A first glance at Bao Yang's floral earrings might surprise you. How did she preserve flowers so perfectly and attach them to studs? A closer look reveals she didn't — she's just carefully replicated blooms in polymer clay.
Yang, 35, studied fashion design, but later turned her attention to jewelry and smaller sewing projects.
"I wanted an outlet for my creative work," Yang says, "but I didn't have time to sew or design clothing after getting home from my day job."
For the past two years, she has sold her goods through her website, Npauj (the Hmong spelling of Bao). Elegant gold-and-pearl earrings sit alongside bead-studded hair clips and hair scrunchies made with Hmong-inspired printed fabric. Prices range from $15 to $30.
The idea for her most recent jewelry collection, Enchanted Garden, will resonate with Minnesotans stuck inside for a long winter and then confronted with a dreary spring.
"I needed some floral cheer," Yang says. "I envisioned having flat 2-D images bloom into 3-D sculpted flowers." It's her most intricate work yet, representing a new focus on Npauj — she's had more time to devote to her art after being laid off because of the pandemic.
Yang draws inspiration from her family and upbringing, which involved creating traditional clothing and jewelry for Hmong holidays and celebrations. She also takes inspiration from her frustrations with Hmong traditions: "There's a lot of patriarchal elements in Hmong culture, and for a long time it was hard to find Hmong women striking out and succeeding in their own business ventures."
Her younger sisters are in it with her. They model and photograph her creations. "They have a lot of fun doing it," she says, "and I'm happy I can include my family."