21 April 2007

Interview with a Jewelry Designer

Seahorse Bracelet by These Flowers, This Moon.

Wings of Love Earrings.

I recently sat down for some girl talk with fledgling jewelry designer Kelly McGreal from These Flowers, This Moon. As you might know, TF, TM is one of the jewelry lines we carry at The Blissful. Kelly also happens to be my friend. We met about six years ago as grad students in our Masters of Teaching program at Kent State and have been close ever since. I always knew Kelly was a woman of many talents (I’m telling you, she can do just about anything), but until she launched her jewelry line last year, I had no idea the depths of creativity and skill this woman possesses. This isn’t mere flattery because she’s my friend, either. I couldn’t bear to offer my customers anything I didn’t truly believe was a great fit for our store--and TF, TM is definitely us. For those of you interested in starting your own creative business, or simply interested in the behind-the-scenes machinations of a woman entrepreneur, Kelly’s experiences as an artist and new business owner may be of interest to you.

We carry These Flowers, This Moon because we love it, we believe in it, we wear it ourselves, and most importantly, it sells for us. As a boutique owner, I am regularly approached by artisans and craftspeople who are interested in getting their wares into a shop. The longer I do this and the savvier and smarter I become about my business, the better I know whether what is being presented to me fits the first three criteria (for non-accessories, swap “we wear it ourselves” for “we’d buy it for our own homes or for our own personal use”). If we love, believe in, and would personally buy an item, there’s a pretty good chance it’ll sell for us. But not always! So much of learning what sells in any given market is trial and error. Hopefully fewer errors than hits!

So here’s the scene: a Friday evening, tucked into a coffee shop in Hudson, Ohio. Kelly is stunning and understated in a black ballerina wrap sweater, a golden sideswept ponytail, and her own earrings. I am rocking a lightweight cotton jacket that ties in a big, floppy bow at the peplum waist—my new favorite article of clothing. Kelly drinks a simple Americano; I, on the other hand, have added three layers of sweetness to my coffee confection in the form of chocolate syrup, mint syrup, and whip. Yes, I really did.

We settle into our metal table. Kelly giggles. We both suddenly feel like real professionals. It’s right at that moment that a wave of “oh my gosh, our fantasies have now become reality” hits us. “You’ll love this interview,” I tell her. Truth is, the latent high school journalist in me has been awakened and I am all ears, gel pen at the ready to take notes, fine sheen of excited perspiration on my brow. I might love this more than she will. So let’s begin.

The Blissful: Kelly, tell us a little about your background. How did you get into jewelry designing? Where does your story begin?

Kelly: It’s hard to pinpoint a beginning, but I know that I have been collecting jewelry ever since I was a child. I used to view my mother’s jewelry box as somewhat of a mysterious holy grail. I loved sifting through her beaded necklaces, or trying on her costume broaches and rings. As a teenager, I’d troll thrift stores for great costume pieces. I still have much of my collection to this day.

The Blissful: So what about professional experience? Any training?

Kelly: I worked with W Magazine in college as an intern and after college as a freelance assistant. Most of my time was spent with the Accessories Department and I certainly gained a respect for well-made, original pieces.

The Blissful: How would you describe your jewelry to someone who has never seen it?

Kelly: I’d say that it is both vintage and modern and that almost every piece is inspired by nature. I’d tell someone that each piece contains some genuine vintage element: glass beads, metal findings, decades-old chain, etc. Of course, I use newer materials to supplement the pieces, but the soul of each design is pointedly vintage.

The Blissful: I love that idea--the soul of each design. What or who has influenced your design aesthetic? Where do you draw your inspiration?

Kelly: Nature, poetry, fantasy, mythology, literature, still images, movie scenes, experiences…I guess I find inspiration almost everywhere. Inspiration is tangible sometimes: an old photograph, a leaf, a line of poetry on a page, but sometimes it is intangible: a fleeting and evocative emotion that comes with experiencing the scent of a candle, the play of light or shadow on an object, the feel of a warm coffee cup in your hand, or the sun coupled with a breeze on your skin. All of these things that we enjoy are sources of inspiration that I try to translate into my jewelry designs.

The Blissful: From my experience, so much of selling hinges on presentation. Your presentation is interesting in that each piece of jewelry comes attached to a small card on which there is a poem.

Kelly: A haiku, actually.

The Blissful: Right. So what’s the deal with the haiku? How do they relate to your jewelry?

Kelly: The name of my business, These Flowers, This Moon, comes from an ancient line of Japanese poetry. I am very interested in poetry and often the Eastern attention to describing nature and events is so beautifully measured and simple. I chose to use haiku poetry as a way of capturing the essence of whatever inspired each piece. I enjoy creating the poems as much as creating the jewelry and I think that the combination of the poem and the piece exactly captures what I believe in as a design philosophy.

The Blissful: You are a person who thinks deeply about what she’s creating and why, yet the final creation is not cerebral. In other words, you don’t take yourself too seriously.

[At this exact moment, Kelly accidentally sloshes her coffee while drinking and a drop slides down her chin and lands on the table. I snort with laughter. It takes us a few moments to pull it together.]

The Blissful: Ai yi yi. So I’m wondering who your customer is. Some artists say they create with a particular customer in mind. Do you have a fantasy customer, and if so, who is she and what’s she like?

Kelly: Essentially my customer is me. I really just design what I love. I keep one of everything I design (unless it is an absolute one-of-a-kind because of some limited vintage element).

My hope is that the right woman will stumble upon one of my pieces and understand it and make it hers. I think my fantasy customer is someone who values what was beautiful about the past but who walks through the present with a keen eye toward finding beauty right now. I think she sees the poetry in things and moments and has the right balance of intellectualism and playfulness. I think that she’s the kind of woman who would see sunlight highlighting dust as it settles as magic, not as a cleaning opportunity.

The Blissful: Some woman reading this is shuddering in horror right now. And that woman is not you or me.


Kelly: Right.

The Blissful: So I think one thing that interests us about artistic people is the creative process and how that works. Can you tell us a little about your creative process? How do you move from idea to finished piece?

Kelly: Hmmm. Process? Process seems to connote some sort of planning. I rarely plan my pieces. Well, that’s not entirely true. I suppose I have an inspired concept to begin with, but after that it is a haphazard meeting of fortunes to discover the right beads or findings, and marry them to the perfect chain or jumpring, etc.

What I always do, however, is try things 20 different times in 20 different ways with 20 different combinations of things until I say, “Yes! This is it.”

The Blissful: Got it. Now, an insider question. Where do you find your findings? How do you find sources for the parts that make up your jewelry?

Kelly: Because of my contacts from my fashion days, I have had help locating different dealers of jewelry parts and stones. I also use online sources and websites that specialize in carrying vintage parts. Just like in any business, networking and building relationships leads me to discover new sources. Lastly, in the warmer months, you’ll find me at large flea markets in hopes of discovering at least one great strand of vintage beads!

The Blissful: In other words, you are a super sleuth and you do a lot of footwork. I can relate. One of my greatest thrills as a shop owner is researching and finding new sources. I love the process of discovery and tracking down the right vendors. It's sort of like detective work! So changing gears here... Because you worked in the world of high fashion, I know you have your finger on the pulse of all that is trendy.

Kelly: [laughs]

The Blissful: Are you trend-conscious in your design?

Kelly: I would say that I am not trend-conscious, but I do think that my jewelry happens to be reflecting one of the moods in fashion right now: a bend toward the natural. Also, there seems to be a love for anything vintage right now. I definitely think that the theme of nature is timeless, though.

The Blissful: Kelly, as a new business owner myself, I think a lot about what direction I want to take my business over the next five years. Do you have a business plan for These Flowers, This Moon? If so, how did you develop it?

Kelly: Sadly, no. I just started jewelry making as a hobby, but I had started so many other design-based hobbies before (sewing, sketching, photography) that I thought that this might just be my latest creative endeavor. When I realized that it was not just a hobby or flash-in-the-pan, and that I really felt at peace when I was making jewelry, I took the leap of investing more money than I have ever invested into anything into buying materials.

From there I focused on being as prolific as I could with my designs and tried to decide how big or small my business could be. I am somewhat limited (by choice) in terms of growing my business because my vintage materials are limited. I can’t sell to a major chain because I could never produce 100 of any one design. I like it this way though. For now I sell online and at The Blissful Home. My goal is to add a few more exclusive boutiques as sellers, but I won’t focus on that until I have more time to do marketing and production.

The Blissful: Here’s a question that many women will relate to. You have children. How do manage to find the time, mental space, and energy to be creative and productive with little ones at home?

Kelly: It’s hard. Time-wise, it’s difficult to carve out lengths of time for designing and assembling, and I have two small girls who are like little raccoons enamored by shiny objects! The glitter of a bead or a finished bracelet is a draw for curious little hands! It’s hard to keep my materials safe while at the same time fostering their appreciation for creating things. I suppose I just do what all moms do: find ways to keep their children engaged while still managing to accomplish other tasks. Often, my kids are making bracelets out of Playdough while I’m at the counter assembling a more lasting piece. I should give credit where credit is due though: my oldest daughter has given me her 4-year-old input on designs, and she even designed a bird and coin necklace that I call the “At the Fountain” necklace. It’s a favorite of mine!

At the Fountain Necklace, designed by Kelly's daughter.

The Blissful: It's a favorite of mine and my mom’s, too! You may have a budding jewelry designer on your hands. So with a home, a husband, children, and your part-time teaching to concern you, how do you stay creatively fed and watered? Do you ever get designer’s block, and if so, what do you do about it?

Kelly: Not designer’s “block” per se, but I do occasionally take a break from designing. Sometimes I’ll have an explosion of creativity and create 2 or 3 really strong pieces in a day, but then maybe I’ll take a break for a few days, focus on my family and home, and hopefully garner new inspiration from the world around me. Also, I love to read. Sometimes becoming immersed in a book inspires me to think beyond my borders and think of other inspiring times and places. I just finished a book about a character that spent time in Greece; I think much of those images inspired my Sea Collection.

The Blissful: Inspiration is essential. Are there any designers or artists who particularly inspire you or whom you emulate, design-wise or career-path wise?

Kelly: Kaari Meng, the creator of a home and jewelry line called French General, is a silent mentor of mine. She started her business in a similar way and has a book called The French-Inspired Home [sold at The Blissful Home] that offers really great and inspiring tips on creating things and taking a hobby to the next level. I also love the store Anthropologie.

The Blissful: [gasp!] You know this is my favorite shop. The name has never been uttered on this blog before. Of course, they’re not really a shop but a major national retailer.

Kelly: The design aesthetic and business philosophy of this company inspires me to be true to my own vision and trust that the right customer will find my line and understand all it stands for.

The Blissful: There are so many women out there who are talented and have a creative passion burning inside them. They would love to be able to do what you're doing. From one woman to another, can you offer any advice to those who would like to start their own creative businesses?

Kelly: It sounds cliché, but “follow your passion.” Many of us have a variety of interests but do not go the extra step of investing in them. It’s scary to plunk down a bunch of money, especially if you are on a budget, and buy enough materials to make a go of something. Even if you start small, invest in good materials, make sure that you have a comfortable skill level for producing whatever you are making (you should never start a business in which you dread having to do a major part of it. For me, it’s sewing. I can do it, but my patience level for it is very low). Finally, invest in yourself…too many times in life people rain on our parades and treat our dreams as silly flights-of-fancy. Be tenacious with your dream, even if you have to start slowly and build slowly, but DO it.

The Blissful: Kelly, how can people find and buy your jewelry?

Kelly: Well, I’m at The Blissful Home, thank you very much, and online at my website: www.theseflowersthismoon.com.

The Blissful: Shameless plug time! Kelly will be a part of our Paris in the Springtime party this Thursday, April 26th from 5-8 PM at The Blissful Home, 4605 Fulton Drive NW in Canton. She’ll be offering The Blissful customers a chance to try on and purchase one of a kind and few of a kind pieces. Yay!

Kelly: Are we finished?

The Blissful: Oh, girl, we're never finished. Next we're working on a book proposal.

Kelly: You're not kidding, are you?

The Blissful: Maybe not...

1 comment:

Maggie said...

I can't find your friends website is it still up? loved the interview