Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from designer and artist Bari Ziperstein of BZIPPY & Co. As a successful sculpture artist, Bari decided that she wanted to find an outlet for her design aspirations to thrive. She launched BZIPPY & Co. to share her ceramic jewelry and decor pieces with the world, and, in turn, help spark her own creative inspiration. Today she gives us a bit of a glimpse into her career path and journey. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Bari! —Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
BZIPPY & CO started very organically as I felt that my fine art practice and design interests needed separate identities as each one was gaining momentum. BZIPPY enables me to have an accessible commercial design line where I can celebrate form, color, function and drawing – while in production on my large totemic conceptual ceramic sculptures the economy in left at the studio door. Equally rigorous and time consuming – this freedom for the fine artwork has allowed me to have a renewed relationship with each part of my practice.
Also, starting BZIPPY was a direct response to seeing the teaching positions that I’ve relied on for income over the last eight years dry up – and the dream of a tenure year track sculpture teaching position getting further and further away in our current economy. After starting BZIPPY, I started to take it more seriously as a business, which shifted some priorities as well.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
Working in clay lends itself to be design and/or fine art – but having so much extra clay scraps from building large scale sculptures – these scrapes became my glaze tests and eventually were reclaimed as beads, breastplates and pendants for the jewelry line. Initially, it was a much larger collection of items with bowls, lamps to jewelry with various patterns, glazes, clay bodies and drawing styles. For production purposes and to be able to delve into forms/color deeply, I’ve decided to streamline things where BZIPPY includes – jewelry, vases, and lamps. It also helped to be honest with myself on my strengths and weakness in each product, it helped weed out a lot and propel other forms. Within that there are different influences and series – from Brutalist architecture of heavy rudimentary shapes with dark matt glazes to the more delicate series of lady fingers with various nail colors based on my mother’s hands.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
It’s all a plateau – an even cool line – with many graceful and humbling experiences, which allows perspective along the way. It’s been hard to follow this advice, as the lived experience can be quite different.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
I could talk about how I need more time – I always need more time, but who doesn’t. But the more personally pressing issue is identity – and the current split between my fine art and design practices as if one cancels the other one out and/or makes it less rigorous because it’s a commercial endeavor. I’ve had to renegotiate how I define success and to be open to various opportunities – in the end it’s so important to have a daily practice with clay to keep my manic hands inventing no matter which hat I’m wearing that day.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
It’s so easy to keep up with my community via instagram and facebook behind the protection of a screen – but the other side of that is it’s overwhelming at times with the urgency and it’s not very personal. Especially in such an isolating city like Los Angles, forming close relationships with creative enthusiasts and makers outside of social media has been my biggest lesson. Our initial connection as makers brings us together but it quickly goes beyond business advice and logistics – to form supportive friendships.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
Compromising my health for the sake of production and deadlines – has been a huge learning curve for me as I’m a manic maker with a lot of energy and drive. A year ago, I got allergenic bronchitis twice in 3 months and had to go on steroids due to the build up of clay dust in my studio and not wearing the right protection when cleaning up dry clay. In hindsight, it could have been a lot worse and am grateful to have learned this lesson early on that nothing is worth compromising your health for.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Giving up control, period, especially with such a demanding medium as clay. Three months ago, I got to a point where I needed and was able to hire a production assistant and delegate tasks – while I took on a new teaching position as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art in Sculpture at University of CA in Riverside. This enabled a more timely production with four hands on deck and enabled me to spend more time with my finance in the evenings than I would have otherwise been able to. This small attempt at work / life balance refuels me and keeps things fresh in the studio – previously I would work till 3 am never being able to catch up on sleep, production, or my connection to my partner. With an assistant only a few days a week, I don’t have to stay up late working dismissing my connection to my body’s exhaustion as often as I used to. This to me was a huge success, as anyone of my friends knows how much I love to work.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
My community and experiences in the art world for the last eleven years has been my biggest resource.
I honestly haven’t read many books on how to start a proper business, but my experiences running artist studios, working at art galleries, and teaching at the University level has been my first hand resources. Also, it’s been invaluable to connect to artists and designers via email in other cities and countries where there is a mutual respect, then finally meet up and that connection is so strong. I’m never intimidated to make that first move with an email to another maker whose work I admire – to invite them over to the studio and give each other time – those are sometimes the best resources.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
– Diversified: While starting BZIPPY, it’s been very helpful for me to have multiple streams of income from fine art, teaching, and public art. This enabled me to build my inventory, clients, and forms without having to worry about income. With momentum building with the design line, other parts of my practice had to shift at least temporarily to enable BZIPPY to grow. This can be hard at first, but perhaps the best decision in the end.
– Enthusiast: How to remain enthusiast about turning a creative interest into a business with all of the highs and lows that go along with it. In the end, it’s hand made production work that involves a lot of time and repetition, which can be extremely boring. Keeping that enthusiasm in the studio is key for me with music, audio books, switching up projects, glaze experiments, cleaning, to having studio visits.
– Infrastructure: Do you have proper infrastructure set up for production (studio space), time, finances, and equipment. We all dream of a bigger space, a better kiln, five financial backers and three assistants – but in reality when your starting off you is doing just that so let the business grow without a sense of urgency.