Khun Umpai – Upcycling and Coconut Shell Jewelry

One of our most inspired artisans is Khun Umpai. She designs coconut shell jewelry through the upcycling of food waste. Her enterprise started at home, where much of the production still takes place today. Working in a very personal style, she only uses natural materials. Besides coconut shell jewelry, she also designs clothing and bamboo reed bags.

Thousands of coconuts are sold on the markets of Thailand every day. Unfortunately, the hard inner shells are mostly discarded after use. Several artisans are now repurposing these into carved items. Apart from the coconut shell jewelry of Khun Umpai, we also feature coconut shell soap dishes.

All of her necklaces and bracelets consist of coconut shell carvings, waxed cotton cord, and beads. Without the use of any plastic or metal, she can create astonishing results.

Oh Island in the Sun

As a child, I always dreamt of tropical islands in the sun. The first image that came to mind was coconuts. Somehow they embodied paradise to this young girl brought up in cold Belgian weather. Coconut tree patterns feature in comics, movies, wallpapers, Hawai’i shirts, and many other places. They irrevocably summon images of beach holidays, cocktail in hand, watching the sunset.

This sense of perpetual holiday and warm weather days transfers itself gladly to our coconut shell jewelry. Carved masterfully from the hard inner shell of the coconut, they are stunning. All-natural, hand-carved coconut shell jewelry is lightweight, low maintenance, and always stylish. A thin coating of natural oil varnish brings out the natural sheen, making it even more durable. You’ll be able to enjoy your piece of art for years to come.

Pendant in carved coconut, natural jewelry on blue ceramic.
Pendant in carved coconut, natural jewelry.

New collections are arriving as we speak; look out for them in our online shop from October 2019 onwards.

Coconut Basics

Coconuts are a staple food of the tropics. People use it daily in their lives. Most commonly known in Western cuisine as coconut milk and oil.

There are many more applications in the food industry. People produce sugar, candy, lemonade, and spirits from coconuts all around the equator.

Freshly cut coconuts. Picture by Jonas Ducker on Unsplash
Freshly cut coconuts. | Picture by Jonas Ducker on Unsplash

But its utility isn’t limited to just the fruit. Most parts of the coconut palm tree know some form of use. Leaves and stalks are braided for religious ornaments and home decor. Decorated fans from coconut leaves are among some of the most beautiful at the local markets. And even in construction, the fronds find an application in building temporary abodes for the workers.

A single coconut palm tree produces upwards of 75 fruits per year, for their entire adult life, spanning well over 40 years. In Thailand alone, there are more than 1.7 million tons of coconuts produced each year.

A Day in the Life of a Coconut

So what does a day in the life of coconuts look like? Once taken off the tree, the fruit will be washed. The harvest happens at different stages of ripeness, depending on the intended use. Young green coconuts give the most refreshingly sweet juice. Older brown fruits make for the best coconut milk yield.

Different layers inside the coconut. Picture by Katherine Volkovski on Unsplash
Different layers inside the coconut. | Picture by Katherine Volkovski on Unsplash

After washing, the vendors will trim or altogether remove the husk. This brown husk is what we know in the west is coconut peat or choir. From here on, a trip to the cleaver is next, cracking the hard inner shell. This is the part our jewelry is carved from. Finally, the juice and flesh find a way to individual cart vendors. The juice is sold in bottles, sweet and cold. Its meat is ground into a pulp, which they mix with water to extract the milk by squeezing. The leftover paste dries in the sun to produce copra or grind it down further to obtain coconut flour.

Coconut display with deserts. | Picture by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash