Carol Lipworth Designs: How It All Began: Part 2
Posted on October 05 2015
I mentioned in my previous post that things changed. Boy did they ever! A few months later, Steve was diagnosed with lymphoma and we decided to return to California for his treatment. There was a lot to do before leaving the country (and we didn’t know if we would ever return). We had to find someone to take our dogs, Sultan and Lucky, find someone to live at the hotel to keep squatters away, make arrangements to pay the bills, figure out what to do with our cars, etc. My happy-go-lucky days of jewelry making were put on hold indefinitely.
Sultan and Lucky
We moved back to Benicia, CA, where we first met and still had a group of friends for support. We rented a 2-bedroom apartment and I found a small area in the hallway for a desk and shelves so that I could continue making jewelry. As the weeks passed and Steve’s treatment was well under way, I made jewelry whenever I could. My friends started noticing my designs and even bought some pieces from me. Finally one day Steve said, “I think it’s time you thought about making a business out of this jewelry. You can’t just keep buying more and more materials like this.” He was right. It was time to make something of my hobby or call it quits.
So where do you start? I needed a venue where I could sell my jewelry. While I had never tried to sell anything at an art show or craft fair, somehow I knew that was not the way I wanted to go. The only other option was retail. This, of course, required that I actually contact store owners and ask them if they would carry my jewelry - my jewelry with no sales track record, no "name" and no demand. Let me say for the record, that I would rather have a root canal without anesthesia (heck, throw in a Brazilian hot wax at the same time) than make a cold call. And to make matters worse, I had no idea if my jewelry would sell. Of course I thought my designs were good, but I couldn’t promise that anyone else would love them enough to buy them. It was daunting and scary, putting my work out there for critique.
When you create something, it’s personal. All of my designs are a part me – they are a reflection of my taste, my talent, my very being. I wasn’t just trying to sell a product; I was trying to sell myself. If I hadn’t had Steve pushing me along (not so gently, I might add), I may not have done it. But, he did and I did. I gathered up my strength and took some pieces to a local gallery/craft boutique in town, Studio 41, where I knew the owner. Leah was very positive about my work and took some pieces on consignment. Whew! One down, hundreds to go.
My first trunk show at a friend’s house in Benicia
Next I took my work to a glass studio in town that bought some pieces and hosted a trunk show for me. Over time, I designed some bridal jewelry and found a few stores in the Bay Area to carry my line. My jewelry was selling, bit by bit, but I was still dealing with rejections and uninterested store owners. I took the show on the road, so to speak, and started calling on boutiques and galleries in other towns. Between the turn-downs and “thanks, but no thanks”, I had a few wins and now my jewelry was in a handful of boutiques sprinkled over the San Francisco Bay Area. Poco a poco (little by little) as they say in Costa Rica.
Since the beginning, I wanted to design jewelry that was different from what other people were doing. What is the point of creating something that looks like everyone else’s work? I started playing around with unusual materials, mixing ribbon and lace with stones and crystals. The result was my “Little Black Dress” collection. Here are a few of the pieces modeled by my good friend, Rebecca.
The Little Black Dress Collection
During this time, one of the bridal shops carrying my collection, Nouvelle Vogue, asked me to participate in a fashion show they were putting on at Bloomingdales in Stanford. Wow! My very first fashion show. I was thrilled! This was the big time. It was starting to feel like a real business.
Bridal Fashion Show with Nouvelle Vougue at Bloomingdales in Stanford Shopping Center
While I had my fair share of rejection, I also learned a lot from generous store owners who openly shared their knowledge and advice. One store owner, who by the way did not take my jewelry, gave me this sage advice: always make a collection, not just one piece. Give your customers options because not everyone wants the big, bold statement piece, even if they love your designs. I’ve been doing that ever since. I also gained a little more confidence with each attempt to put my jewelry in another store, although it was never easy for me. I learned about selling and how to make a better cold call (although I still hated them), how to approach stores, how to negotiate, etc.
By the beginning of 2006, my jewelry was in seven stores and I was continuing to develop as a designer. And then, once again, everything changed.
To be continued…
Stay tuned for my next blog post: Location, location, location!