Meet our Friday Muse Boh Runga, founder and head of design at Boh Runga Design

26 October 2023
By Fashion Quarterly

From fronting a band to growing a successful jewellery business, trace the creative path of this week’s Friday Muse Boh Runga.

Boh Runga has always been a creative force to be reckoned with. Hailing from a family of fiercely-talented musicians, Runga first rose to prominence in the late ’90s when she fronted as the lead singer for pop/rock band Stellar* – whose first album ‘Mix’ topped the charts in Aotearoa, going platinum a total of five times. Having received a number of accolades throughout her musical career, the creative made a bold transition in the mid-2000s when she was granted the opportunity to create a jewellery range with local bullion company, New Zealand Mint. Blessed with an affinity for infusing storytelling into both her songwriting and her jewellery design, Runga has garnered a dedicated following for her unique adornments, some of which have been worn by the likes of Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, and Kiwi Olympian Lisa Carrington. Having had her own independent ‘Bohtique’ on Auckland’s Ponsonby Road since 2018, it’s fair to say that Runga’s foray into jewellery has been a successful one. And according to FQ’s recent chat with the creative, there’s much more to look forward to in the months to come. 

Read more about this week’s inspiring Friday Muse below, and trace the steps that saw her go from music to metals. 

Bring us up to speed. Could you tell us a bit about you, your background, and your career to date?

I am Ngāti Kahungunu/ Ngāti Rongamaiwahine and Chinese. My early family life was full of music and art. That influence inspired me to pursue being a musician for most of my life but I have been lucky enough in the last 15 years to have another focus too – designing for my jewellery and lifestyle business Boh Runga Design.

You first gained recognition for fronting your award-winning band Stellar* and your family is still very music-oriented to this day. When did you make the transition from music to jewellery and what drew you to it?

I had the opportunity to start a jewellery range with a bullion company who was trying to enliven their jewellery arm, so I put my hand up and pitched for it. My first jewellery range ‘Birdland’ based on our native birds did really well. It was a bit of a surprise. Its success gave me the confidence to put forward more ideas. When we released ‘Feather Kisses’, my third range, that was when my jewellery really took off and I realised I had tapped into something special.

Music and jewellery both require a lot of creativity. In what ways do you find making music similar or different to making jewellery?

My way of designing comes from a storytelling basis. Much like writing a song but in a different medium. With a song you hope to show an emotion or take the listener on a little journey. I try to do something similar with designing. I design ranges that have as much meaning for the wearer as they do for the person who gifts it, as my jewellery is made to be given. I don’t design from a fashion eye – as much as I love fashion – I design from how a piece of jewellery can convey a message or a feeling. 

What does an average day look like for you? 

We moved out West [Auckland] onto a lifestyle block so every morning is birdsong. Besides our resident tūī, pukeko, blackbirds etc there are wild pheasants on occasion and just recently quail scurrying through the garden looking like they’re running late for a meeting. We also have a welcome swallow couple my partner calls Elvis and Wendy that live under our eaves.

Every morning coffee is followed by birdwatching for a while, then if it’s a Tuesday, a Zoom WIP with the BRD team and my business partner Toyah Attwell. We discuss what’s coming up and what we are releasing or need to be concentrating on, timelines and ideas for shoots/ social media content, upcoming promotions, what we would like to communicate with people on our database. 

And of course design ideas..what we would like to offer in the future.  The week is at times spent on the above and walking and playing with the dogs and on whatever other commitments I have musically or with my family.

Why do you think your jewellery resonates with people and is there anything specifically that you think sets you apart from other jewellery brands on the market?

I think there are three particular aspects that make my jewellery brand a little different. The aforementioned way I design; I’m a bit of a romantic and a songwriter and I think I can translate that into what I do. I’ve noticed over the years other designers emulating that kind of thought process but I like to think my background in music makes what I do unique. Many of my designs are still in production from when they were first released so they have struck a chord.

Another way my jewellery stands out is in presentation; the circular blue box with the accompanying story card that tells of the meaning behind the collection or piece is something people really connect with. My jewellery is welcoming and inclusive and we really pride ourselves in having the most helpful and welcoming environment in our store in Ponsonby. We are blessed with amazing staff and we are messaged a lot from customers who have had the best experience shopping with us. I just love that!

Do you have a favourite jewellery piece/design that you’ve created? If so, what is it and why?

My Feather Kiss design put me on the map, so to speak, but my most popular design of late is my FanTail design, based on Pīwakawaka tail feathers, is a real favourite with people. We’ve just released a version of the FanTail earrings with pounamu and we just can’t keep up with the demand.

Your jewellery has been worn by the likes of Mehgan Markle and Lisa Carrington. What does it mean to you to see your pieces worn by such high-profile figures?

Of course it’s wonderful and really gave the jewellery brand a lot of attention here and from overseas which I am grateful for but I also get a thrill from seeing someone out and about wearing something I designed. If I’m feeling brave (and a bit nosy) I sometimes ask if they bought it for themselves or if it was a gift. People are happy to tell their stories and I am always happy to hear them. It’s inspiring.

Tell us more about your ‘Bohlabs’. Do you have any exciting ones on the horizon?

Yes! There are a couple that I’m excited about. I’ve just released a children’s book called The Lotus and The Snowbird and there is an online feature to the book you can access via a QR code within it. It’s an expansion of a glossary of creatures and plants that The Mazda Foundation are helping me put together based on what is in the book but I know it can be so much more over time. I’ve only just started on it – there’s a lot of writing and research to be done!

Another is with a wonderful ceramicist Lily from Lil Ceramics who has made a mug and saucer duo for us with a difference. The wee saucer sits snugly into the top of the mug so you can put your biscuit/chocolate/‘insert treat here’ safely on top of your coffee as you move around the house with your laptop in your other hand. I do this all the time with a funny wee saucer I have at home but now I have this lovely matching Feather Kiss mug and saucer scenario she has created for other people to realise they need it.

Boh Runga 'Bohse' collaboration with Ant Moore Wines.

What inspires you creatively?

I watch a lot of documentaries about so many different subjects it always sets me off thinking about things in a different way. I also like to read a lot and that is helping me finish a short story based on a pivotal time in my past. I have a thing for houseplants and now room for a few greenhouses so that is exciting. I really enjoy being surrounded by greenery but I have to rein it in because my partner doesn’t want to live in a jungle. Damn it!

What’s next for you – personally and professionally?

At home we are working on our plantings. We’ve been here just over a year and now getting to know the problem areas pretty well. We are working out where the raised veggie beds are going, the two bin composting and where we should be planting the new fruit trees. I’m espalier-ing some against our deer fencing to make good use of space. We have to move some fruit trees that are in strange places with rubbish drainage. We have a lot of felled branches brought done by the horrible weather we’ve been having that we’ve piled up over the last 6 months to mulch and all the world’s weeding. There’s a lot of work coming up for us. 

Professionally, there are new additions coming to in the form of a jigsaw puzzle that’s part of The Lotus and The Snowbird range, the beadiful bracelets with the Lotus and Snowbird charms and additional baby products too.

We also have some fun new packaging options for Christmas gifting just to add some colour and choice.

I am also going to start working on an album of children’s songs for The Lotus and The Snowbird, I have three ideas and want to flesh out more tunes. And I’m subbing in for Gin Wigmore for an all women rock show called ‘ATOMIC! Hailing the Pioneering Women of Rock’ happening November 11th, 2023 in Auckland and November 18th, 2023 in Wellington.

'The Lotus and The Snowbird' book, written by Boh.

Quickfire Questions: 

I would describe my style as… Eclectic and varied, I can be quite a loud dresser. Sometimes my stage outfits don’t stay on the stage. I like quite dramatic clothes, a strong shoulder pad, a billowy sleeve. Mad patterns. Strong colours. Life is too short for drab. 

My guilty pleasure is… Binge watching sci fi/fantasy shows while cooking. It’s The Chase, then the news and then whatever strange multi series show I can find that I can power watch through cooking and then come back to on clean up.

The three beauty products I can’t live without… AiOra Cartilage Collagen 05, Bon Parfumeur 302 Eau de Parfum, Malian wide angle eyelash curler.

Best coffee spot… Coffee break on my deck on a sun filled morning with a Feather Kiss cup of L’affare french pressed coffee (splash of Boring oat milk) and maybe a sweet treat made by my partner who is a very good baker. 

If I had to listen to one musician for the rest of my life it would be… Prince. Huge catalogue and I’m a massive fan.

My favourite place to travel to… Kauai, Hawai’i is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been to and I have been lucky enough to have visited there a few times. But I love being with my partner or my family and friends so I will be happy with their company wherever they may want to go.

Imagery: supplied.


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