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Ay Lin Heinen and Nelson Sepulveda are the lead designers for Ay Illuminate, a Dutch lighting manufacturer that soulfully sources materials; empowers artisans in their own, often struggling, communities; and produces casually elegant and very unique fixtures in the process. Ay Lin co-owns the company with her husband Casper Heinen, and she has been a driving force in the development of the remarkable relationships they have developed with handcrafting communities from the start.
Nelson has been equally ambitious in this area since joining the company, his desire to develop lighting products that break new ground in terms of design knowing no bounds. As an example, Casper shares this anecdote that took place at the Maison & Objet fair last year: “Afghanistan has a place in the fair each year with the focus of local handcrafts, and one year it was a company that produced shawls. Nelson grabbed the people, bringing them to our booth, and we started taking the cotton shades off the fixtures and dressing the lights with the shawls. It took another year to play with the designs but the result is beautiful silk-cashmere shades for the Z series of pendants produced by a few women who have a lot of experience. The great thing is that they are so proud because they make something useful and beautiful.” Illustrating how keenly this creative duo supports design based upon empowerment, Ay Lin has begun working with artisans skilled in basket weaving techniques in Indonesia in order to create a line of baskets—and effort that will inform the company’s lighting designs, no doubt. During her initial trip, she worked with them for weeks to refine the products and is quite pleased that these handcrafters were surprised that they could make such beautiful things. “This made the workers very proud,” she notes.
Nelson expresses his desire to have a positive impact on the world in this way: “Making objects is not just a matter of aesthetics, but also taking responsibility. Close collaboration with the artisans is both giving and receiving nourishment.” These collaborations will often find Nelson and Ay Lin sitting cross-legged on dirt floors playing with materials alongside the craftspeople they have identified as the highest quality artisans they can find working with any given raw material.
“I’m an addict,” Nelson confesses about the magic in working with artisans, even given the challenges they face.