February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
The Internet Bachelorette: I want to start with the origin of this endeavor. Did you know that this was going to become a business? I know you’re an artist, primarily working with oil and canvas, how did that translate to sculpting jewelry?
Dre Swain: I wrote a book, fantasy, and I had this idea that it would be really fun to design bookmarks and charms for different characters to go with the book. I went to my friend who is a jewelry designer and asked if she could make these charms for me. We talked about what I needed and after our conversation she was honest and told me it wasn’t going to be worth my money to have her do it. Which was fine because I’m a big do-it-yourself person anyway, I’m always looking for my next hobby. I remember in High School I liked fooling around with polymer clay, making beads and stuff like that so I set out to make these charms out of polymer clay. I jumped on Amazon to get a how-to book on how to work with polymer clay. I wanted to become an expert before I dove in, and the first book I found was how to use polymer clay to make jewelry.
DS: Yup, I put that in my cart. So I get my books and bought minimal supplies. The first thing I made was a necklace, called The Pirate’s Heart. I wore it into work, and I wasn’t even that happy with it because it didn’t turn out like what was in my head. I brought it in for a show and tell and one of the actresses on the show I was working on, Victorious, bought it right away. She asked me a price and I just threw one out there and she didn’t even blink an eye. I was like, “What?! You know… I think I’ll make another necklace or two.”
TIB: How long ago was that?
DS: That was in September of 2010. I made my first piece. For fun. And sold it. After that the wardrobe department on iCarly at Nickolodeon bought everything I made. The were so patient, that’s when I was troubleshooting. Chains were breaking, things weren’t behaving the way I wanted, the pieces kept flipping around. They let me take the things home that were broken or weren’t working out so I could fix them.
TIB: How did you start promoting?
DS: I started promoting myself using Twitter and Facebook. Word of mouth just around work caught on. At Christmas time this year I wasn’t sleeping because I had 12 hours at Nickolodeon and came home and had 8 more hours of work just to keep up with Christmas commissions. I kinda had to put the brakes on everything. Figured I had to take this really seriously.
TIB: Absolutely, your art is making money.
TIB: So you are a self-taught sculptor, which is amazing. What are the materials that you use and why are they unique to your designs?
DS: Like I said, I use polymer clay, which is an artist’s clay. It fires at a low temperature so I can fire it at home. It’s extremely light. So my big chunky pieces, like Lions Plume, Clockwork Heart, Elefish, they are big chunky pieces, but they aren’t uncomfortable, they don’t hang down on your neck, they aren’t super heavy.
TIB: But they look like metal? And you’re getting away with it. I wouldn’t know it wasn’t metal until I picked it up.
DS: They look like metal and now I’m starting to gild with 24 cart gold leaf. Even without the gold leaf it still has a metallic aged or brass look.
TIB: But it’s not.
DS: Even people with metal allergies can wear it. If they tell me ahead of time I can get rid of the chain and put it on a silk cord and they can still wear something that looks totally awesome.
DS: It’s such a versatile medium and I can incorporate watch parts, metal bits, Swarovski crystals, I even use diamonds in some of my pieces. For those with more expensive tastes and they prefer to have the diamonds and more expensive material, I can incorporate those as well. And for those who don’t have the money to spend I can skip the pricier adornments.
TIB: Your designs are very eclectic. I’m not even sure what type of style category you would be labeled under. It’s all really unique, which is what people want in jewelry especially. How would you classify your style?
DS: I think it’s this crazy mixing bowl of a lot of things. It reminds some people of Tim Burton. So there’s something Tim Burton about it, something Rock n’ Roll about it, and there’s something feminine about it. So I think if you put those things in a blender and when you pulled out the chunks there would be varying amounts of those elements in each piece. So that’s what my style is.
TIB: Very cool.
DS: And I love contradictions. Like the Monastache. It’s a classic with some humor. Humor goes into a lot of my pieces. I like to do things that are unexpected. With the Lions Plume it’s from a line called Hybrids where I’m taking animals and putting them together. So the lion’s mane is actually a bunch of tiny feathers. Same idea with the Elefish.
TIB: So it’s ears are fish fins?
TIB: Ding, ding, ding!
DS: It’s recognizable as one thing, but upon closer inspection there’s more of a story behind it, that’s something else that applies to my pieces. I have a piece called The Repaired Heart and it’s one of my top sellers. Everyone who buys it feels compelled to tell me why. Everything from a girl who had a horrible childhood to a woman who bought it for her sister who just had heart surgery.
TIB: Wow. You’re learning a lot about your costumers. When you’re commissioned to create a certain piece for someone what’s your process?
DS: I like doing commissions, it’s like two minds are better than one. When someone else tells me a story of why they want a piece or a design element they want, it’s an exciting challenge to make what they want and still make it mine and make them happy.
TIB: What’s rewarding about selling a piece?
DS: The thing about painting is that there’s only one. I’ve stopped selling my paintings because that’s my baby, I wanted it hanging on my wall. It was painful to let them go. With the jewelry it’s a different form of expression. It’s not finished until it’s on someone. I get giddy every time I see someone put something I made on. And somehow the same piece will look different on you then it would on me then it would on your best friend. That’s when it’s really finished.
TIB: Where else does your inspiration drive from? I know you’re a lover of fantasy and there is something romantic and fantastical about this look. But then you have some pieces that are food related.
DS: I make lists of ideas and things I like, I have a notebook. I’ll go to a museum and write down the things that catch my eye. Sometimes I sketch it out, sometimes I have a picture in my head, but I write everything down. I’ll think if the craziest thing in the moment, be it genius or idiotic, I’ll decide later. To-Do lists keep me on schedule too.
TIB: What was your biggest struggle when starting the business?
DS: I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t even know what a DBA was. I asked a lot of questions and I got advice, but I didn’t have any help. I’m the accountant, I’m the sculptor, I’m the janitor, I’m the photographer and the model. It was hard at times but when there’s no one to help you, you pick up your boot straps and make it work. If other people can do it, why can’t I?
TIB: I know finances are a touchy subject, but you had mentioned that you aren’t making a profit at this time, everything is going back into the business. What are those expenses for a start-up company that people might not realize?
DS: It’s crazy when you have a web-based business. I recently had to upgrade my hosting server with GoDaddy to had a credit card payment option and was really surprised that it was $600. I have a merchant account, there’s a monthly fee for that, Paypal fee with each purchase, cost of materials, cost of gas to get the materials, post office. Everything has a cost. The cost of the box to ship the necklace in.
TIB: Good thing they’re all really light.
DS: [laughs] Yes, another advantage of polymer clay.
TIB: How did you arrive at finding a fair price for your merchandise?
DS: I had a difficult time with that. I use a formula for every piece. For every new design I make I have this formula sheet with a space for me to clock in and clock out, and every single material and how much it cost. So I have an hourly wage, which eventually I will make when I stop putting it back into the business, and there’s the cost of materials, times 2. So it covers what I used and pays for me to buy more to make another, then the business can grow.
TIB: That’s interesting. What was the reaction from your trusted costumers and mentors when you arrived at these prices?
DS: Surprisingly enough, people were saying they were too low. I think as young artists, we undersell ourselves when trying to turn our art into a business. I still sometimes get embarrassed to say what the price is, because it ain’t cheap. But at the same time it’s all done by hand and it’s someone’s art.
TIB: It’s your art.
DS: My mentors really were the ones who sat me down and encouraged me to charge what I am because they knew I’d never build a business charging what I first thought I should. That’s why I have the sheet, so I can make sure that I am charging a fair price for all the work and artistry that goes into it and I’m not cheating anyone out of their money. The prices are boutique prices, but they are for a very high quality product.
TIB: What type of clients have emerged from your prices and the quality?
DS: I’m really surprised. There are people who want art they can hang around their neck. I’ve gotten some orders from overseas. I like to think I wouldn’t spend that much on a necklace, but I’ve done it before. For the right piece, absolutely.
TIB: Me too. You justify it by how much you love it and how much you’ll wear it.
DS: Right, how much use you get out of it. And how unique it is.
TIB: What is one piece of advice would you give to entrepreneurs and artists alike trying to pursue their dreams?
DS: Make sure you do love it. You are going to fight some battles to make it happen. If it’s not thinking about it, it’s making phone call to fix problems, tweeting, talking to tech people, more hours and frustration go into it, and you have to make sure that it’s worth it. Don’t undersell yourself. Come up with a formula that’s not only fair for your buyer, but fair for you and say it with confidence.
TIB: You have to own what you’re worth and know that you are worth it.
Jewelry from top to bottom: Clockwork Heart: Cleopatra, Screwfly, Typewriter Keys, Clockwork Heart (original), Repaired Heart, Bow-a Constrictor, Drops of Cupid
For purchases and browsing visit: dreswain.com
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Current deal: 3 for 40… refer three people and get 40% off your next piece. So tell her TIB sent you, I have my eye on a few things (wink).