Voices of Jerusalem: Design for life

Loren Minsky speaks to Ilanit Elisha Avigail, owner of Ilanit Art, jewelry and accessory stores in Mahane Yehuda market.

Voices of Jerusalem: Design for life  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Voices of Jerusalem: Design for life
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"As a child my hands were always looking for something to do," says Ilanit Elisha Avigail, the owner of Ilanit Art in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market and in Zichron Yaakov. "I always loved crafts." The stores not only feature Ilanit's jewelry designs but also bags and belts by other designers. Ilanit's line of jewelry is also sold in stores and fairs around Israel and in other parts of the world.
Ilanit was born in Israel but her mother made aliyah from Mumbai, India and her father from Karrachi, Pakistan. "My parents met on their respective aliyah flights to Israel," shares Ilanit. "It's a real love story." Karrachi was originally part of India before India gave it to Pakistan, and although Ilanit's father is from Pakistan, he is Indian in culture. On that aliyah flight, Ilanit's mother started chatting to her father's sister and the rest is history. Initially the couple lived in Dimona in the Negev, and later moved to Bnei Brak.
Ilanit's jewelry is influenced by her rich ethnic background. She also attributes a lot of her inspiration to time she spent working and traveling in Japan about 11 years ago. "The culture and people were so gentle. I took this sense of calm and neatness and eventually incorporated it into my jewelry. It's an amazing place."Ilanit also was impacted by her travels around India, Thailand, and Costa Rica. Ilanit always knew that working in an office was not for her and went "completely mad" during a week's stint. She was influenced by a boyfriend's mother who used to make intricate jewelry, and was on the lookout for work that had something to do with using her hands.
The jewelry design chapter began soon after her return to Israel when she started working with two other Israeli designers. For several years she was responsible for the business and management side of things, but she also learned the trade and how to design jewelry while on the job. Ilanit left her position when her husband and her relocated from Pardes Hanna to near Ramle because of her husband’s work. She started designing more and building her own collection, which had a distinct style that can be described as classical with a twist, gentle and ethnic with an Israeli influence.
In 2007, when it became evident that the designs were selling, her husband left his job and the couple moved to Zichron Yaakov with the aim of making the jewelry business work. Ilanit functioned as the visionary and her husband as the worker-bee. Initially, the couple sold to stores around the country and traveled to all the relevant fairs and markets in Israel. In 2008, they decided to open a store and studio from their home in Zichron Yaakov.Then, in 2009, they opened a "proper shop," also in Zichron Yaakov.
Although the businesses did well, the area is relaxed and quietso the couple gave up one of the stores, which was redundant. They began thinking of moving to Jerusalem. "We'd worked with people all over the country and found Jerusalemites to be amazing," says Ilanit. "We decided to open up shop in the Holy City."
"Though I was raised in the Center around Tel Aviv, I'm not so connected to the language of the Center," shares Ilanit. "In Jerusalem, people are very calm, open and smiley. They are not closed like many people in the Center."
Ilanit and her husband made the move about five months ago when she was eight months pregnant. They opened a store in Mahane Yehuda market. "The market is so different to Zichron, which is so calm and slow-paced," says Ilanit."But I like the aliveness, and authenticity of the place. You feel Jerusalem when you’re inside the market. When we used to travel around the country, we visited a lot of markets, which reflect a place and their people."
Ilanit enjoys interacting with customers. "It's good to meet people and feel how they react to the products. This way I can make changes and adapt designs according to their needs," says Ilanit.
The remaining store in Zichron Yaakov relocated but is still open under the same name and sells the same goods. Ilanit's older sister runs the store. Through contacts made at professional jewelry fairs and HutzotHayotzer, Ilanit's jewelry is also sold in America and at synagogues that feature Jewish designers.
Ilanit and her husband are now parents to a four-month-old son, and they live in Pisga'at Ze'ev. "Being in Jerusalem is like being abroad for me," smiles Ilanit. "It's so different."
Ilanit designs with her baby at home, which is "challenging, but doable. Having a baby changes your whole point of view of life and what's important," says Ilanit. She also acknowledges that she would not be able to find the balance were it not for her dedicated husband, who works hard looking after the baby and keeping the business running.
Initially when the couple worked together, their responsibilities overlapped and there was a lot of fighting. However, they soon learned to separate what they do and it now works well. Ilanit has space to concentrate on design and be creative while her husband takes care of the administrative and business side of things. "I count myself as very blessed," says Ilanit.
The passion for jewelry design runs through the family's veins. Her sister that took over the store in Zichron sells a line of her husband's. Her other sister is passionate about jewelry design and even Ilanit's mother has begun making jewelry in her retirement years. Ilanit stocks a few of their respective designs in her store. She jokes that her brother, however, is a numbers person and there are no designs from him.
Ilanit reveals how she is inspired by everything. "When I'm stuck, I do something else," shares Ilanit. "I find that when I open my mind and then sit down again, ideas flow more freely." Ilanit reveals that so many of her designs come to her when she is in the shower.
Ilanit makes a point of travelling a lot to forests and other places in nature in order to expose her son to the beauty of the landscape and wildlife. "I want my son's first sense of smell to be that of nature and not shopping malls," says Ilanit. "Besides, it really opens my mind and relaxes me."
Ilanit loves travelling and learning. "I'm a big nerd," laughs Ilanit. "I love nothing more than food for the brain."
Ilanit's skills have always been self-taught and she plans on introducing her glass painted products into the store, a modern take on mezuzahs and her first line of bags.
"I love what I do," says Ilanit with passion. "It's not work to me, and is just so much fun." ITravelJerusalem.com is a new online international travel portal offering all the latest information on things to do, places to eat and places to stay in Jerusalem