Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rachel Franco: Fabulous Fabric Creations

Rachel Franco

I found Rachel Franco and JaLa Designs through LinkedIn's Jewelry Designer group. Although I usually focus on designers who are creating masterful work with precious metals, enamels and stones, I was struck by Rachel's use of simple fabric to create unusual pieces.

I've always loved fabrics - something about the beautiful colors and patterns and, when embroidered, textures. My love of working with fabric in jewelry stems from my love of contradictions, of surprises. JaLa Designs leverages the excitement of seeing something in a piece of jewelry that you wouldn't expect to see and is reflective of the fact that we all have many different - and sometimes opposing - sides to ourselves that result in our being original and beautiful human beings...just the way we are.

I had a very specific vision for JaLa Designs in terms of the look and feel that I was after - and JaLa really did start from a vision. My tagline, "Be yourself and the rest will follow", is a reflection of my own personal journey in life, of my learning, as I've grown and matured, that so much of life really does just come down to being and accepting who you are versus trying to be perfect or someone you're not.

That message, that mantra really is the heart and soul of JaLa Designs. And that is what I want to share and communicate with others through my jewelry. Every time someone wears a JaLa Designs piece, my sincere and genuine hope is that she remembers that all she has to do to "succeed" is, "Be yourself and the rest will follow."

As I like to say, JaLa Designs is where individuality, self-confidence and a unique sense of style converge to create a fashionable reminder to be yourself.

Before JaLa was manifested through any physical object, it was, in my head, a combination of beautiful and elegant designer fabrics - think Italian or Country French - mixed with a chain with a more muted finish, an antique looking one. Almost vintage looking in a sense, although I wouldn't necessarily categorize my work as vintage, interestingly enough. I just had this antique look in my head and had to carry it out.

When did you decide to pursue jewelry design?

I started to pursue jewelry design after I was downsized from my marketing job at a technology company in summer 2008. I disliked my job, so being downsized was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It really gave me the freedom and the space to figure out my next step.

I have to say, though, that if you had told me three years ago that I was going to be designing jewelry, I would have thought you were crazy! As I alluded to before, JaLa Designs really did start from a vision.

While over a family friend's house getting some career coaching (to help me figure out my next step), I noticed that she had this beautiful bowl that was covered in fabric. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't something covered in fabric look pretty as part of a necklace?"

I started experimenting and now have JaLa Designs, LLC! And, so far, the response has been great! People are really responding to it well - especially and perhaps not surprisingly to the fabric.

Where does the name of your company, JaLa, come from?

The name, JaLa, has a very special and personal meaning to me. Shortly before the launch of JaLa (which was then unnamed), a very close family friend of mine - and, honestly, one of my all-time favorite people in the world - passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 58. She was so full of life and energy and, to put it simply, just so much fun - her death came as a shock to many and as a great loss. Everyone loved her.

The name, JaLa, is inspired by her. It is my small way of honoring her memory. I ofen picture her in my mind, imagining her looking at my jewelry and responding with her signature excitement and natural curiosity. I miss her very much but think of her every time I see, read or say JaLa.

What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities in 2009?

Well, I think, of course, the most obvious challenge in 2009 is the state of the economy. People, even the high-end luxury spender, are cutting back on their spending. I think this also, however, presents a great opportunity for those of us with truly unique and different products. If people are going to part with their money, I think they want to part with it on something unique and different. I think this is one of the factors that has contributed to JaLa having a good start!

It was a pleasure meeting Rachel. 2009 is bound to be an interesting year for her as she works to turn the recession into an opportunity to bring people interesting adornments at affordable prices.

Thanks for stopping by!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Secretary of the Arts Petition: Act Now!

Yeah, I know he's got a lot on his plate, just cleaning up the enormous mess left behind. But it appears that Obama understands how valuable the arts are to the betterment of our society and even to help us get through this crisis. Marianne Hunter and her husband, William sent around an email recently promoting a petition for a Secretary of the Arts. Here's what they said:

ART SAVES LIVES. We believe that.
Those of us who are in the arts; what would have become of us without our artwork?
Those who enjoy the arts; what would life be with out it’s richness?
Those who are students: what life lessons would you have missed without the discovery, patience, creativity, accomplishment and fulfillment of the arts?
Those who teach: what can you unlock in young minds with the arts as your tool? What otherwise unreachable children make contact through the arts?
Those concerned with the human condition: a picture is worth a thousand words to spread understanding and awareness.
Art is a means of support for many in third world countries and poor communities at home.
Those who value history: what secrets of the past would we have lost without the records left behind in works of art and artisanship? Art is our window into the past.

The arts are a vibrant part of our world and economy. One that stimulates the mind and nourishes the soul. One that is flexible. One that endures. One that helps. One that invents and expresses change.

Take a minute and click on the petition link below and sign it to encourage President Obama (so nice to be able to say that!) to create a Secretary of the Arts.

Petition (click here)

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More thoughts on 2009...

I got a tremendous response to my questions about the challenges and opportunities for 2009. Here’s more…

Marion Hunziker-Larsen

2008 was a tremendously entertaining year. I spent lots of time working with the news on in the background. Between the elections and the economical meltdown there was no shortage of news. We all had to take a 101 class on the economy. I have since weaned myself a bit as the daily gloom and doom was getting to me especially when delivered by gleeful announcers. I saw the picture of Chaney in the morning paper as the Senate was confirming Obama's election. Was he smirking as the administration he represents handed Obama a plate of manure? They may have believed that the economy would not fall in disarray until they were out of office... or used it as an excuse for final gifts to their buddies in the form of taxpayers $. So anyway, out with the old economy, and in with the new economy, hopefully a better economical model more sustainable and less toxic to the planet with the return of civil servants to government.

Artists are often the canaries in the cage. They were aware of the lack of oxygen in the system long ago. The economy from many artists' perspectives has looked to be in trouble for quite a while, even when according to the pundits the economy was doing fine. We were all aware that the economy was doing great for a limited few while too many people had a hard time financially in the meantime. But not all art businesses did badly, some actually did well even last year. As customers 'downgraded' from higher end goods in department stores, many discovered artisans' jewelry as a better value at better prices! I call it true value from the heart over commercial value with hidden cost to the total cost of ownership. You can read my entry on TOC on my blog.

For 2009 I plan to continue as a designer-artisan to create 'irresistible pieces', the best pieces I can design regardless of their prices range. Some may have just five to ten knots, a zen statement, distilled to its essence like a haiku, yet still containing my signature. Others may be labor of love with many hours of work. I will also continue to work with lots of colors, as it is so much fun, and maybe my enthusiasm while working in my studio will propagate to my customers. Pieces will find their owners eventually, so I will continue to do shows, create exposure for the work I create, post new pieces to my budding online gallery and look into other outlets. In addition to being an artist I also became a Reiki master, along the way, and I believe that as artists we are conduits for energy and the world needs us more than ever.

Brittany Golden

The greatest opportunity in the jewelry industry today is the abundance of materials, jewelry is not as traditional as it used to be which makes the possibilities endless! It gives us more freedom to give our pieces a soul with the new clays and polymers, photo transfering, etching and acid finishes, and using found or recycled objects can give them more of a story. Looking at an object or new metal and asking how we can give it life creates more connection with the spirit of why we make jewelry and can be as playful or serious as we make it. Even the more traditional materials are being taken in new directions giving them a life of their own, with so many techniques out there it's a challenge deciding where to begin. The only limits are the limits of our imagination! The internet is our most powerful resource. Education, networking and selling is at our fingertips and we can connect to people from all over the world when we plug into the online shops and networks. The only challenge I have found is finding enough hours in the day to create all the ideas I have!

Linda Lewis

As far as the challenges for 2009 in this economy downturn, it is more challenging than ever to market something that is not considered a necessity. That is, we must learn to be more creative by using less expensive materials. Also, this is a opportunity to go into my studio and come up with new designs, if the old ones are not selling. Finding new venues to sell such as small boutique type shows in people’s homes seems to work for me. Also, I am using the internet as an advertising tool, since it is less expensive and sometimes free. I have been through many downturns before over the years and for some reason, people still buy jewelry to make them feel better about themselves.

From the past two posts, a theme has emerged. Use the time to create new designs and learn new that new jewelry skill you always wanted to try. Stick with work that you are proud to make and…..keep getting up in the morning!

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

2009! Here we go...

We kick off 2009 amid a deepening recession and global uncertainty, but with the optimism of a new administration that just might help us all get back on track.

For my first post of the New Year, I took the opportunity to ask many of the jewelry designers who were profiled this past year to comment on what they see as both the greatest opportunities and the most difficult challenges for 2009. The responses were as thoughtful and insightful as one might expect from this group of enormously talented and motivated people!

Jeanne Johngren

I think that the greatest opportunities arise from the most difficult challenges. Plato said it well, "necessity is the mother of invention." And much later, Thorstein Veblen reversed it, "invention is the mother of necessity." In either case, necessity and invention are forever linked in a tumultuous pas de deux. They just switch off on who leads.

So, in the face of adversity, what will we invent?

1- Irresistible work, irresistible messaging. The "what is irresistible" part is the thing we'll all need to work out for ourselves.

2- We'll have to make it easier for stores to take a chance on us. My guess is minimum order requirements will be decreased at the same time that designer's requirements around store advertising will increase.

3- It should be easier to have our messages heard this year as many companies will not spend on advertising. There will be less noise. It's time to craft clear messages and be heard.

4- We can refine our lines, really using the knowledge around what was popular in spite of the market heading south. If certain items sold in that market, they will sell as the market continues to slide for the first 6 months of this year. We can expand color and size variations on those items. I am reading that we should expect a strong Christmas '09. So...

5- My advice...Slog on through. I think that getting through to the end of this year is the key. Things will take an upturn. We just have to be super smart -- conservative and targeted -- about how we spend this year in order to be around for the turn-around.

Kim Fox

The greatest opportunities in 2009 are those of focusing and evaluating our best talents, best use of time and placement of our work. There isn’t much space for laxness. This can involve being brutally honest about ourselves, our work, our suppliers and our customers. Those who don’t do this will probably leave our career of choice.

The opportunity is also a challenge. It involves being honest, removing excess, changing course and being brave and confident in the face of an economy that is a challenge. Those that do this are more likely to be still standing after the economic downturn is over.

Keith Lewis

We all have challenges and opportunities facing us each day that shape us , that let us show ourselves as helpful, creative and positive individuals. Still, I find it easy for financial worries or competitive insecurities to jump to the front of the line and overshadow what's really happening in my life. These things are real, but they are not the foundation of anything, and letting them control what you do does a disservice to who we are.

We would not be working for ourselves if we were not self-motivated enough to take control of how we handle the challenges staring at us this year. Making conservatively designed jewelry in hard times is not the answer. Making work that you are happy to stand behind but doesn't cripple your cash flow does make sense. Sales down? Doesn't that mean you have time now to make that special piece, learn that exotic technique, maybe experiment a bit? Perhaps that will put you in the show that will be more helpful to you.

Think of your professional life in terms of its trajectory. Is it a line going steadily but reasonably upwards, creating a buffer for the harder times, exploring new things, showing that you are planning prudently? Or, is the line a low arc showing the same old efforts, with you in danger of a bumpy ride just because you aren't planning anything different?

Well, we all need to keep in mind where we are pointed, and just being aware of this helps me to react to a situation in a way that keeps me going in a good direction. As cloying as it may sound, those challenges are opportunities, and 2009 looks like it's going to have a lot of, well, let's say "opportunities."

Nancy Troske

Aside from the obvious problems with the economy I think that the greatest opportunities will come from technology; the use of the internet and the availability of learning opportunities via Smartflix, YouTube and other online venues, including social networking, forums, online magazines.

I think the challenge to designers is going to be focus. How does a creative person avoid going in a million different directions when there are so many new materials and techniques out there (like bronze metal clay) not to mention the older techniques such as chasing and repousse, granulation, etc.? Personally, I find it very hard to resist dabbling in everything and not turn into a whirling dervish! I have to reign myself in constantly!

Lilian Chen

I think 2009 will be a great year for jewelry making designers, because people can't live without jewelry, especially women. The difficult challenge we are facing is that competition will be more difficult, not only in designing the design piece, but the cost of the materials. So be wise and use different materials, be more unique, more artistic, and more exquisite. People always like unique things.

Harriete Estel Berman

The greatest opportunity in 2009 definitely involves the Internet and the visibility that it offers for good work, GREAT PHOTOS and personal initiative. Egalitarian forums like Etsy offer popular marketplaces. Social networking websites like Flickr and Crafthaus offer opportunities for showing your work at little or no expense. can upload a PowerPoint about your work at no cost. Blogs and website templates can generate more formal portfolio presentations that are accessible for a wide audience for a very modest investment of time and money.

The most difficult challenge for 2009 is the depressed economy. There is no way around the fact that selling work in this current economic situation is not going to be easy. My recommendation is to cut back on production and related expenses and work on research and development of your work. Take time to make the best and most interesting work possible, save up your money, and invest in professional photography. Overall I would encourage everyone in the art and craft community to create exposure opportunities for yourself and others by organizing exhibitions with a focus on selecting the most interesting work – and not on whether it is saleable. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."

Marianne Hunter

Maybe one word will do for a jumping off point for my perspective: Fear. Fear is both an opportunity and a challenge to test your metal (a pun!) How sure are you of your design concepts? How willing are you to make some changes? How brave are you about not compromising your integrity? Are you brave enough to take a leap of faith on a design concept that excites you?

Can you face the public and show, not fear, but maintain and communicate your certainty that things will be okay again? That your work is worth having?

I wish us all courage and integrity and success. Work for peace and justice and our world will right itself again. In two weeks we will have a new start.

Reading these thoughtful responses kind of choked me up. And, I felt inspired to keep “slogging” as Jeanne Johngren so aptly put it!

By the way, Harriete Estel Berman also wanted to mention an upcoming Professional Development Seminar on maximizing the online revolution. It is through SNAG, but is open to everyone. From the comments above, everyone seems to feel that online is where we all must be—and be good!

Here’s more information on it:

Thanks for stopping by!