My jewelry line was born out of a desire to make beautiful things. When I started out, selling what I made hadn’t occurred to me. I was looking for a creative outlet, I found jewelry, I fell in love, it was perfect. The end.
But, like every love story, over time things got more complicated. After I’d been designing and creating jewelry as a hobby for years and had honed my skills and developed a style, starting a small business seemed like the logical next step. I didn’t know anything about running a business and wasn’t a naturally gifted salesperson, but I hoped it would work out anyway.
But I couldn’t get comfortable with the thought of becoming a billboard for my own work. I dislike piling on a lot of jewelry by one designer (even if the designer is me). For me, it’s all about the mix. I never wear clothes that come from a single store or that are all the same brand. My furniture, artwork, and home accessories are all from different places. The fun comes from putting different elements together. The same principle applies to the jewelry I wear. I like combining my own with pieces by other designers that I admire and with fine jewelry that I’ve collected over the years.
Is this best for my business? Maybe not. But it feels best to me.
Besides the fact that it fits my aesthetic, there’s another reason I like to wear jewelry by designers other than myself. I do it to connect with others who share my passion. It’s a way for me to show how my own work can be combined with jewelry by designers that I love, especially one who has become a close friend and supporter of my work, Tara Aims, the owner of Pearl Love Jewelry.
When I started out, I assumed that to be a business owner you must be cutthroat. You had to bulldoze over the competition or they’d bulldoze over you. This worried me, because I’m not a cutthroat or even a very competitive person. But I did want my business to thrive. At shopping events, I noticed how some vendors would (figuratively) push others out of the way to get the best spot, the biggest table, the brightest lights—something I could never bring myself to do. I wondered if my business would fail because I wasn’t aggressive enough.
I met Tara at a trunk show I was doing at a local store. She had her little dachshund Ellie and her husband Dave with her. She bought one of my pieces and raved about how much she loved my jewelry. I was struck by how friendly and easy to talk to she was. The fact that we were both local jewelry designers and thus competitors didn’t seem important to her. We agreed to meet for coffee sometime soon. I had heard of Pearl Love Jewelry but didn’t know anything about it. so I checked out their website and discovered that I loved their work.
The next time we got together, I bought my first Pearl Love piece—a simple black leather bracelet with a gray pearl, which has become one of my favorite bracelets. Since then, Tara and I have started wearing each other’s jewelry a lot. Almost every day finds me wearing one or two Pearl Love bracelets with my own. I love the way they look together and also that a part of my friend is on my wrist.
Tara and I have become ever-closer friends. We’ve also helped each other in many ways. I’d been wanting to add cord jewelry to my line for a long time but couldn’t find the right cord; she told me where to look for it. She wanted to add chain jewelry to her line; I showed her where to buy chain and findings and gave her a wire-wrapping demo. She joined me at my holiday open house last year, along with another friend—clothing designer Christen Kinard of Threads by Nomad. Did I sell less jewelry at the event because my work had to compete with other products, including another designer’s jewelry? I don’t know. But It was a lot more fun than doing the event solo, as I always had in the past.
The last time we met, Tara and I had brunch at a favorite spot, and I asked her to take a couple of photos for me to use in this newsletter. We ended up spending most of the afternoon wandering around, scoping out cool walls to use as backgrounds, and taking a detour into a cute local nursery, where we bought plants and took yet more more photos. She took over 100 pictures of me and my jewelry, even though she wasn’t feeling great that day. You can see some of them here. We have plans to schedule more “lunch + photo walks” again in the future. I can’t wait for the next one.
The fact that we’re in the same industry just isn’t an issue. It seems like there’s plenty of Pearl Love and Ruth Barzel Love to go around.
After I launched my new website in April, it hit me that this whole collaboration over competition thing really is a THING. I asked a few friends and followers to post about my launch and was taken by surprise by the generous response.
My aforementioned friend Christen of Threads by Nomad (a clothing company that also sells jewelry), not only posted about my launch on Instagram and Facebook but also devoted an entire blog post to my work. Others used their own feeds to share my new site. Tara posted several photos about my launch in her Instagram stories and even used the “swipe up to shop” feature to send people directly to my site. Enthusiastic new customers flowed my way. Tara has a far larger Instagram following than I do; there’s no way that I could do the same for her. She did it anyway.
If I’d pushed these “competitors” aside to get a better table at one of those early shopping events, would all this have happened? I doubt it.
My little business has grown over the years. Would it have grown more if I’d promoted it more aggressively, piled on my own jewelry exclusively, learned how to push others out of my way? Maybe. Would it have been worth sacrificing my style, subverting my personality, and losing the chance to make friends like Christen and Tara? No.
I’ll keep on wearing jewelry I love, some made by me and some not. I still need advice about many things related to running a business, but I have this one figured out.
Jewelry in the photos: dainty labradorite and champagne cubic zirconia chokers by me (coming soon), mini freshwater pearl pendantby Pearl Love Jewelry, heart locket by Scosha. Dainty bracelets by me, Tai Jewelry, and Pearl Love Jewelry. Champagne cubic zirconia chain earringsand black spinel stud earringsby me; silver stud earring by Aesa. Rings by Variance Objects, Vrai & Oro, Robin Haley, Noguchi Bijoux (from White Bird Jewellery), Jamie Joseph, Jes MaHarry, and Satomi Kawakita.
Photos by Tara Aims.