Welcome to the new installment of A Crafty Life. I'm Birdy27 of Birdy27 Designs and once a month on the Etsy NY blog I'll feature someone or something of interest to the great artisans and followers of the Etsy NY team.
My first interview is with Melissa Kelly of Be In The Moment. I met Melissa in July at the Hester Street Fair and was instantly struck by her calm and compassionate demeanor. Things were slow that day, so I got a chance to look at her jewelry and I was intrigued by her themes of nature's unending beauty, love of animals, and spirituality. Melissa started her business in 2009 and she now works at it full time.Melissa is a very active member of the Etsy NY team, so I felt she would be the perfect subject for this first article.
Were you raised in a creative environment? How long have you been creating jewelry?
I have been making jewelry in some form since elementary school! I’ve always loved jewelry! From the youngest of ages, I would bedeck myself with bracelets, rings, necklaces, earrings...you name it. So it makes sense that I ended up here. I still buy other designers' jewelry to wear, but it was a natural progression to want to create my own designs and truly express myself through what I wear. I started making jewelry on a more serious level my senior year of college. I went to NYU as an acting major, and that final year, I took a jewelry course. I mostly enrolled for fun, but I quickly saw that I had a natural talent for metal work, even above many of the art majors in class with me. I was hooked after that. My teacher there told me to continue taking classes at the 92 Street YMCA, which has an excellent jewelry arts program. I enrolled there and never looked back! My only regret--perhaps--is that at this point, I would probably have a master’s degree worth of education, but since I took classes at a community program, I don’t have any “credentials.” I regret that because I think I would really enjoy teaching, and it is difficult to get a teaching job, at least here in the city, without a master’s degree.
When did you know you wanted to start a business?
That was always something in my long-term goals, especially if my acting career did not pan out the way I hoped. I ended up working for several different jewelry designers as a bench jeweler/production assistant, which I really enjoyed and which definitely improved my skills! When the economy crashed in 2008, I ended up losing both my part-time jobs that year because the businesses suffered. (I had been working 2 days a week for one designer, and 2-3 days for another.) I felt that was a turning point. I decided to apply for some full-time jobs in the business, and told myself if I didn’t get them, that was the sign to start my own company finally. And that’s what I did!
I love the name you chose for your business: Be In The Moment. How did you come up with it and what is its significance?
I chose that name because of my acting background. My acting studio taught Sanford Meisner’s acting technique. “Be in the moment” was one of our biggest mantras. When I started my jewelry class in college, I inscribed my final project piece with the mantra, and that stuck with me. I always had the idea to name my jewelry company after that, to give tribute to my artistic roots.
That's a great name since it honors the creative process and inspiration. How long did it take for your business to become self-sustaining? What was your journey like?
Well, I don’t know if my business is self-sustaining even now! I have been in business for about 2.5 years. Each year I have quadrupled my sales numbers. I purposely started small, just on Etsy and doing small local craft fairs. The following year, I expanded and was out at craft fairs, etc., every weekend. This year, I changed my plan slightly and have pulled back from weekly craft fairs--I felt my work was not appreciated as much--and I expanded in other ways. I did my first wholesale show this year, plus this summer I was part of 3 pop-up or collective stores. I chose to only do larger art/craft fairs, where I felt my customer base would be. My summer was not as successful as I had hoped, but things are still growing and improving. This holiday season, I am opening up a booth at Columbus Circle with some other great Etsy NY members as The Sixth Borough. It’s a big investment, but we’re confident it will be a huge success! I’m also currently enrolled in a great jewelry business course co-run by one of my former bosses, Tracy Matthews. It’s called "Flourish and Thrive," and it’s set up to give jewelry designers the tools and know-how to really grow their business in the right ways and become truly successful. It’s great! I can’t wait to take all I’m learning and apply it to my business going forward
How would you describe your products?
Right now, my collection primarily consists of handmade enamel on copper pieces with sterling silver and semi-precious gemstones. The collection is colorful, urban, and unique. Given the nature of the enameling process, every piece comes out a bit differently; each one is one of a kind!
How did you choose the themes for your line? What is your inspiration?
Honestly,I just started out by making things I loved. I have a lot of natural elements as inspiration: butterflies, birds, stars. I also choose colors that appeal to me: blues, greens, gold, burgundy. I really make things that I would want to wear, pieces that pop. Even the smaller pendants are a great subtle pop of color and/or texture.
How do you create your pieces?
The majority of my line is enamel on copper. This is a labor-intensive process. You start with powdered enamel glass that comes in a myriad of colors, and is either opaque or transparent glass. Each piece must have at least 2 layers of enamel on both sides. You can only fire one layer at a time in the kiln, so this means it is a minimum of 4 kiln firings, plus time to cool off, cleaning in between, etc.
Please detail your process. When starting a new piece, do you sketch your idea? Do ideas come to you in dreams? Do you do research or rely solely on your imagination? What are your favorite materials to work with and why?
I have a very loose process, I’d say. I really just create things based on shapes, colors, and textures that I like. I don’t do a lot of sketching in advance, unless it’s for a very complex piece. The majority of my creations have come from me playing around in real time and seeing what happens. I wouldn’t say I do a lot of research, although I’m sure I get inspirations from the outside world. I have certain colors I love to use and work with in enameling. I actually love doing the metal work--filing, sawing, soldering. I don’t do much of that for my current line of work, but it is something I’m hoping to bring into my line soon. I love the marriage of metals and colors, be it with different metal types together, with the inclusion of enamels or with gemstones.
How do you deal with pricing? Custom orders?
I felt lucky that I worked in the industry before starting my company, because I already knew the basics of pricing and to price with wholesale in mind from the beginning. This is a mistake a lot of Etsy artists make, or people that just don’t know. Essentially, I add up my costs--labor, materials, overhead--and multiply that by a certain standard amount to arrive at my wholesale price. That price I then double to reach my retail prices. Everyone has slightly different formulas, and this is one thing I’m working on now in my jewelry business course. Pricing for custom orders is a whole other thing. I haven’t had too many custom orders. I usually use the formula above, but I may tweak that in the future to account for the extra design time it takes for a custom item.
I understand that you've recently done some work on your studio. Do share.
Here are 6 images of my “improved” studio space. I thought for sure I’d taken "before" photos, but I couldn’t find them! In any case, the redo happened in part because I found an old, battered desk in the trash outside of a church rectory a few years ago. I saw the beauty and the potential of it, so I took it home to my dad, and he refinished it. You can see in the photo how gorgeous it is! My parents brought the desk to me this month, and we got rid of my old desk, my old carpet, and did a general declutter and cleaning.
The other great addition was the track lighting. Now I can see when I’m working! So important!
YES! You definitely need to see what you are doing!
I also have a picture of these great wooden crates I picked up in Maryland in August. I got them for display purposes for my craft fairs and booths, but in the meantime, they make an attractive place to hide some odds and ends that used to just be in the center of the room, taking up space. It is obvious I still have a lot of clutter and things to improve, but I am so happy with my new space to work in.
The desk rocks and so does the lighting! Now you're all set to take your business to the next level. What is the most profitable aspect of your biz? Craft markets? Etsy sales? Other online sales?
Right now, the most profitable part of my business is doing trunk shows and also doing larger art/craft fairs, like Hoboken’s Art and Music Festival and Corning’s Glassfest. I need to work on my photography and showcase my one-of-a-kind work more in order to get into more high-end art fairs like these, which is where I’m happiest, too.
What is the most challenging part of owning your own business?
What isn’t challenging? One thing for sure is that I spend way more time than I ever thought I would on administrative stuff, so I barely have time to actually make the jewelry! It is hard to schlep all my displays and work to fairs on the weekends, which is partially why I’ve pulled back from doing that on a regular basis. I have a lot of fear of trying to get into the wholesale world more, so that’s a challenge for sure. It is also hard to take time off; I feel that I’m always working, even if it’s just thinking about what I have to accomplish when I should be relaxing. It’s also a challenge for me because I work out of my apartment, so regular household stuff is very distracting to me. I recently (with the help of my parents) cleaned and organized my office/studio room, which has been a huge help! It is so much easier for me to work in a clutter-free environment. I’m not totally there yet, but I’m on my way! The best thing we did was putting up the track lighting, because now I feel like I can actually see when I’m working!
I understand you are starting your wholesaling journey. What is that like? Is it scary or exciting or both?
Wholesale is still pretty scary to me. Having done my first trade show, it was interesting to see how differently wholesale buyers shop compared to regular consumers. I still have a lot of work to go before I feel confident in that arena.
I know for a fact that developing your own business is a LOT of work.Would you say it's worth it all the blood, sweat, and tears? How do you keep going on the days when it seems it would be more practical to have a 9-to-5?
It’s worth it if this is your dream and your passion. It can be very hard some days. I know even a month ago I was thinking about the practicality of having the 9-to-5 instead! But you know, you have to listen to your heart and go for it. We only have one life to live.
How important is the support of family and friends How important has it been being part of the Etsy NY team? What are the benefits? Any drawbacks?
It’s definitely important to have your family and friends support you! But you know what, you won’t get that support from everyone, so just take it in stride. You will have family members or friends who won’t understand, won’t be supportive, and that is really tough. But you’ll have the other ones who will support you. I definitely lean on my friends when I need to vent, or to share concerns and fears, whatever it is. That’s one reason being part of the team has been so great. I’ve met a lot of awesome people on the same journey as me (whether or not we’re at the same point in it), and having those people who "get it" be there for me and vice versa is priceless. Joining the Etsy NY team definitely helped me in so many ways. It’s a great community of people willing to share their time, expertise, experiences and advice. Who knows where I would be in my business if I hadn’t joined? Having that network and community is invaluable. As much as I’ve gotten from it, I try to pay it forward and help others on the team, too. Running your own business like this can be very lonely. Having the team ensures it is not.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
Ideally, I would like to be successful with online sales, wholesale, and I would like the majority of my business to be at large art fairs around the country. When I was in high school, I was really inspired by those types of art fairs and the artisan jewelry available there. I love to travel, so this marries my traveling bug with my business. It would also be great to have a small boutique or boutique collective.
What advice would you give other artisans hoping to create a handmade business or who are in the early stages?
Hm...I guess my advice would be just do it! I really let fear keep me from pursuing this for so long. I eventually chose to jump in and just do it. You’ll make mistakes and learn from them along the way. I also found it so helpful to work for others in the business first. I got an insider’s look into how and how not to run my business. It was so helpful. A BIG thanks to Melissa Kelly of Be In The Moment, for a insightful interview! Melissa shared her process, her heart, and her soul with us and I'm sure we all learned a lot. Much continued success to you and Be In The Moment. I know you're on the verge of making all your dreams come true.
Until next month, this is Birdy27 signing off. Please support the handmade community! Successful creative artisans can change the world! Chirp, chirp!
Birdy27 is an actor/writer/singer/songwriter/graphic designer/knitter/crocheter/yarn-based accessories designer/jewelry maker/entrepreneur and founder/president of Birdy27 Designs (www.birdy27designs.etsy.com). Please join the action at the Birdy27 Designs Fan Page at www.facebook.com/birdy27designs.