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‘We want to be more than just a jewellery brand’

Jodie, left, and Danielle Snyder, creators of DANNIJO, a jewellery and accessory label, pose for a photo in Toronto on Nov. 30, 2012.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

Ask Danielle and Jodie Snyder, the sisters behind the New York-based jewellery label Dannijo, what their statement pieces would declare and they'll likely quote Jenny Curran, the free-spirited love interest played by Robin Wright in ForrestGump: "Let's go to San Francisco!"

Indeed, the duo's bohemian baubles are impressively well-travelled, having landed on cool girls across the globe, from Beyoncé and Natalie Portman to Alexandra and Theodora Richards (the Rolling Stone's offspring actually star in their latest look book).

But for the fast-rising young designers – Danielle is 27 and Jodie is 30 – success is about more than simply gaining a celebrity following. Deeply rooted in the philanthropic principles that have been Dannijo's raison d'être since its launch in 2008, the Florida-raised doctor's daughters regularly collaborate with a Rwandan women's co-operative in the production of their wares. At a recent trunk show at Holt Renfrew in Toronto, the siblings sat down with Globe Style to discuss the expansion of those efforts, their rare sisterly synchronicity and why there should be more to fashion than just a pretty look.

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You started making jewellerywhen you were kids. You evenopened a store while you werestill in high school in Jacksonville,Fla. What did that latterexperience teach you?

Jodie: Jacksonville isn't the most fashion-forward place, but we got to know about the kind of pieces that people will respond to. We also learned that it's important to talk to customers, to see how they're wearing pieces. It's always a source of inspiration and ideas to see how people are wearing their jewellery.

You're completely self-taught,having learned to do wire workusing your father's medicalequipment. Do you think thatthe lack of formal training hasgiven you an edge?

Jodie: Because we didn't have formal training, we're very open to new ideas and to new ways of making jewellery. We are never afraid of the challenge of doing something new. Each season, we kind of see [our output] as a clothing collection: A lot of jewellery designers have the iconic thing that they do over and over again, but we get to start from scratch every season and say, "What's inspiring us now?"

Danielle: In each piece there's a little bit of Jo, a little bit of Danni. [Jodi's style] is more classic while mine is bohemian.

Although your aesthetics arevery different, you still designwell together. How does thatwork?

Jodie: As sisters, we're able to work together because we know what the other is thinking. We have known each other's strengths and weaknesses our entire lives. My strengths are Danielle's weaknesses in some ways and vice versa. But there are things that we love doing together: We love finishing each other's designs and inspiring each other and pushing each other to make the collections even better. Designing aside, I handle the business side and Danielle handles the creative and social media. We do give each other space to do what we're both good at and then come together to design.

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Your inspiration is really eclectic.For example, your spring 2013collection is The Great Gatsbymeets the Wild West. How do youcome up with your themes?

Danielle: It's all about our experiences in any given moment – where we've travelled to, the films we saw, the books we have read, what we're wearing and what we're missing. This year, for instance, Jodi's going to Morocco for the holidays and I'm going to Jamaica, so who knows what next season will look like.

Your business began when youstarted making jewellery forDanielle's charity, L.W.A.L.A.,a non-profit organization thatraises funds for grass-rootsinitiatives in Africa. And nowyour packaging is made by aco-operative in Rwanda. Whyis the philanthropic element soimportant to you?

Danielle: One of the things that fashion can sometimes lack is that do-good factor. And I don't think there's anything more inspiring than knowing that whatever it is you're doing can be more meaningful. We want to create a platform to empower women in underdeveloped areas of the world. The packaging was the first step with that. We're now collaborating on bibs [incorporating] the local fabrics of these Rwandan women. We'll send them the bibs and they'll adorn them with their materials. The labels will say "Handmade in New York and finished in Rwanda with love."

Jodie: We have been so privileged to be able to create Dannijo and to get to where we are now in five years. It's important to us to help people experience what we've experienced.

Danielle: We want to be more than just a jewellery brand.

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This interview and has been editedand condensed.

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