Jewelry makers turn hobby into career
Local women thriving in jewelry business
By: By Megan Sarrazin
| Posted: Monday, Aug 06, 2012 06:00 am
Turning the popular hobby of jewelry making into a viable business takes dedication, creativity and continuous inspiration.
Three local jewelry makers have taken different approaches to their endeavours: One uses online platforms, another has a storefront business and the third sells at local markets.
Cara Cotter has managed to turn her hobby into a full-time business selling in boutiques across Western Canada and recently launched her own online store: www.sopretty.ca.
“It started out as a hobby and then I just caught the bug and I’ve been making jewelry for eight years now,” she said. “I love it. I eat, breathe and sleep it. I think about it all the time.”
The Sturgeon County resident said turning her hobby into a career has several ongoing challenges, including competition with big-box stores that carry mass-produced jewelry and keeping up with trends.
She said the fashion industry is constantly evolving, birthing new trends, popularizing new colour palettes and changing to suit consumers’ economic constraints.
“The challenge is to stay ahead with different materials and how you construct the piece and put it together so it doesn’t look like what anyone else is doing,” she said, adding she gets inspiration from architecture, magazines and nature.
Cotter works from home, using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to build brand awareness and increase her customer base.
“It’s amazing how that’s changed my business in the last couple years,” she said.
As the demand for her products has increased, Cotter partnered with a studio in India that helps her manufacture the jewelry. In 2009 her partner made 10 per cent of her pieces and this year it will make roughly half.
Cotter is the sole employee of So Pretty Jewelry, handling every aspect of the business, including creation and maintenance of her online store, branding, marketing, photography, sales and jewelry making.
Last year, she sold more than 700 pieces and expects sales to climb this year as a result of her online store.
St. Albert resident Lynn Chomay works diligently in summer months, while juggling a job as a nurse at the Sturgeon Community Hospital, to produce enough product to sell at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market.
Under the name Lync’s Jewelry, she has been selling her wares at the popular Saturday market for the last eight years.
“It was a hobby and then I was just making stuff and giving it away to people,” she said. “The people that I worked with and my friends really encouraged me to go to the markets and sell them and so, with a lot of encouragement, I did that.”
The biggest struggle she has overcome in the business relates to the economic downturn, which has prompted customers to stop buying extravagant pieces, forcing Chomay to adapt her products.
“I do a lot of work with Swarovski crystals and then some fancier things and I just found when the economy changed, people weren’t spending as much,” she said. “Where I used to sell several hundred dollars worth in a day, I might have sold one bracelet, so I just shifted the focus.”
She said the demand is now heading in a positive direction, but likely won’t reach the level it was in the mid-2000s.
In response to decreased sales, she modified her materials and began selling an inexpensive line for children, which continues to be a popular selection, she said.
The demand for locally-made products is the key to her success, as each consumer receives something unique.
Aside from selling at the farmers’ market, Chomay also creates custom pieces for special occasions like weddings and graduations. She recently set up a Facebook and Twitter page to interact with consumers and share her creations.
Although Chomay was initially considering giving up her booth at the market, she said she changed her mind.
“I don’t want to stop,” she said.
Carmen Bokenfohr, designer and owner of Concept Jewelry Design began making jewelry as a child, realizing right out of high school it was what she wanted to pursue.
She has since spent more than 25 years in the industry, six of which have been at her downtown St. Albert storefront.
Bokenfohr said the biggest challenges to date have been adapting to the economy in 2008 and increasing material costs in 2010.
“The biggest challenge has been the turn of the economy in the fall of 2008,” she said.
Prior to that year’s economic slowdown, she had trouble keeping up with demand.
“You couldn’t have enough product and you couldn’t get it in fast enough and then it was like a faucet was turned off, so it was very scary for me,” she said.
When the cost of gold and diamonds spiked in the fall of 2010, she started exploring alternative metals and gemstones.
Bokenfohr works with clients to design and create custom jewelry ranging in price from $30 to $30,000, depending on the quality of metals and gemstones. She said she is extremely particular about craftsmanship and only works with the best goldsmiths.
“It’s very easy to have a design concept, but unless that design concept is executed properly, the design can come out totally wrong,” she said.
Bokenfohr and her only employee, nephew Ty Mckillop, are both trained in jewelry design and are passionate about what they do.
“When you love what you do, it’s really not necessarily work,” she said, “and being that I do everything from design to marketing to mopping the floors, I’m never bored with my job.”