A Decade of Jewelry
It’s 2019 and we’re celebrating our tenth year in business!
On March 9th, 2009 Britta filed for a business license and embarked on a journey that would teach her to trust her voice, invest in good quality people and tools, and embrace her willingness to make big decisions with very little upfront information…
Give us a snapshot of life in 2009.
I was living in Boulder, Colorado where I had graduated from college two years prior with a BFA in Fine Art and a focus in printmaking. I was spending a lot of time outside, and I worked seasonally for the Women’s Wilderness Institute leading rock-climbing, backpacking and yoga courses for girls and women. I had been introduced to jewelry making during a summer apprenticeship at Angie Star Jewelry, where Angie taught me basic skills like cutting, soldering, and wirework. Eventually, I got a job as an executive assistant at an advertising agency, but after about 5 months I decided to quit. An art teacher in high school had given me advice, “You can be a professional artist, but you HAVE to show up and WORK everyday.” I wanted to see if what she said was true. I rented a shared art studio at the Eldorado Springs Art Center, at the mouth of the majestic Eldorado Canyon, and set myself up with a small etching press, an easel, and a little jewelry bench.
What led to the decision to start a jewelry business?
Growing up, I watched my dad run various businesses, and I held in intrinsic belief that I also had what it took to be a business owner. While I was dabbling in a life of printmaking and painting, I found side jobs doing jewelry production. My jewelry skills grew and I had the opportunity to see a model of how a small jewelry business could operate by doing contract work for a former OutwardBound instructor of mine, Bronwen of Bronwen Jewelry. (I almost burned her house down while she was traveling in Thailand… but that is a story for another day.) As things progressed, I started to imagine my own jewelry business. I experimented with new designs, etching images and text into pieces of silver. I wanted my jewelry to tell stories, to be meaningful, to help people stay connected with their own dreams and intentions. I believe deeply that visualizing a goal won’t alone make it happen, but the vision is always the first step to making the intention a reality.
Without much planning, and with a lot more confidence than my experience warranted, I formed an LLC and then set about learning what it means to run a business, which often felt like groping around in a dark room to find a light switch.
When did your business start to “work”?
I relied financially on side jobs for about four years while I figured out how to sell enough jewelry to support myself. There are many pieces to this puzzle: designing the jewelry itself, developing a brand identity, finding customers, and learning how to price. Bringing all of these pieces together took a lot of trial and error.
The first arena that started to work was the street market: craft fairs, art shows, festivals, flea markets. My inaugural experience doing a booth event, the Boulder Creek Fest, was very discouraging. I prepped for months, made 109 unique pieces of jewelry, and didn’t sell nearly enough to cover the booth fee. The last day of the three-day show was rained out and I was devastated. Over a year later, I tried doing a small flea market. The fee for the day was $40 and I sold a little over $200 of jewelry. I remember driving home with the windows down, wind blowing my hair, feeling sunburned and dehydrated but singing at the top of my lungs with joy and enthusiasm. I was SO THRILLED!! It HAD WORKED!!!!!
After this, I invested in a 10’x10’ pop-up tent and made a table out of a charmingly weathered door and some saw horses. I started booking shows all around the Boulder/Denver area and spent weekdays making inventory and creating new display props. On weekends, I opened shop on the streets and learned to merchandise and be really quick about running from my booth to the nearest bathroom and back to avoid missing potential customers. Hundreds of shows down the road, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is to come out of my shell and connect with people. I was very shy growing up and at an early show I remember hearing a thin voice eek out of my mouth with the intonation of a question as I tried to greet a potential customer. That night, I made myself a little megaphone necklace to as a reminder to engage my core, make eye contact, and project my voice. This skill has proved valuable in many areas of life, far beyond street markets.
What do you love about running a business?
One of my favorite things about running a business is that there is no ceiling, and the walls are moveable. You are limited by the laws of tax and physics, but not much else. Creativity is queen. If you’re unhappy with your sales, or schedule, or environment, there is unbridled freedom to brainstorm solutions and take action. It’s liberating when there is nobody to blame but your own self. It’s an invitation to take responsibility and learn to be a sculptor of circumstance.
What advice do you have for others interested in building a small business?
Start. Depending on what else is going on in your life the starts may be small and on the side, or a great big dive in, but start. Step out of the “imagining the future” stage and into action. Do it today. Buy your url. File for an EIN. Open an Etsy shop. Book a show three months out so you HAVE to get yourself prepared. No matter what, the first tries will be a little messy, so start getting messy.
I’ve never written a business plan, but in the first year of business I did write a one page document title, “Permission to Succeed.” The opening paragraph was:
“As of right now, I give myself total and absolute permission to be wildly successful in my life. I can and will set goals for the future and make them a reality. I will build a business that challenges and supports me. Along the way, I will provide myself with the time and space to be healthy, make art, travel, and spend time with the ones I love. “
I went on to detail what I would accomplish in one year, five years and ten years. Then I went to work. Every day. As I learn and change along the way, the goals change too, but the reality has proven to be even better than the imagining.
What’s going on these days?
In October of 2018, we moved the studio to the lower level of my home in Magnolia, a neighborhood of Seattle. Our studio windows looks out onto forest, a heron preserve. We have a wood-burning fireplace for chilly days, and we’ve yet to experience a warm, open-window season in this studio, so we couldn’t be more excited for Spring. I love working from home, because we can make lunches in my kitchen and share meals in the cozy living room, which feels like a nice little retreat in the middle of the workday.
Telle is our studio manager, and so much more. She’s been apart of the business for almost two years, and her intelligence, talent and energy has been transformative. Maggie joined us last winter and is attacking our production needs like a champ, with her sidekick, a frisky pup named Basil, keeping the mood in the studio jovial. Maggie is wise beyond her years, and I’ve thrilled to have her in our world.
Where are you going?
In the next five years, I’d like to grow the business to a team of eight. I’m not sure why this is my metric for how to grow, but I love imagining the business at this size, and the powerful company culture we will create. There is a little industrial district a short walk away on Salmon Bay. I imagine moving the business to a space there, preferably a little building on the water where we could have the studio on the bottom floor with garage doors that open up in the summer. The second level would be offices and a photography space. The rooftop would be the site of a lush a vegetable and herb garden with a glassed in gazebo, where we enjoy roof top lunches year round. Everyone on the team of eight will be a jewelry maker, of varying skill levels, so as the need for production ebbs and flows throughout the year we can shift our roles to meet the need. Someone will lead our marketing efforts, and two people will focus on sales and account management. We’ll have an administrative assistant and bookkeeper, a studio manager, and two dedicated jewelry makers. I will support, design, and hold the vision. To get there, we will be growing our wholesale partner community, and expanding our online retail customer base. We will refine and expand our product line: a base of timeless classics, as well as an ever-evolving collection of one-of-a-kind pieces. I’m excited for the journey ahead, and hope you’ll follow along!