I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie of Katie Bird Jewelry. Katie’s jewelry can be found at many markets around the community, including Ocean Grove. She designs and makes it all herself and is a great advocate for shopping small.
Coastal NJ Small Business: How did you get into jewelry?
Katie: I don’t really remember a time when there wasn’t a craft project around my house. My mom sews, and her parents did folk art and sold their stuff at craft shows back in the day. When I was little, I remember going to craft stores and whether it was embroidery string to make friendship bracelets or little kits to make something else, like Christmas ornaments, I always looked and wanted and begged. By the time I was in middle school, I found dedicated bead stores and saved any money I had to go on bead sprees. While you can find material and sewing machines, yarn for knitting, paper, and rubber stamps for card making, or paint and any other craft supply at my family house, I always drifted to the jewelry. Largely self-taught, I did find a metal class to take so that I could learn to solder, cast, and other techniques that are not as easy to do in a living room. While I did sell a little bit of my jewelry back in the day, it was really after college and the metal class that the jewelry “business” took off. With the new found time and the new techniques I was learning in class, I was able to produce more stock and work on new pieces I had not been able to make in the past. I set up the business in 2010. Since then, I have dabbled in new techniques and selling my jewelry at home parties and craft shows and markets.
And how do you keep your jewelry green?
You don’t have to go crazy to go green. Whether you are using recycled products or repurposing stuff. Jewelry is great, (because) you can start with fresh materials or take pieces/stones/beads from old, vintage, broken, unfinished pieces. Friends are always dropping off old jewelry that they think I can use pieces of. When using sterling silver, I always save the scraps for casting projects. All of a sudden you have a dish of scraps from wire wraps or cuttings from sheet that is more than enough to make a cast project.
One of the companies I buy from also offers a scrap buyback program where you can send metal scraps for credit towards your next purchase. I largely use sterling silver, and silver is a finite resource, so you have to think about that. Silver scraps can be melted and reformed.
There are great recycled paper products out there for business cards, signage, invoices or whatever. When I receive packages, I always save the boxes and packaging to reuse when i have shipments. For my workspace, whether it is being frugal or green, I have always repurposed items or taken second hand furniture to work on. When considering tools and supplies look for the energy efficient one, get the energy efficient light bulbs.
What is your philosophy on being a successful member of the coastal community?
Everyone out there in this small business community is doing something that they love and believe in, so much so that they have invested a lot of time and money to bring it to the public. While there is bound to be some overlap of products, everyone has their own spin and vision for their work. we need to respect one another and encourage each other. Just as I was raised in a crafty house, I remember always going to craft shows as I grew up.
Shopping at your local main street stores is great too. Supporting artists, craftsmen, artisans, jewelers…is great, not only because you are supporting small and typically local businesses, but because you can find great things that you wouldn’t in bigger stores.
You are a huge advocate for shopping small. Care to talk more about that?
Small business Saturday is the Saturday after thanksgiving, the day after Black Friday.
Why do we need to set aside one day to recognize small businesses? There is something great about shopping at your local stores. Getting to know the owners, the more intimate feel of the store. Go to the small surf shop to buy your boardshorts. Buy a handmade item that shows craftsmanship and pride and is unique from what everyone else might have. Get what you want, support local business, and often small businesses run sales for regulars or when they need to move merchandise for new seasons. Shop small to support your neighbors.
What have you learned through your business?
You have to get out there for people to see your work…You have to be your biggest promoter. Not everyone understands the work you put into handmade jewelry, and how that can translate to quality and price. Be proud of what you have made, not everyone wants what you are offering, and that’s fine. Your product isn’t for everyone and you can’t change your vision for them.
How do you connect to your customers and coastal community?
Having lived on the coast my whole life, some of my designs tend to lean to nautical and coastal: waves, shells, blues and greens, anchors and knots. I have a new project in the works that involves incorporating recycled layered surfboard resin into some designs, which works here and isn’t something I would do if I lived in the middle of the country. You have to know where you are selling. When I’m set up at a craft market, you need to read to customers. Can you convert that browser to a buyer. Does this customer want to hear more about the piece and how it was made? Since I handmade things it is great to be able to offer custom pieces so that people have a sense of ownership in the design. And I love seeing repeat customers or shoppers that stop by and recognize me and say that they love previous purchases or always get compliments.
That is so wonderful, Katie. Thank you!
Be sure to check out Katie’s jewelry at a market near you!