It’s hard to believe that I launched my own jewelry design business 19 years ago! Over the past two decades, I’ve met dozens of talented artisans, drawn inspiration from countless sources, and watched hundreds of fashion trends come and go. I’ve also learned a ton about myself as a designer and businesswoman, along with a few choice lessons about the jewelry industry as a whole.
Since I sometimes receive questions from aspiring designers and am always eager to help, I thought I’d share some advice. Hoping to design and launch your own jewelry line? Here are five things to keep in mind:
Make your work. This may sound simplistic, but it’s awfully easy to forget. You got into design to be creative, so let that creativity shine and use it to generate work that is as individual as you are! It’s never a bad idea to know what is trending in the industry, and tinkering with current trends can be a blast. (Stacking rings? Try them! Shoulder Duster Earrings? Sure!) Just make sure that they look like your stacking rings and your shoulder duster earrings, not some rote re-creation of a popular current style. (Or a version that looks uncannily like the designs of another jeweler you admire.) The best piece of advice I’ve received about jewelry design is this: Create collections so cohesive and unique that anyone familiar with your work will immediately identify them as your work even when seen out of context.
Listen to the advice of other people in the industry … but before you follow it, ask yourself if it is right for your business. There is no one perfect business model or template for becoming a successful jewelry designer. Many people who have already been there and done that will offer you input and insights, and their knowledge is invaluable. Just make sure that any solution they suggest truly fits your goals and meets your needs. Did someone insist that X is the absolute best trade show and would be perfect for your work, but when you did some research you saw that the entry fee was way more than you can afford? Maybe it’s not the right solution for your business … or maybe it’s not the right solution at this moment. Take notes, keep those great ideas in your toolbox, and eventually you’ll have an amazing stash of knowledge to use when you need it.
Don’t compare yourself to other designers. You know what feels awful? Believing that success comes easily to everyone in this enterprise except you. It’s the worst! It isn’t actually true, of course, but it's easy to feel that way if you spend too much time scrolling through social media feeds without really befriending the designers behind those posts. When you find yourself playing the comparison game, remember that everyone faces challenges, everyone is working hard, and NO ONE posts the bad stuff to Instagram. I deeply value having a network of supportive colleagues who can offer help and advice since we all struggle with similar issues!
And while we’re not comparing ourselves to other designers, let’s not compete with them either! I mean this in two ways: One is that this business isn’t a zero-sum game; No one else needs to fail to make room for your success. (And supporting each other makes running a solo business feel less lonely.) But the other is related to #1: If you’re making a gold band that looks just like ten other designers’ gold bands, then you’re fighting with them over a single potential customer. That customer will likely purchase just one ring, may comparison shop before doing so, and in the end, will probably buy the cheapest version. Avoiding competition with other designers also means creating designs so unique that there is nothing to compare them to, nothing to price check them against, and nowhere else to get them.
- Design your life, too. Finally, when you’re dreaming your big dreams and setting your big goals, don’t forget to consider what you want your daily life to look like. Do summer road trips make you happier than anything else? Then spending the summer months traveling from one craft show to another might be a great plan for you! On the other hand, maybe you’re an introvert and hate the thought of selling your wares from inside a portable tent. If so, you could try focusing on just a few wholesale shows a year. Again, there is more than one right answer! But when you are making your plans, try imagining your very best workday, and then consider how to organize your business in a way that makes that workday possible every day. (Or nearly every day.) After all, the best thing about running your own business is having the flexibility to create a job and life that work best for you.
I hope this advice has been helpful to all you aspiring jewelry designers out there. Now go live your dream!