HOW ELISABETTA STARTED A SUCCESSFUL JEWELRY LINE AFTER BEING LET GO FROM HER JOB
- written by Elisabetta Marrella
“We are really sorry to do this, especially because you’ve been such a great help and have put out some really great work for us, but, I think well, we’ve talked about it and discussed it and we won’t be renewing your contract with us come June...”
Those were the last words that led me to this crazy whirlwind of a life that has comprised my last 365 days. My name is Elisabetta Marrella, and I am the sole designer of BREAD&Circus, a small handmade jewellery business I (officially) began last year, here, in Toronto, Canada.
Since then, it has been: my main source of income (with help from a few odd jobs along the way), the largest set of “to-do’s” on my list at any given time, and my greatest reason for finally attaining personal happiness.
This is my story.
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE BRAND:
BREAD&Circus got its name from the Roman philosophy "Panem et Circenses" which described how governments appeased the masses by giving them something to consume (bread) and something to entertain themselves with (circuses). We all know that life today is a little more complicated than that but I was really attracted to this basic structure of amusement. The act of buying jewellery (as well as creating it, for me) really fits into this model; it's really about providing this simple pleasure through adornment, whether that's through a huge statement piece or a tiny, barely-there ring. To date, I have put out two successful collections (including a mention in Fashion Magazine) and have participated in over 25 markets. Currently, I am working on my third collection which is the most conceptually strong to date and set to participate in several shows, including Etsy:Made in Canada and INLAND.
I started my business out of necessity when my job abruptly ended this time last year. With that, I was facing the realization that I had lost my "dream job" and the thought of picking up another 6 month contract somewhere just didn't sound appealing to me. So, while I looked for new jobs to fill the void and read as many #success quotes as I could to #staypositive, I found myself feeling worse about my situation and the least in control than I had felt in a long time. I felt to blame, I felt inadequate and most of all, I felt stuck. I took a hard look at what made me happy. Eight years of school and a myriad of corporate-creative jobs had taken me away from my path; I wanted to be an artist (even my Dr. Seuss 'All About Me" childhood book said so!) and I told myself I was going to give it one last true, fair shot and BREAD&Circus was born.
When I got started, there were a few things that were working in my favour that I can take almost no credit for. I had the opportunity to work behind the scenes for one of the world's biggest online marketplaces and this led me to a lot of great networking connections. However, success is based on choice, not circumstance and when I began my business I worked diligently on developing a strong brand and key contacts that I was going to initially send my work out to. This included, close friends in the industry who were going to offer me constructive feedback and pointers, as well as any one I knew with a PR background, a quality social media presence and photography skills. I was candid and honest in my calls for their help. I was open to criticism and everything was up for discussion. My philosophy was that I couldn't fail at anything I didn't try so I followed up with every lead, interview and opportunity for promotion that I could. The world was my oyster, so to speak, and I signed up for every possible Facebook fan page, Instagram account and Twitter handle that was going to let me know of upcoming shows, tips for starting a small business (like Dream Job Shop) and aesthetic inspiration.
Beyond that, and probably most importantly, I made A LOT. I knew I had an aesthetic that I liked and liked wearing, but tried out everything until I found a style I was not only comfortable with, but also one that felt honest and my own. Of course, it was also one that didn't get boring to me over time. Because I was (and still am) making and designing everything, it meant a lot of late nights working on and looking at the same bracelets, and same necklaces over and over again. It's important to enjoy the work you're making.
Lastly, I committed no more that 40 hours a week to my business (unless I had to). I tracked my hours and kept record. This might sound crazy when you're starting out, and trust me, it didn't always work - but when you make $1200 or so at a show but have worked 65+ hours that week to complete the inventory, and you consider materials, expenses and so forth, less than minimum wage seems far from fair to yourself. This has been my biggest challenge so far but it's what I attribute my success to. When I took a hard look at it, creating structure validated my work and forced me to be as productive as possible during those working hours. This left time to hug and kiss family and friends, get lost in a good book, or see a a really great show and get inspired all over again. Most importantly, it gave me time to pat myself on the back for my efforts and reflect. It is in the down time that I breathe, and it's allowed me to maintain my happiness and remember that above all else, I am working at something I really do love.
One thing I worked really hard on was my aesthetic and commitment to my brand. As a maker of jewellery I am also a lover of jewellery and therefore can get lost in "oh, but I can make that!" approach to it all. 4 hours later on Pinterest, I had no idea what my brand was all about anymore and I was even more overwhelmed. In the process of making all these things as I mentioned above, I honed down each collection to no more than twelve pieces and I chose as many of the ones I felt I had the most creative control over. I knew that BREAD&Circus was something I wanted to do for a long time and over many collections so I didn't try and bunch it all into one collection or sporadically drop things into my shop every so often. Instead, I looked at something, and I mean really looked at something, and decided if it was, a. really worth selling and if, b. it really fit with the other pieces as a collection of objects. I imagined the items in editorial or in a lookbook and I wanted things to be cohesive. A lot of things ended up in the junk pile, sure, or stowed away for a different time and thats okay, it just meant I was learning.
THE TWO AUDIENCES:
The best piece of advice I ever received was from an artist friend who said that as creative people we tend to forget that there are always two audiences. There is the audience that is yourself; all of your emotions and feelings and desires to create; the imaginative driving force that compels your catharsis - this is a very important audience. It's this "audience" that will give your work integrity and originality and people are drawn to that, without it you're just jewellery, or a painting, you're not (insert artist's name here)'s painting or so-and-so's bracelet. However, there is ALSO the crucial audience that is "everyone else". This is the audience that is drawn to trends and what's current and what's cool. They know what is out there and they know what they want - even when it's excruciatingly obvious, they are the #YOLO, commercial aspect to your business. I absolutely know the struggle but remember it is never a compromise to your artistic talents to offer people what the want. After all, you're in this for profit, too, right? Try and find a balance between the work you love making and the things that are out there and popular. For me, I always have two or three pieces that are the "bait" items. They are the items that are easy to make, relatively well priced, and popular (with my own spin on them, of course). These are the items that draw people to your shop and trend really well on social media (#goldheartring) so that customers might "stumble" upon your other pieces in the process of visiting your shop for the popular items. In fact, they "surprise" themselves to see that your talent goes beyond the trends and they feel more connected to you as a artist (because thats what you are!) than just a brand. It's all about finding your small part of the ocean to ride the wave. It's kept me happy, and it's kept my business happy too.
THE YEAR AHEAD:
The next two months for me and my business are the most I have pushed myself to date. I am taking a few small business/entrepreneurial courses and upgrading my technical skills as a jeweler. I am set to release my FW14 collection, F/LIGHT, in the coming weeks and I am busy casting models, creating shot lists and finding / renting studio space to photograph it all. Once my collection is ready for release, I have a focused plan to move out of the market scene by the end of the year (with a few exceptions) and into a wholesaling/retail model that allows me to lessen the overhead costs incurred with markets and focus on the elements of the business that I love. For the first time I am putting together a real press kit, and it feels good to keep moving forward with my brand. F/LIGHT is the most conceptually and technically strong collection I will have put out and the one I can say I am the most proud of. It is filled with a ton of the "junk drawer" pieces that I feel finally have a place - whether that be aesthetically or because I have the means to create them - and it is nice to know that everything has a way of working itself out and falling into place.