Kristen Baird on Starting a Jewelry Line
Kristen Baird on Starting a Jewelry Line
At only 28-years-old, Kristen Baird may be just getting started as a maker, but that hasn’t held the young jeweler back from starting a thriving business. To get there, she has taken advantage of as many opportunities as possible to improve both her bench and business skills, including learning the craft-show ropes through the American Craft Council’s Hip Pop program for emerging makers. The Savannah, Georgia, jeweler and 2017 Halstead Grant winner took a moment out of her busy schedule to talk about how she got to where she is today and what advice she has for other young jewelers interested in starting their own business.
When did you first know you wanted to run a jewelry line?
I suppose I've always wanted to be a business owner, even as a kid. Prior to graduating from SCAD in jewelry design, I completed an internship/apprenticeship with Mia van Beek of Formia Design that focused both on jewelry and business skills in a small studio environment. That experience gave me a taste of what owning a business would be like as I saw how my boss worked on a daily basis. I was hooked.
It was a natural progression for me to go from student to business owner. However, I took a lot of calculated and intentional steps to make sure my transition would be successful.
Tell us about those steps.
When I graduated, I knew I couldn't jump into full-time business ownership right away (for financial reasons), so I worked as a jewelry studio monitor at SCAD. During that time, my boss, Roger Bowersox, who had more than 20 years of experience in the art/metalsmithing/jewelry industry, taught me how to manage an active studio of more than 150 students. I used the next two years to learn daily tool care, machinery repair, tool selection, and studio setup. I also received safety procedure training and learned how to work with students to help them achieve their best results. Looking back, [my experience] working with and coaching students has translated well into motivating and working with my own in-house team.
While I was working at SCAD, I took time to complete my Rhino CAD certification and I started laying the foundations for my business. I was slowly gaining interest from friends and locals in the area, so I started taking on "side-gig" jewelry work. Many of the people I worked for prior to officially founding my business are still loyal clients to this day.
While doing side work, I realized my bench skills weren't to the level I needed to pursue a fine jewelry path, so in 2014, I attended the New Approach School for Jewelers and completed the Graduate Bench Jeweler program (GBJ ) under the direction of Blaine Lewis. It was there that I learned the skills needed to launch myself from intermediate designer to fine jewelry designer/maker.
Then, shortly after obtaining my GBJ certificate, I founded my business and went full time. It was a three-year transition with a lot of education and on-the-job learning, but it worked for me, and I'm thankful that I didn't just jump in headfirst.
What skills are most crucial in your line of work?
I've found that running a fine jewelry business requires an equal spread of business and jewelry skills. For me, excellence in the craft and design of my work is imperative, but at the same time, customer service, presentation, and an ability to handle daily business situations are also a necessity. To be successful, one has to be well-rounded and able to wear many hats.
Since founding my business, it became apparent that I need more business training, so in 2017, I joined the Flourish & Thrive Academy Mastermind Intensive program to learn more about running a successful jewelry business. I've been able to focus on creating business strategies to move my brand forward.
Over time and through a two-part educational approach in jewelry and jewelry business, I’ve been able to grow my brand and achieve many successes at only 28 years old! It takes patience and planning, both of which have been difficult to learn, but the adage "slow and steady wins the race" seems to be true. That's basically my life motto at this point.
How has the American Craft Council’s Hip Pop program helped prepare you for success? What skills and experience have you gained through the program?
Prior to Hip Pop, I had never done a show, much less a show in another state. My first year, I learned so much about display, collateral materials, how to reach out and follow-up, and what to pack and not pack. I expect to learn even more this year. It's helpful to test and experiment with the ability to get feedback from people who are professionals when it comes to the "show life."
What is most challenging about running your own business?
Time – or lack thereof. There is never enough time to accomplish the never-ending list of things that need to be done.
What is most enjoyable?
I love being my own boss and reaping the rewards of my hard work. In the studio, we celebrate the wins and we learn from the hiccups. It's thrilling and terrifying being a young business owner in a high-stakes field such as fine jewelry.
Do you have any studio or administrative help?
It’s been a slow transition as I've built up my business, but I do have a part-time bench jeweler who helps with daily studio tasks, and I work with several independent contractors/specialists on things like accounting, taxes, photography, and graphic design. It's so helpful to finally have admin and studio help. One thing I've learned is that I need to understand everything, but I can't physically do everything when it comes to my business.
What role does social media play in your business and jewelry practice?
Social media is integral to my business. I'm still working on the perfect combination of image styles, captions, and calls-to-action for my brand and client base, but it seems that will always be a work-in-progress. Running a product business, I can't do without social media.
What advice do you have for young makers interested in pursuing a similar career?
Always be learning. Ask questions. Lots of them. Find a good accountant and photographer. Surround yourself with positive people in all areas of business. Find your tribe.
Find Kristen selling her jewelry at the 2018 American Craft Show in Baltimore, which runs February 23 – 25 at the Baltimore Convention Center.