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SF Designer: Emiko Oye

LEGOs Revisioned

LEGOs and jewelry might not seem to go together, but San Francisco-based Emiko Oye marries the two with finesse.

Emiko’s LEGO ready-to-wear jewelry line and well-traveled Royal Jewels collection can be found online, at Circle and Square in San Francisco, and at events throughout the United States. Starting September 1st, a recycled jewelry exhibition curated by Emiko, From Geekery to Regality: Beauty in Reuse, will be on display at Green Zebra in San Francisco

“I’ve been a maker ever since I can remember,” Emiko says. “I was always making things out of normal household items ever since I was a kid. I always loved the idea of giving something common a new life.”

After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Syracuse University with a BFA in Metalsmithing and Fashion Design, Emiko packed her bags and headed to San Francisco.

It didn’t take long for the Cleveland native to acclimate, lighting upon the large and welcoming metal and crafting communities in the Bay Area, and discovering a boon in Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts.

Though she is known for her craftiness with LEGOs, Emiko embarked on her career making larger museum pieces geared toward specific events and social commentary. For one such project she incorporated sands from a World War II Japanese internment camp in Manzanar, California.

“This was during a period right after 9/11,” Emiko says. “The war was really in the forefront. Being Japanese-American, I found these really sad ties to what was happening with Arab Americans and how they were being discriminated against and misunderstood, and how the past was in danger of being repeated.”

Emiko created a series of crowns modeled after the Statue of Liberty. The internment camp sand was embedded directly into the crown. Other pieces provided commentary on artists being kicked out of their studios by dot-com companies and the fact that “only 10 major corporations own all the media in the world.”

Today, Emiko’s work with LEGO focuses less on strong political activism statements and more on human interaction.

“It’s one of the materials everyone has a connection with,” she says. “Either you played with it or you’re a parent who stepped on it in the middle of the night — there’s always a story.”

This leads to one of Emiko’s mantras, taken from a quote by Rob Walker, author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are and contributing writer/columnist for The New York Times: “The mistake people [i.e. makers] make is thinking the most important story is their own story but it isn’t … it’s best when your story is relevant to others’ lives.”

Emiko thrives on this interaction.

“People will come up [and see my LEGO jewelry], their eyes will glaze up and they’ll tell me a story, go back in time,” she says. “It’s so exciting to see them make a true a connection with your work.”

Hearing Walker speak, working with LEGO, and seeing how people have responded to it has changed her view, she says, shifting her emphasis from social activism to human connection.

“I’m leaning less away from really strong social activism and more to the idea of recycling,” she says. “Opening people’s minds to what jewelry can be — it can be something around you, not necessarily gold or silver, or new.”

Emiko reinforces this with the Accessorize with Toys! Workshop she runs with San Francisco designer Shana Astrachan. Emiko developed this workshop for Make Magazine’s inaugural Makerfaire in 2006 and it’s an important side project for her.

“You don’t really have jewelry-making in school unless you’re in college,” she says. “A lot of kids don’t get to work with tools, let alone with their parents. [At these workshops] they’re actually thinking and problem-solving together, not playing video games or watching TV.”

For Accessorize with Toys, Emiko and Shana bring used toys, game parts from SCRAP and various thrift stores, and basic jewelry findings and tools. After teaching a few basic jewelry-making methods, participants are turned loose to craft their own original creations. Workshops our loosely held once a quarter; check Emiko’s website for the next event and for more information about her jewelry.

Upcoming Emiko exhibitions/events:

From Geekery to Regality: Beauty in Reuse
Recycled jewelry exhibition curated by Emiko Oye
Showcasing work by the Metal Arts Critique Collective
and celebrating Eco Fashion Month
September 1st to 30th, Artist Reception September 24th, 4pm to 7pm
Green Zebra in the Crocker Galleria
50 Post Street, Lower Level

Accessorize with Toys Workshop
September 23rd, 11:30am to 1:30pm
Green Zebra in the Crocker Galleria
50 Post St, SF, lower level
Come learn how to make jewelry from recycled game, toys, and gadgets utilizing basic jewelry techniques
Drop-ins welcome, all skill levels. $10 class fee.

emiko-o trunk show event at Aveda San Francisco Center
September 25th, 1-6pm
Westfield Mall, second floor
Meet the artist and see the latest collection of her reware LEGO jewelry, plus be pampered by Aveda.

For more information, visit