Baylee Zwart - Designer of Azlee
I started this blog because I wanted to tell the stories of our treasured jewelry pieces and the impact they’ve had on our lives. Having the opportunity to do that has been such a joy, but I know my soul was also drawn to this endeavor to learn all of the lessons that I have encountered along the way and the many more to come.
Baylee Zwart, the designer behind the beautiful brand Azlee, imparted one of those valuable lessons when we had the opportunity to chat. More on that lesson later in the post, but first, I want to introduce you to Baylee.
Let’s start with her jewels, which are simultaneously show stopping and understated in all the best ways. The composition and proportions of her designs convey a harmonious energy of refined elegance, with a touch of care-free bohemia.
She works with gold, both yellow and white. What she does with those metals is where the magic comes in though. Her use of recurring geometric motifs imbues her pieces with an architectural quality, topped off with the rich depth of diamonds, emeralds and rubies cut in unexpected shapes.
Baylee is meticulous in choosing the gems she uses and has become known as the source for unconventional engagement rings, working with clients to create their dream pieces. Her diamonds and gems are cut into shapes called the shield, the kite and the hexagon and they are as strong and as stunning as they sound. Her diamonds are so brilliant and the shapes so unique that you almost feel like you’re seeing a diamond for the first time when encountering one of her pieces.
She has certainly accomplished a lot in the young life of her brand. But how did she get here and what has informed these wonderful creations? That’s the fun part!
She started her career as an intern at Allure and Glamour magazines in New York where she was drawn to photography, but a desire to contribute to the world through philanthropy and sustainability pushed her to look for something that spoke to her more deeply. She found an opportunity in Guatemala working with a non-profit that created fair trade accessories with female artisans. Having previously lived in Spain, she had a love for the language. And to top it off, they were looking for someone with skills in photography, so it was a role that felt like it was written exactly for her.
Baylee poignantly explained to me, “After four years of college I was thinking, ‘How do I still not know what I want to do or where to go from here?’ But I did know what my passions were. This combined all of my interests at the time, so I ended up down there and totally fell in love with it.”
And it turned out that it was exactly where she was meant to be. Having found a beautiful stone in Morocco on a previous adventure, Baylee felt compelled to bring it with her to Guatemala for reasons unknown to her at the time.
The group she was working with created a lot of jewelry and there were also a lot of metal workers in the town as well. She asked one of the jewelers if they could make her a ring out of the stone. They promptly asked her if she wanted to make it herself and it became clear to her why she felt called to bring the stone with her.
“I fell madly in love with metal working and the ability to be able to create something from the ground up. It was really inspiring to me to create something that you could actually wear every day,” she explains. And thus, a path was charted. But like many, it was not completely linear.
After returning from Guatemala, Baylee was drawn to work at Tom’s shoes for their commitment towards giving back to global communities. In whatever spare time she had left, she studied jewelry design and worked to establish and grow what has now become Azlee. She embraced it as a full-time pursuit four years ago, with each step along the way having helped shape what the brand has become today.
“The ocean to me is an endless source of inspiration and rejuvenation. I do feel so strongly that if we’re creating more products, we have to work to offset that to a certain degree.” - Baylee Zwart
Baylee remains committed to making a meaningful contribution to the world, beyond her beautiful creations. For her, this means taking care of the oceans, another passion of hers.
“The ocean to me is an endless source of inspiration and rejuvenation. I do feel so strongly that if we’re creating more products, we have to work to offset that to a certain degree,” Baylee explains. A portion of the proceeds from every sale currently goes to her partner, Sea Legacy, to help protect the world’s oceans.
In addition to being inspired by the ocean, Baylee’s creative process itself is quite fluid. “I think it’s so interesting, especially as someone who didn’t have formal training, I think my creative process constantly evolves and I’m still trying to understand it myself,” she says.
She’s inspired by the quiet, yet confident strength of a women who knows who she is and uses her style to express her individuality. She says, “I really admire women who have a freedom of expression. For me, women who really hone in on a distinct style that is a reflection of who they are versus a reflection of the trends, that’s true style.”
Baylee also takes great inspiration from the materials she finds. “I’m so inspired by the stories behind materials, so as I’ve grown past just being a diamond and gold brand, I’ll latch on to different techniques that I’m personally really inspired by, whether it be enameling, or bezel setting in a way that has an old handed feel, or coming across certain stones. The rare cut diamonds have been a huge interest to me,” she explains.
Part of the freedom Baylee has in terms of sourcing materials and techniques is her local Los Angeles based supply chain. “I’ve always made everything locally in LA. Even though we’re only four years old I’ve been with the same jewelers for about seven years because I was doing it at night for the first collection while I was still at Tom’s, so I had found someone to stay open late for me and I’d go there after work.”
Working locally is a value that is very important to her, not only in terms of supporting these artisans and their families, but also in terms of the quality of the product that they produce. “I see every single piece being made every step of the way, so the level of quality that that gives you provides a lot of value. Continuing the education around the importance of local manufacturing is big for me.”
The close involvement she has in the supply chain has also allowed her to venture into bespoke commissions, like her unique engagement rings. “Something that I’ve really deeply enjoyed is doing people’s engagement rings. It was never something I intended to do, it wasn’t even on my radar and it just happened so organically after doing my own ring. It’s the pinnacle of something that people actually wear every single day and is passed down generation to generation and is just the most sentimental piece they’ll probably ever own,” she tells me.
The prospect of increasing the custom work she does, especially internationally, is something that Baylee is excited about as the business continues to grow. In fact, growth, and having patience and faith in growth, is exactly the lesson that Baylee taught me.
All too often, when we see notable businesses like Azlee and many others, we can be quick to assume that the path to success has been easy and rapid. But when I asked Balyee if she could share the lessons she’s learned as she’s built her business, she extolled the virtues of patience.
“I think the hardest learning experience for me is how long everything takes. When I started, I had these goals of what I was going to do the first year, and if I’m not here then I’m failing and it’s not going to work, and same with the second and third year. All I can say is it just takes time. That’s the most valuable thing you can give yourself. I think people end up giving up before it has the chance. It’s not that it’s not a viable concept or you’re not a good designer it’s that you really just didn’t give it enough time,” she says.
Those were certainly words that I needed to hear. In a world of instant gratification, I think we all need that reminder every now and then, to be easy on ourselves and surrender to the process. Some diamonds have taken millions, even billions of years to form. So, the least we can do is gives ourselves a few years to shine.