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Understand the Business Side of Your Business-Advice from a Jewelry Designer

by Dakota Kim

Understand the Business Side of Your Business-Advice from a Jewelry Designer

Thea Grant and her husband, Nicolás Bazzani, create jewelry from recycled found objects. She was trained as a sculptor and he as a product designer. We spoke with her about their work.

Most young jewelry designers are not going to get their jewelry in Bergdorfs in their first few years, or maybe ever. What advice do you have for them?

If you’re going to be any kind of entrepreneur, you need to understand the interaction between the various aspects of what you want to do. Try to get as much experience in each area as you can. If you don’t know how to do press, marketing, sales, or retail work, then you’re going to be less equipped down the line. Get some experience doing what you think you might want to do, ideally get paid for it, and you can start your own business on the side. I’ve worked in PR and in retail, including in the showroom.

When you start out, you have to recognize there’s a very strong relationship between press and sales. You’ll go to press and say, “I have this great collection,” and they’ll say, “Great, where’s it sold?” Then you’ll go to stores and they’ll say, “Oh, who are you?” So it’s a little bit of a catch-22 in the beginning, and you hope for one of those lucky moments when someone gives you that break that you need. If you’re a designer, you already have your product, your craft – that’s not the problem. The problem is that the world needs to know it.

Network with everybody and anybody — with other small businesses, fashion people, jewelry people. When it comes to networking, you have so much to learn not just from the people who do exactly what you do but also from other types of small businesses.

Network with everybody and anybody — with other small businesses, fashion people, jewelry people. When it comes to networking, you have so much to learn not just from the people who do exactly what you do but also from other types of small businesses.

You need a board of directors and advisors, official or not — people you can turn to and say I need input, critique, advice. Work with somebody who’s in finance, somebody who’s in the fashion world, somebody who’s your design critic. Reach out beyond family and friends; your parents won’t always be honest with you. You need to get a sense of what your customers will pay for, and your friends are not your customers. I thought, if my friends won’t buy it, no one will. That’s not true – that’s not who you’re usually selling to.

Jewelry is such an expensive business – would you recommend that someone getting into it try to find an investor?

I think you’re more likely to get investment if you’ve already been out there in the world. Investors might be concerned that you’re not ready, that you don’t have a proven track record of producing a collection and shipping it on time, and don’t have your branding down. We’ve always gone to family and friends, because those are the people who are there for you, believe in you. So if you have the luxury of that, I believe that’s a great way to go. You can also go through crowdsourcing, a bank loan or line of credit, or individual corporate investors – but that approach requires a very different mindset and you really have to understand the business side of your business.

How do you stay successful and innovative as jewelry makers?

Something Nico and I both think is really important is cross-pollination – looking at other industries to see what techniques we can borrow from them to make our work more interesting. It’s akin to Jacques Torres using pharmaceutical equipment to make his chocolates.

You can’t become complacent if your business has already seen success. You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder or lose momentum. You have to constantly be aware of your industry and competition and make sure you’re up on the latest technologies and techniques.

You work with the person with whom you also share your off hours, your children, your life. How does that work?

Nico and I met at the ideal time. Our relationship and business started together. There were definitely hiccups. In the beginning, critiquing each other’s work was really hard, but by the same token, we realized very early that if we weren’t completely honest with each other, it wasn’t going to work. But besides being really frank, you each have to be open to what the other is saying.

We live in the age of mechanical reproduction of art and jewelry, where retailers churn out millions of the same ring. What recourse does a jewelry designer have if someone copies his or her work?

You don’t, essentially. Your only recourse is to be the innovator and be something new. We’ve been ripped off by big stores many times. In a way, it keeps us humble and lets us know we’re on the right track, that we’ve hit the zeitgeist, and ultimately, it’s a sad form of flattery. There are really very few things you can do to protect your designs. If you try to stop influence and inspiration, you’re going to stop all design. You have to be respectful for what’s come before, but unfortunately when it comes to piracy, it’s going to happen, and you have to be prepared for it.

What’s ahead for you?

We want to open a retail store. It’s a boon to get direct consumer feedback and see what people are saying or wearing or liking or not liking, to hear the questions in the trenches, and also to think about the end presentation of your work. There’s complete control of our brand in retail presentation, whereas there’s not in wholesale. It’s exciting for us, and scary, because we’ve done wholesale for 10 years and not retail. But it feels like the right next step.

Visit Thea and Nico’s online gallery here.

Dakota Kim is a freelance journalist covering the arts, style, business, food and travel. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Huffington Post, Bedford + Bowery, The Wall Street Transcript, and various in-flight magazines. Tweet her at @dakotakim1.