Sarah Munro and Robert Sebastian Grynkofki debuted SARAH & SEBASTIAN in 2012, equipped with four hands and a dedicated drive to push the envelope. They have challenged the notion of traditional jewellery ever since, placing innovation and collaboration at the centre of their design ethos. Over the years they’ve gone from strength to strength, launching over 20 collections, collaborating with household names like Dion Lee and expanding to a team of over 100, with four design-forward brick-and-mortar stores across Australia and counting.
In honour of SARAH & SEBASTIAN’s 10th-Anniversary, we sat down with our founders to reflect on their incredible evolution from humble beginnings, how ocean conservation and sustainable practices are ingrained into every aspect of the business, and what has culminated in their inspired upcoming collection.
On Their Ever-Evolving Approach to Design
ROBERT GRYNKOFKI: We both had full-time jobs when we started out so it took a few years to start building storytelling into our collections and growing our team. It was just the two of us designing and creating and we were used to working 70-80 hour weeks. Sarah would do everything from customer service, website design, shooting and retouching products, to shipping out to customers. I looked after our production and the financial side of the business.
SARAH MUNRO: I think our approach to design has become a lot more sophisticated over time. In the beginning, we made everything with our own two hands, which meant that we were limited in our creations. We didn’t use CAD at the time, which is a big part of our design process today, so it was about experimenting, finding objects and casting them – a totally different approach to jewellery making. Over time we’ve been able to introduce lots of new technologies giving us unlimited freedom to create and achieve what we want and really explore different concepts.
On the Launch of Their Very First Collection
RG: Our first collection was all about simple statement pieces. We started working with base metals because back then we had to be conscious about how much we were spending on materials. It was a really interesting potpourri of ideas.
SM: One of the first styles we ever made, which we still carry today, was the Line Earrings. At the time, people didn't understand the concept of mismatched earrings, so I was often told that my earrings were broken. The simplicity of the design wasn't widely appreciated either – we were entering a market that focused on a lot of big chunky crystal pieces and gaudy baubles, but we wanted to challenge the status quo and introduce the idea of minimalist jewellery.
“The ocean and its limitless boundaries has always been a huge source of inspiration… I started tuning in to the complexities of my diving experiences and realised it was important to start giving back to the ocean as much as possible.”
On Their Most Influential Inspirations
SM: The ocean and its limitless boundaries has always been a huge source of inspiration for our collections. I go diving almost bi-weekly in Australia, and whenever I get a chance to travel internationally, it’s almost always centred around diving as well. There are incredibly diverse underwater structures and experiences in each place I get to explore. I've done everything from cave diving to wreck diving, to coral reef diving, so there's always something new to discover.
RG: I think Sarah is always inspired by her experiences and she’s extremely inquisitive. Every time she goes on a trip or she sees something new, be it culture, nature, or a change in environment, she returns with an invigorated passion to translate these experiences into a creative, visual language. Most of the time this manifests into jewellery, but it can also manifest into pottery or other creative outlets.
On the Importance of Ocean Conservation
SM: We've always had an appreciation for ocean conservation, but we really started to become serious about it following our 2016 Tidal collection. At the time, I started tuning in to the complexities of my diving experiences and I realised that to build a successful and burgeoning business, it was important for us to give back to the ocean as much as possible.
RG: Our Siren collection in 2019 was based on a lot of the things that Sarah was seeing while she was diving. She saw marine life getting caught in ghost nets and abandoned fishing debris, and in one particularly poignant experience, she witnessed a shark swim past with a huge fishing hook caught through its mouth. She felt compelled to create a collection that would build awareness around these issues, and in doing so, she realised that we needed to partner with an organisation that could implement impactful change around marine conservation.
SM: That’s how we discovered a really amazing organisation based in Queensland called the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), and we’ve been working closely with them ever since. They’ve become like an extended family – everyone is focused on the same goal and they’re very passionate and influential.
On the Evolution of Their Partnership
RG: Having known each other for so long, we’ve experienced both extremes of highs and lows and we’ve forged a deep appreciation for one another. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and how we can complement each other and get the best out of any situation together. In a way, we’ve grown up together.
SM: Fundamentally, we've always come together over the design process. He’s very technical, while I'm more of the creative, conceptual side. We complement each other both personally and professionally. That’s one vein that has remained consistent to this day.
“We've always been lucky enough to align with like-minded people who share the same values. We are very proud of what we’ve built and it’s all down to a collaborative effort of many brilliant creatives that are part of a bigger vision.”
On the Power of Collaboration
RG: We've always been lucky enough to align with like-minded people who share the same values and work alongside talented people who are excited to help us shape the brand into what it is today. Our first collaboration was with Dion Lee and it was quite amazing – there was a lot of synergy in that partnership and we made really inspiring sculptural pieces that we never had the resources to execute before.
SM: We love collaborating with other people because there’s always a different perspective on what we're creating. I learned very early on that we're not experts at everything, so I appreciate working with talented creatives because they run with their own vision and we can come together to build on it. It’s important to respect other people’s perspectives because that's where the magic happens. I think that's why all our stores look completely different; we always work with different architects who have their own vision, so each store is really unique.
RG: Our team has more than doubled year on year. We are very proud of what we’ve built and it’s all down to a collaborative effort of many brilliant creatives that are part of a bigger vision.
On Their Most Memorable Moments
RG: One of my favourite memories is when we were invited to the Marie Claire awards. It was amazing to be nominated but we didn’t think anything would come of it. We were in disbelief when we were called up on stage. Until that moment, we never took the time to look back at what we had built, and suddenly we had a really prestigious acknowledgment of all our hard work.
SM: My favourite moment has to be when we were creating our Rosa collection. The pieces referenced the intricate silhouette of rose petals and were completely handmade and pushed the boundaries of jewellery design. It took a lot of exploration and experimentation to get that collection off the ground. After constantly testing for about six weeks, we finally found a technique that worked and brought the rose petals to life. Aside from collections, meeting Sarah from Colette has always been one of my favourite moments – seeing our jewellery pieces in that iconic Parisian store was just amazing. Definitely a pinch-me moment.
“Understanding our own manufacturing and how a product is brought to life is something that we hold in really high regard. It’s a huge part of how we design because we can immerse ourselves in the end-to-end product.”
On Australian Craftsmanship and Conscious Production
SM: It's so important to us and it’s a huge part of the brand’s DNA. Understanding our own manufacturing and how a product is brought to life is something that we hold in really high regard. We want to ensure that there's an opportunity for people to work in the traditional manufacturing trade in Australia because the more we move towards modern technology, the more the beautiful skill of traditional craftsmanship becomes lost. So for us, it's really about the preservation of skill.
RG: Craftsmanship is also a huge part of how we design because we can immerse ourselves in the end-to-end product. Every time we design something, we have an insight into the entire production process and we can evaluate the product against what we envisioned or easily address any issues and constantly learn and improve. I think if you're completely disconnected from the creation and making of your product, there's such a knowledge gap that can impact the strength of your design.”
On The Upcoming 10th-Anniversary Collection
RG: Our 10th-Anniversary Collection commemorates 10 years as a brand. We reflected on all our archives and lookbooks and pulled together the essence of what we loved most from each past collection. This translated into a coherent line that embodies beautiful free-form coral silhouettes. There’s also an amazing handmade aspect to it, which reflects how we first started out as a brand.
SM: This collection has come full circle to my very first real diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, which set the ball rolling for all of our ocean conservation work thereafter. This year I returned to the reef with a **much deeper understanding of the ocean and I was still very much in love with the coral. This informed the unique three-dimensional designs throughout our 10th-Anniversary Collection, which encapsulates the density and the intricate layers of the stunning coral reefs.
“We put a lot of effort and careful consideration into everything we do and there's always an element of curiosity and an inquisitive drive to discovery.”
On Defining Their Brand
RG: We put a lot of effort and careful consideration into everything we do, from our approach to each collection, including concept, design and materials, to our impact on the planet and the full customer experience. I think collaboration is another defining element of the brand – it’s an ever-evolving collaboration between teams to bring each collection to life.
SM: I think there's always an element of curiosity to our brand and an inquisitive drive to discovery. Whenever we have a lightbulb moment, the constant catchphrase between us is “how weird would it be if we tried this or that?” The phrase means we’re not afraid to push the boundaries of possibility and test the limits of our ideas as well as what we can create and achieve.
RG: It was an evolution from “but why can’t we do that?” We are both optimists and we’re always looking for ways to achieve the impossible. We are solution-orientated and I think that really shows through our collections.
On the Future Of SARAH & SEBASTIAN
RG: SARAH & SEBASTIAN has always been a creative outlet and a lifestyle for us. We want to continue making considered collections that focus on craftsmanship and innovation. But we’re not limiting ourselves; looking forward we want to explore beyond traditional jewellery making and there’s the potential to expand into further categories one day.
SM: We don’t like planning too far in advance because we don’t like locking ourselves into an unbreakable contract. One thing is for sure, we’re excited about our upcoming anniversary launch and we’ll just have to see where it takes us from there!