Often in the handmade and creative space, businesses happen serendipitously — or at least that’s the case for of . What started as a weekend passion a few years ago has morphed into a career that continues to surprise her.
Launched in 2013 out of Brooklyn, NY, is a unisex jewelry brand that embraces the natural imperfections of various materials to create statement pieces for every occasion. With a background in technical design, metalsmithing and fashion, Maureen’s passion for jewelry has always been there, but learning the business side of things has come with its fair share of stumbles. Today, Maureen is sharing her perspective on what it’s like to be just a few years into her business, the lessons she’s learned thus far, and her goals for the future.
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
Jewelry making for me was completely serendipitous. I have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and enjoy the art of creating properly fitted garments, so I naturally work with my hands. Years ago, I remember stumbling across a beautiful cuff I saw on the street and immediately thought, “Hey! I could make that,” having said this with zero background in jewelry design. [Being] equipped with many years of technical design experience has allowed me to draw inspiration from both a creative and technical standpoint. I am heavily inspired by shape and embrace natural imperfections of the hand at work. My design aesthetic is minimal and subtle, yet makes a statement. Each piece of jewelry is made with care and given special attention to detail. I feel my work has both masculine and feminine qualities and many of the shapes can be worn by either sex.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work?
As I mentioned, I sort of fell into jewelry design and — before learning how to properly solder metal pieces together — I would often times find ways to utilize adhesives. One of my earlier pieces includes a metal cuff that was cut and shaped and finished with studs attached with an epoxy glue. I later went on to properly solder chains around it. I still have this piece with me today and it has held up pretty well over the years. It is such an inspiring feeling to watch yourself evolve (and continue to do so) in your craft. I am very grateful for those moments in the beginning.
How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
Initially, I would make and wear my own pieces and people started to take a liking to them. After receiving several compliments, I decided to launch an online shop. I later enrolled in a beginning metal smiting/jewelry program which was such an exciting and challenging experience. Discovering ways to morph metals into unique ideas is such an exhilarating experience. I was hooked!
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
My boyfriend has given me the best piece of advice thus far: he mentions to always remain true to who you are as a designer, and it will always reach the right people. This is something I struggle with as an artist because you truly are your own worst critic. It is so easy to fall into what everyone else is doing, and play it safe, but staying true to who you are will always place the right opportunities in your path. Even when it seems like you’re driving nails into concrete, someone is noticing. Do not compromise!
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
As many artists can attest to, being a jack of all trades can be a handful. Many days, I don’t touch a piece of metal because I am juggling another aspect of the business which can be equally as time-consuming. Also, I didn’t have a business plan to begin with, so I am constantly learning things of the business side as I go.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
One of the biggest lessons I continue to learn is creative problem-solving. I sometimes find myself struggling with how to create an idea I have on paper — it always makes more sense in your head. What I find myself doing to combat this is thinking of more than one way to bring my sketch to life: slightly tweaking parts of the design to make sense in construction. Doing this has helped me create even better versions of what I had originally sketched! It is all a part of the design process.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Yes, absolutely. Working with metals can be a very fickle process. Learning the distinctness in metal quality and how it reacts to different elements is an ongoing trial. I have gained valuable knowledge that was often learned after a piece was completed, which can be really frustrating, What I’ve come to understand is that trial and error are small failures that, in turn, turn into lessons to grow from.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Three more hours?! Sign me up! I would definitely sleep in a little longer (laughing). I would also tackle a lot of my “to-do” tasks quicker.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Running a side business is a hustle and hustling can cost a lot of money upfront. A lot of times, there are unforeseen expenses that happen at a moment’s notice.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
I was recently commissioned a custom wedding band for someone who was referred to me by a friend. I felt a tremendous satisfaction and a great honor that they chose me to create such a timeless symbol for them. I look forward to creating more pieces like this.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
One thing I strive to improve on is the transparency in my work. The book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon talks about just that. However big or small your progress is, it is necessary to share your work for that vital step of getting noticed.
I’ve recently been getting more into podcasts and there seems to be one for every creative category. They’re great because you can work and listen simultaneously. Some of my favorites include “Magic Lessons,” “The Read” and “For Colored Nerds.”
Creativemornings.com is an awesome empowerment blog, it is structured to be enjoyed over your morning breakfast.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
I can’t recall failing at something in particular, as I am always experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. I do know things that do not work and this was discovered after pieces were completed. For now, I am enjoying the process of building my brand to the level of success that I see for myself.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business
It is so important to know who your target audience is. Once you figure this out, refine your technique and differentiate yourself. You must love this endeavor, because if you don’t, this will be more of a daunting process than an enjoyable one! Be openminded for many self discoveries that happen as you head your business.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Lately, I’ve [been] starting my mornings with music. Something about smooth jazz in the morning really helps get me going. My first app is always some form of social media, whether [it’s] Instagram or Facebook, in no particular order. Afterwards, I am totally plugged into shuffling through emails on my desktop.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Being your own boss can be overwhelming. One of the hardest things I struggle with is figuring out my pricing. There are ground rules for pricing which include factoring in cost of labor, materials, etc. but as an artist this can be challenging. I’ve been told two things to help keep in mind:
1. It is always a better business move to raise your prices than to lower them to leave yourself some room for growth.
2. If I find that my prices don’t make me feel at least a little uncomfortable, then I am probably charging too little!