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René Habie

René Habie is a bespoke jewelry line handcrafted in Antigua, Guatemala. René Habie was founded by artist and designer Jamie Denburg Habie in 2013.

Shop René Habie products here.


Tell us about your creative process, from conception to final product.

The first step in the creative process is curiosity.  I’ll get hooked on an idea and let it tumble around. If the idea sticks, I know to follow it. Then, I sketch a design and walk through it with Sofia, who oversees the fabrication process at the shop where we make our jewelry. Once I have a prototype, I’ll wear it for a few weeks to make sure that it looks and feels great. Once in a while, the first design turns out perfectly. More often, I’ll go back into conversation with Sofia to fine-tune details. I know the design process is finished when nothing else can be removed. Next comes one of my favourite steps…the photoshoots! Friends and family model so the process feels more like play than work. In some cases, like with my friend Sarah, we’ve been bonding over fashion since we were seven and playing dress-up. The photoshoots add to this story running through our friendship.


How does your company create social impact?

Since its beginnings in 2013, René Habie jewelry has been made in the same Antigua workshop by expert artisans who are fairly compensated in a safe, honest environment. The made-to-order model encourages long-term relationships and allows us to work on a human scale with people we know by name.

René Habie jewelry is crafted with sustainable materials that are made to last a lifetime, and sourced locally whenever possible. Ethical manufacturing is our standard (not just a plus) and that's why we also give back by donating 5% of our profits to New Roots Foundation—supporting art, education and the environment in Guatemala.


Tell us about an innovator or social enterprise in Guatemala that you want others to know about.

Particularly close to my heart right now is La Nueva Fábrica, New Roots Foundation’s new art center in Antigua that supports creative exploration through an artist residency program, multidisciplinary workshops and studios, galleries for exhibitions and community events. I helped start this project five years ago to support artists from Guatemala and abroad. With La Nueva Fábrica opening in February 2019, we’ll be able to grow our residency program, give more visibility to artists and expand access to art in Antigua.


Who or what inspired you to start your company?

Growing up, my mother had a ring that I was always drawn to. It featured a massive, round plastic eyeball surrounded by detailed metalwork. It was probably a trinket from a halloween costume, or maybe something bought at a flea market for a dollar. It was pretty ugly, but something about it captivated me and I wore it all the time. Growing up in Guatemala, people are very superstitious. I started to think of the ring as a talisman; protection from the evil eye. When it eventually broke, I found myself missing it terribly. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I designed a very simple pinky ring with a glass doll eye. People kept asking me where I bought it, and soon after I began selling the Eye Against Evil Ring.


Who or what inspires your aesthetic?

I find inspiration in lots of different places. Nothing is too precious, nothing too mundane. I’ve taken design cues from a shower curtain. On the other end of the spectrum, I go back to astrology often. I like the challenge of finding a simple idea within something unfathomably large. Also, nature never gets it wrong. I look at art and architecture for inspiration as well, particularly from the Bauhaus onward. With Modernism, everything was reduced to its essence. Geometry become a central force, and yet nobody could agree on its meaning. Some artists eliminated meaning through geometry, while others elevated it to metaphysical planes. That range of meaning is fascinating to me.


A friend is taking a weekend trip to Guatemala. What should they do in 48 hours?

I would recommend starting the weekend with a visit to Guatemala City's best galleries and art spaces. I would start with La Erre, and then head to Proyectos Ultravioleta. For a lunch break, La Cocina de la Señora Pu is a great spot for traditional Mayan recipes. For Spanish food, Restaurante Altuna is a must. I would spend the afternoon visiting Galeria Extra, El NuMu and Sol Del Rio. I would follow that with a walk around Zone 4 and dinner at La Esquina. For the next day, I would recommend a day trip to Antigua, starting with breakfast at the traditional hotel and restaurant, La Posada de Don Rodrigo. A walk though town visiting colonial ruins and doing some shopping in the markets is a good plan, followed by a sunset michelada at Cerro San Cristóbal. Dinner at Santo Spirito, and a night’s stay at the Good Hotel or Panza Verde.


What is your most treasured accessory?

I have a growing collection of wicker, plastic, and woven baskets in a range of sizes and styles. I like how open their functionality is; they can be purses, grocery bags, plant holders, beach or picnic baskets, laundry bins, decoration. If I had to pick one, it would be a tiny, cube-shaped basket I picked up on Isla Mujeres. It’s about the size and shape of a Chinese takeout box, with short handles and a lid that buttons on top. It's multicoloured and waterproof. Magically, it matches everything and nothing at once.


What are your interests outside of fashion?

When I’m not designing jewelry, I’m making artwork or helping run New Roots Foundation. I live for travel, to anywhere, and whenever I get the opportunity. At home, I’m lucky to live close to nature, so I try to go hiking on the weekends, or snowboarding in the winter. I love being near the ocean, but get pretty bored siting on the beach. When I’m near the water I want to be in it—scuba-diving, swimming, paddle boarding. On the day to day, I practice Ashtanga yoga, which puts me in a solid state of mind every morning. Reading is also a big part of my life. Most recently, I alternated between Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus and the audio version of David Sedaris’s hilarious Calypso. Both melted my heart.


What’s the best career advice you ever received?

I don’t really separate career advice from life advice. I think that the work you do everyday is an essential part of living. With this in mind, the Stoic idea that you can’t control the world, but you can control your reactions to it has been essential. In regards to what you can change, a friend recently said to me, “if there is a solution, there isn’t a problem.” I find this advice to be simple and profound, especially as I’m trying to grow René Habie. It keeps obstacles in perspective. Recently, I’ve been coming back to the Zen practice of keeping a “beginner’s mind.” If you think you know everything, what is there to learn? Dogma is the death of creativity. Humility and curiosity, on the other hand, create space for new ideas and experiences.