My R&Design column wouldn’t be complete without featuring the wise words and wonderful work ofmy longtime mentor and friend, Sarah McGuire, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working for as a metalsmith for a number of years.
From a timber-loft studio and showroom, the Chicago-based jewelry designer and her small team have recently begun working with Fairmined gold from Peru. Here’s the inside scoop:
Rebecca Mir Grady: What lead you to jewelry making?
Sarah McGuire: I did some small-scale sculpture in art school and immediately got hooked on metal work. I loved it from day one. Ultimately, I chose graphic design as my major but it just didn’t fulfill me. Years later, I was working at a firm in New York and I realized I had to get out from behind a computer and work with my hands again, so I went back to metal.
RMG: How did you get exposure for your line early on?
SM: I mailed lots of lookbooks. Made lots of cold calls. I was fortunate to find retailers early on that were really supportive of my line and I was able to grow organically for a few years.
P.45 in Chicago was my first wholesale account. They put me in touch with stores in other cities and I acquired more accounts that way. I did my first trade show, Designers & Agents, in 2005 and that was what really got things moving.
RMG: What lessons have you learned over the years? Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
SM: Stay focused and remain true to yourself and the work you want to be doing. It’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the marketplace but you can’t get hung up on trends. You need to differentiate yourself to be relevant and more importantly, to stay relevant. And don’t get discouraged when people say no because lots of people are going to say no.
Never assume a closed door will stay closed. It’s actually a pretty small industry and you continue to encounter the same people in different places. Often it’s just a matter of timing.
RMG: What has been your biggest challenge over the years? And on the flip side, your biggest success?
SM: Without a doubt, my biggest challenge was the recession. I started my business in 2003 and we had really started gaining momentum before the crash. Orders were cancelled, some of my customers closed their doors without paying us and, at the same time, gold and silver were hitting record [high prices].
Retailers couldn’t afford to buy anything but they needed to keep their cases full. So I approached a few customers with whom I had really good, long-standing relationships and offered them very large quantities of work on consignment. The volume of sales was directly proportionate to the volume of work in the stores and that really helped us to get through the worst of it, keep things moving, and keep my staff employed.
We turned a very bad situation around and I’m really proud of the way that worked out.
RMG: What are you working on right now?
SM: So many things! We recently presented Holiday 14 at the NY NOW show and I’ve got a little bit of time to make some one-of-a-kind pieces before the holiday season.
We also just received our very first shipment of Fairmined gold from Peru. Fairmined gold is ethical gold produced by small-scale miners who follow strict environmental standards.
By using Fairmined gold, we’re helping families to earn a fair wage, work in safer conditions and improve their communities both socially and economically. It’s really exciting to be a part of that. I plan to introduce a capsule collection made entirely from Fairmined gold in 2015.
RMG: What is your favorite material to work with? Do you have any favorite tools in the studio?
SM: 18k yellow gold is my favorite alloy. Hammers and fire are my favorite tools. I’ve amassed quite a collection of antique hammers over the years and I use them to create weathered textures. The more pitted and scarred the better. And I really love my mitre jig - I even use it for making teeny-tiny bezels.
RMG: What’s next for Sarah McGuire Studio?
SM: I have some ideas for a retail store but it’s still in the planning stage. Stay tuned!
All photos: courtesy Sarah McGuire Studio.
“R&Design" is a monthly interview series that features jewelry designer Rebecca Mir Grady, who launched a debut jewelry collection under her eponymous label in 2013, in conversation with new and established designers. The monthly guest column is a platform for the exchange of ideas, advice, and fashion-focused research and development strategies. This post first appeared on Past Fashion Future.com