Photographed by: Rachel Maucieri | Interview of: Mallory Shelter
How did you get started?
When I was in middle school, I inherited a large gemstone and jewelry supply collection from a family friend who was a former jewelry designer. She would invite me over to work on jewelry projects and taught me a lot of the basics, and I continued to do beading work on and off through high school and college. When I moved to DC, I signed up to take metalsmithing classes from a local goldsmith, and bought a small workbench for my apartment to further my skills.
As I continued to refine my craft and designs, people started asking about my pieces and where they could buy them. At the encouragement of friends and family I began signing up for local craft shows - I honestly can’t believe I got into any of them considering I had no brand, no inventory, and no knowledge of how to sell my jewelry. But I somehow pieced things together, and my business seemed to organically take off from there. There’s been a LOT of trial and error along the way, but I don’t think I would be where I am today without those learning experiences.
What influences you?/ Where do you get your inspiration?
I tend to get inspiration from making things. I often find that an idea will pop into my head and i’ll start to make it, only to find that something doesn’t work or look right. The design then evolves until I land on something i’m happy with and I think people will wear.
I also get a lot of inspiration from the stones themselves. My designs are pretty minimal and meant to highlight the gemstones I use. I love how unique each stone is, and I want to show those characteristics off.
How do you balance your personal time + work?/ How do you create separation?
One of the best things I did for my business and personal life was get a studio space. When I first started, I was working out of my apartment which meant I was working 24/7. When I moved into the studio, I realized I was incredibly inefficient when I was working from home - I was working and also making dinner, doing chores and trying to be with my husband. Now that I have a dedicated space to work, it’s a lot easier for me to shut it down at the end of the day. That’s not to say that I don’t have a ton of other work to do when I get home (my computer can be my worst enemy), but I try to be a lot more mindful of how much time i’m spending on my business and when to stop for the night and pick up with fresh eyes the next day.
I also made a huge change this year by leaving my full-time job to pursue my jewelry business. When I was doing both I was averaging 90 hour work weeks - I was barely sleeping, wasn’t working out or eating well, and rarely saw my husband. I was the worst version of myself. I don’t regret doing both, and it allowed me to financially build my business to where it is now, but leaving my full-time job was one of the best things I did to regain balance with work and my personal life. It feels like such a luxury to have a lot of flexibility in my schedule, and I know it won’t last forever, but i’m trying to cherish it while I can because it’s been a much needed reset for me.
What keeps you motivated?/ Why do you love doing this?
I love, love, love the thrill of someone buying a piece of my jewelry. It still doesn’t get old to me. Jewelry has such a sentimental factor to it, and people buy and wear it to memorialize people, special occasions, memories, and more. It’s an honor to be a part of that, whether it’s a piece of jewelry someone picks up from my website or a local boutique, or a custom, higher-end piece I design just for them. When I get stuck in my business or am feeling frustrated/confused/defeated, I try to remember the special customers i’ve built up over the years which feels really rewarding.
I also find the DC creative community to be very motivating. I have a core group of female business owners in the area who I increasingly lean on to navigate through small business ups and downs. It helps to know other people go through the same issues, and I love seeing all of them succeed both in the area and on national/international scales. It’s great to be a part of the small-but-mighty maker world in DC.
Where do you see yourself in 2-5 years?/ What's next for your brand?
Right now i’m focusing on expanding my wedding line and growing my business beyond the D.C. area. My custom work has picked up a lot in the past year, but i’d love to develop a made-to-order line for both engagement rings and wedding bands. Down the road I’d love to own a small jewelry boutique with my line and other brands I admire.