Ay illuminate’s folk-inspired lighting solutions find a new and stylish way of using traditional materials like bamboo and rattan
“Now it’s a kind of hip to be natural, ecological and sustainable, but we were already doing it in 2007,” says Ay Lin Heinen, founder of artisanal lighting company Ay illuminate. “We try to keep local handicraft alive.” Ay Lin’s bespoke lighting designs are crafted from natural and sustainable materials from Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Swaziland and Afghanistan, and are inspired by all of those cultures.
Frustrated by the culture of unfair wages in the design world, Ay Lin left her corporate job to forge a sustainable future for craftspeople. Her lights have since been featured in prestigious magazines including Elle Decorations, celebrated for how they exhibit unusual, alluring forms, using natural materials like bamboo, rattan, poplar, midrib palm or even paper. “Our lights make your home feel safe, like it’s the safest place to be,” she says. “They create the feeling of your parents putting their arms around you, in your own home.”
The concept of “home” is crucial to Ay Lin, who is based in the Netherlands but ensures that she travels to visit the homes of the artisans she employs. They include Lily in the Philippines, and a craftsman named Mr Cai in rural China, who crafts lamps out of bamboo from his workshop while sat on the floor, as is the traditional way. “With Mr Cai, we just sit on the ground with drawings, some paper and pens, it’s very old school,” says Ay Lin. “We show him forms, communicating non-verbally, and he understands what we mean. It’s amazing to watch this man cutting the fresh bamboo, and half a day later it’s something totally different.”
As well as producing distinctive, luxury products, sales of Ay Lin’s lights help keep international communities afloat. “We offer work to the Filipina women of the sugar cane plantations,” she explains, “otherwise they would all go to Manila to search for work, which can lead to women being forced into sex work. Crafting our lights gives these women another option.
“We are making products with soul, products that are true collaborations – what we call ‘authentics’. I was fed up with corporate life. I didn’t ever dream of this success, but this is what I would like to do forever.”