Founder of Refind, B. Jane Cowie

There’s something inherently romantic about the art of glassmaking. It calls to mind the Venetian glassworkers from Murano, that charming little island just north of Venice steeped in the tradition of glassmaking, and their fascinating glass works that are often marked with bold colours and intricate patterns.

But unlike the world-famous Murano glass, everyday glass tends to be taken for granted – especially bottles and jars that are easily disposed of . Most people will look at an empty wine bottle and think little of it. Australian glass artist B. Jane Cowie, however, is not “most people”, and sees a greater artistic purpose in these expendable glass bottles.

That is the impetus behind Jane’s company Refind, which seeks to recycle used glass and repurpose them into aesthetically pleasing glassware and glass art. Refind also offers glassmaking classes – where you get to make glass beads, dishes or vases – while educating the public on the virtues of glass reusing, upcycling and recycling.

In recognition of their outstanding achievements and socially conscious work, Refind will be receiving Singapore Prestige Class Award and the Aspiring Woman Entrepreneurs Award 2021/2022.

A Boundless Passion for Glass

When Jane encountered glassblowing for the first time, she was immediately blown away. At the time she was travelling around Europe, washing dishes and working in bars to make ends meet; but it was there, thousands of miles away from home, that this encounter changed her life forever.

“Once I knew I wanted to work with glass, I wrote actual letters on paper and posted them to glass artists across the world, hoping to get a job as an artist’s assistant within the creative industry,” Jane remembers. “Only three of them wrote back, one of whom was Ursula Huth, a famous glass artist in Germany.”

“She said she couldn’t pay me. But, if I wanted to, I could come and help out for room and board.”

That sparked an incredible journey that took Jane from Australia across the globe to countries like Germany, England, Sweden, France, Japan, the USA and finally Singapore, allowing her to hone her craft at every turn and develop the aesthetic ideals she is now known for. Under her artistically focused company, Art Glass Solutions Pte Ltd, she has produced many grand glass sculptures that are featured in various high-profile locations across Singapore, including the Republic Plaza and Marina Bay Sands.

Inspiration Amid the Pandemic

While the COVID-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works of many business plans, Jane spent her time during the quiet months of the Circuit Breaker to reflect – almost philosophically – on what she could do to improve the world around her.

“I was reflecting on how we as a collective can take care of our planet. I started thinking about the bigger issues of sustainability, and how I could contribute something more to the ongoing issues of glass making, waste management and doing good for our planet.” Jane says.

“I got the idea to use recycled glass from my neighbours, actually. They drank a lot of wine, and suggested that I use their empty glass bottles for my art.”

Jane began a 30-day challenge, working with different types of bottle glass each day to familiarise herself with the various differences between the different glass materials. She uploaded footage of her process onto Refind’s Instagram page daily, which raised awareness for her cause. Soon enough, more and more people began sending her their used glass bottles, knowing she would turn them into beautiful glassware and glass art.

“Now I see my primary business focus is education. With my recycling work and my glassmaking classes, I want to educate people about how glass is made, how to shape and work with glass, and to open up discussions on how we can reuse glass. Because in the glass industry, I don’t think glass is being recycled at all.”

Art and Sustainability Before Business

Although her business is growing steadily, Jane’s priorities are still firmly in the creative and aesthetical. She is an artist first, businesswoman second.

“Frankly, I don’t do things for money,” she states with a chuckle. “It’s about making artwork I love – this is what I was born to do. And I believe that if you’re good at what you love to do, then the money will follow.”

But that does not mean Jane is not meticulous about how she manages her business. She steers the ship with vision and authority, and is able to balance both the artistic and financial sides of her work. More importantly, she knows that success with her company means she is getting her message on sustainability out there.

“My broader objectives are social. I think it’s important to shift the focus away from this disposable culture, and into a more sustainable, reusing, upcycling with different types of closed loop systems.”

Plans for the future

When Jane first started Refind, she was working on a shoestring budget that required her to build her own equipment. One of her kilns, which is still operable to this day, was made from what seems to be an old barrel.

“As the business continues to flourish, I would love to get bigger, better equipment. That means I will need to expand the size of our studio, so we have more room to conduct our glassmaking classes.”

But above all else, Jane hopes to start a real and functioning recycling program, and that other businesses can get involved. This means she can continue creating and experimenting with her glass art, while supplying other small and emerging businesses with her work to generate an income for them as well as provide reusing and recycled uses for Singapore’s waste glass.

“There was a student who was asking if I could teach her how to cut champagne bottles so she could make candles for her new candle making business… Another student envisioned using my glass as sustainable flower pots. Through experimentation and education, I was able to provide them with sustainable recycling and upcycling glass solutions, thereby helping them start a new business. This allows me to continue doing what I love – educate others AND make glass.” Jane notes with a smile.

“Because really, there’s no point in doing something you don’t really love to do.”

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