bosnian designers who enchanted Beyonce

Cover photo: Werkstatt

Graphic designers Lejla Nuhić and Ajla Šarić have incorporated their love for graphics into well-known jewelry brand Werkstatt, recognizable for its minimalist industrial style. Their pieces are designed for authentic women and have been worn by none other than Queen B.

After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo, Lejla and Ajla worked for many years as graphic designers. They would print their own graphics in their free time, all the while dreaming of their future. For years, they equipped the studio and waited for the right moment. That moment came in 2015 when they decided to start designing and making jewelry together in addition to graphics. So began their Werkstatt story.

They chose the German word werkstatt, meaning ‘workshop’, for the brand name as it describes their common workspace. As is usually the case, the beginning was not easy. Initially, they were making jewelry for themselves, simply satisfying their own aesthetic desires, but, after a while, their jewelry began to attract the attention of others.

“Werkstatt” jewelry is designed and produced by Ajla Šarić and Lejla Nuhić. Photo: Aida Redžepagić

“The orders started to come in. Since we both enjoyed creating and producing, we realized that it was necessary to decide in which direction to continue with our work, especially since we both had other jobs at the time and we felt it was very important to be honest with ourselves and others,” they say.

From Hobby To Profession

The growing demand and positive reaction to their jewelry helped them to make the final leap and to move from the ‘hobby’ phase to the ‘professional’ one. It was not easy to start their story of a handmade jewelry business in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The dynamics of brand creation, production and development required a lot of time. At first, they tell us, they were unaware of how important serious promotion is for brand development and market positioning. It turned out that after product quality, promotion was the second most important factor.

“Fortunately, we did not hesitate to research, listen and seek the support and advice of others with more experience in entrepreneurial design and branding. We had a mostly positive experience with the reactions of others, starting with people in Sarajevo,” they recall, reflecting back on how it all looked five years ago.

The now well-known brand “Werkstatt” started as a hobby in 2007, when the girls made money from small individual sales. Photo: Werkstatt

The support that the designers received from people in the fashion and art worlds helped them immensely in growing Werkstatt. The help and guidance of all those who have supported their work has been indispensable.

“Social networks came in handy when it came to the positioning of Werkstatt as a brand, and they helped our visibility and recognition outside of Sarajevo and even the region itself. At the same time, we tried to expand our network of retail partners, trying to base these partnerships on important aesthetic and business criteria,” they tell us.

World-class Cooperation

Four years later, the jewelry created by these two girls caught the eye of one of the most famous musicians of today, Beyoncé. The collaboration with the famous Queen B came in July 2019 through the designer Boris Kargotić and his Brand Demode Couture.

“Boris invited us to make jewelry that would go with one of his Lion King-themed Beyonce creations. Whether any of these creations would be in the shortlist was very uncertain. In the end, the project lasted 10 days, during which we worked intensively. The cooperation radically increased the interest in our work, more or less overnight, primarily in the media.” Their jewelry was worn by Beyoncé in the “Spirit” video, which was created as the soundtrack for the movie The Lion King.

The famous Beyonce released the music video for the single “Spirit” from her album “The Lion King: The Gift”. After the song from the movie “The Lion King” had its world premiere, a video was also shot, and the most interesting part of the story comes from this studio. Photo: Werkstatt

Consequently, Lejla and Ajla received dozens of requests for interviews, which built more brand recognition around Werkstatt, as well as of course increasing demand and interest in the pieces that come out of their workshop.

“Working with Beyoncé has helped us to better understand our capabilities, fears, and imposed or self-imposed limitations. It has helped us to accept that it is OK to work and hope for great successes and results, which is especially important to us because sometimes it seems that our community values a kind of lack of ambition,” believe Lejla and Ajla.

Meeting the Needs Of Different Women

Werkstatt jewelry is made of brass and zinc, and for necklaces, earrings and bracelets they use silver accessories. As with any art, jewelry making needs inspiration, and Lejla and Ajla look for it in their graphics.

“What makes our jewelry different are the mini graphics that you can see on each piece. And what stands out in these little graphics is the contrasting effect of the intaglio printing,” say these creative designers. They play with textures, colors and lines from both everyday life and all kinds and forms of art. But in the end, their biggest inspiration is working together.

When designing and making a new piece of jewelry, they always have a certain woman in mind, from their own environment or public life. Such a broad field of inspiration means that they offer a wide range of jewelry where each fan can find something that suits them.

Photo: Maja Topčagić

“This is how we gained the affection of women of different ages and different styles, such that, for example, our jewelry is often worn by both mothers and daughters. Werkstatt is for anyone who is not afraid to experiment, express themselves, and emphasize their own style, regardless of age or lifestyle,” they tell us.

This past year has been marked by the pandemic and has significantly changed everyday life as we know it. Due to the current situation, Lejla and Ajla tell us that they cannot plan much when it comes to the future of the business, but that they are currently focused on improving the design and quality of their products. They now experiment with new materials and techniques and try to maintain their level of creativity.

Werkstatt jewelry can be found in retailers in Sarajevo and Banja Luka, as well as Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. Their products can be found on their website as well.

Anja is a trained Balkan Diskurs correspondent from Banja Luka. She holds a degree in journalism and communication from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Banja Luka, and a master's degree in journalism from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, where she currently lives and works. She gained journalistic experience writing for certain BiH media, and spent two years as a journalist on one students' platform, where she dealt with topics from everyday student life and the education sector. In March 2021, she returned to the civil sector and joined the SOLIDARNA Foundation team as a program assistant.

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