Art + Design,  Fashion

In Conversation with Talia // Love Medals

Name: Talia Tanaka
Shop: Love Medals
Instagram: @lovemedals

What is Love Medals?

Love Medals are a way for people to connect and honour each other. It’s an expression from one saying to another, “I see you, I honour you, I celebrate you.” Love Medals are currently available as medals, pins, necklaces, and art prints.

Talking with you, Talia, you instantly feel like you’re best friends! Your easy-going nature, curiosity, and gentle demeanour all make for wonderful conversation. Tell us a little more about yourself, such as your background and how Love Medals came about?

I was always creatively inclined, although I hadn’t consciously realized it until I was almost 20. I graduated from ECUAD with a major in Photography. My first exposure to jewellery-making was when I was recruited from a tea shop to work for a local jewellery company. Shortly after, I moved to Japan, where I had a lot of free time. I began reading up on jewellery-making techniques and sketching out designs. I visited a market while there and came upon a booth with vintage Japanese military medals. I remember looking at them and simply thinking, “Love medals…why don’t we have love medals?” This was over 15 years ago.

A jeweller poses in her home studio.
Talia in her home studio.

Have you always wanted to be a jeweller? 

I wanted to be an astronaut! But looking back, I always enjoyed working with my hands and creating very detailed art with various media. It wasn’t until I worked for that jewellery company that I realized I would like to be a jeweller. 

What would you say is the hardest part of what you do? 

Balancing solo entrepreneurship with single parenting and everything else life brings to the table.

A pair of hands holds some metal jewellry.
Some medals waiting to be finished.

Anything you’ve learned that you would like to share with other business owners?

My work must be something that fulfills me on a spiritual level and contributes to people’s lives in a meaningful way. It’s what keeps me interested in it and motivated to keep going.

You’ve created this amazing, beautiful brand that has a wonderful message and story.  How did you come up with the concept? 

I think all of us have a calling in life, and if we’re lucky enough, we’ll recognize it and align ourselves with it. The idea of Love Medals was an invitation from the Universe for me to create something that has people experiencing being seen and honoured for who they are. I chose to accept! I now understand that so many of my life experiences were designed to have me truly appreciate what’s at the core of Love Medals. So in that sense, it’s been in the works since the day I was born.

A metal pin in a gift box.
A beautiful Love Medal in its box.

How did you develop it?

Originally I took cues from military medals and accessories, analyzed how they were designed and adapted my own Love Medal versions. That was a starting-off point. As time went on, it became clear to me that a Love Medal was not just an accessory, but also a concept that embodies something greater. It is a physical symbol for recognizing an individual’s experiences and contributions, and a way for people to nurture meaningful connections. When realizing this, my focus turned to developing the “‘experience” of receiving a Love Medal, with everything from the box and how it opens to the certificate and its customizable message.

You have this amazing attention to detail, not only in your designs, but also in all the marketing pieces. Can you tell us about your creative process? Where do you source materials from?

Thank you! I am strongly influenced by traditional techniques of all kinds. I have a deep appreciation for things made with care, and attention to detail is an important part of that. In particular, Japan’s traditional way of making things is incredibly appealing to me, with deliberateness and intentionality behind each step. Perhaps it’s in my genetics, being half Japanese-Canadian, but it’s just the way I like to do things. The boxes are made locally with vintage Heidelberg letterpress machines. The ribbons are high-quality fashion ribbons sourced from Japan. The pieces are cast using old jewellery techniques that haven’t changed for hundreds of years. I finish everything by hand. I source sustainable materials wherever possible. I’m making pieces that represent something very meaningful, so it needs to be made with love and care.

A set of jewellery-making tools on a bench.
Jewellery-making tools.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal style and aesthetic? What influences you in your product choices? 

I like quality. I like things that are a little different. Sustainability is very important to me. How a product is made and its effects on our planet are also huge considerations for me. Being a single parent, practicality still plays a big factor in most of my choices. I think my true personal style is more eccentric than how I’m currently expressing it. I actually have a plan to design a uniform for myself, one that is influenced by my Japanese heritage, and that’s what I’ll wear every day. 

Where do you find inspiration? What or who inspires you?

Anyone who is genuinely kind. Anyone who stands up for others. The infinite ways in which people creatively express themselves. My son who inspires me in a way that no one else can. Mother Earth and Her perfection. Divine Love.

A pair of hands arranges some metal jewellery in a satin box.
Talia arranges some Love Medals in a display case.

Anything new on the horizon for Love Medals? 

I’ll be expanding the collection, introducing more options like bracelets and earrings. There will be new additions to the ribbon colour selections, as well as more “meaning stamps” to choose from for the certificates, ie. courage, compassion, family, etc. Shirts and display boxes are in the works as well. In general, Love Medals is growing and gaining momentum. It’s really exciting!

Starting a business can be challenging. What are some of the hardest lessons you’ve had starting your business? How have you overcome them? 

Listening to my intuition. Not spending money on something out of fear or panic. Learning how to ask for help. Building a community of people who are ready to support in whichever way they can. I overcome challenges by really believing in what I’m doing. It’s ok to make mistakes. It’s part of the process.

A stack of books in a jewellery studio.
Some inspirational books in the studio.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as a jeweller? 

Find a jeweller who’s been doing it for many years and ask if they will mentor you. Find your creative voice. What is important to you and can you find a way to express it through your designs? Take the time to educate yourself on the jewellery industry, how the mining of materials affects communities and the planet. Find sustainable sources. 

How has the pandemic affected you? Have you made any hard decisions to get you through this difficult time?

I don’t know if I’m far enough removed yet from the experience to fully understand how it has affected me. 2020 has been unlike anything I have ever experienced or imagined could happen, but I am very aware of how it has invited us, rather aggressively, to look at how we operate individually and collectively. I just keep calling it “the chrysalis.” This is the time for transformation. I think the decisions I’ve had to make during this time haven’t been nearly as difficult as they have been for so many others.

A set of rubber stamps with words.
Talia’s “Meaning Stamps” for her artwork and medals.

The pandemic has been overwhelming and we’re all trying to cope as best as we can. How are you coping these days? What’s been working for you? 

Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude. It is no longer just a word printed on the side of coffee cups. I practice gratitude daily. It’s as simple as thanking the plants I eat for giving me their energy or taking a moment to tell a loved one how grateful I am to have them in my life. It’s important to be there for your people and let them be there for you. Get grounded. Go to the water. Go to the trees. 

As we navigate our new reality, what advice would you give to your fellow small business owners on what keeps you moving forward? 

Be open to what makes sense. If you need to adjust and shift gears, do it, and if you can find a way to be excited about it, even better. Victoria has a strong sense of community. Connect with people who believe in what you’re doing and build your support team. Think creatively and always be open to opportunities, as you never know where they can lead. Dr. Bonnie Henry wearing a Love Medal on TV was a result of an email to a friend about new postcards I needed printed. Random! 

A poster in a studio.
Love Medals motto.

If you were looking back to this moment in time, what do you hope to gain in personal and business growth? 

For me, these are all love lessons. Lessons on how to love and believe in myself, others, the planet and Source Energy. I feel my growth in business directly corresponds to my personal growth. They go hand-in-hand.

What three words best describe how you’re feeling today?

Grateful, tired and excited!

A jeweller at her work bench.
Talia at her workbench.