Ever since she can remember, Lorraine West has had a soft spot for jewelry. Long after playing with her mother’s jewelry box as a child, she found herself seeing jewelry as a staple and necessity for any outfit — just as important as socks or shoes. While studying illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology, she started creating jewelry as an alternative outlet for creativity and was surprised to find her pieces in high demand from friends and family. It wasn’t until her first sale that she finally saw her hobby and lifelong passion as a viable career path, and Lorraine quickly fell in love with not only the creative process, but seeing her clients enjoy her work in the years that would come.
Being an independent jewelry maker and business owner is not easy, but Lorraine wouldn’t have it any other way. Today, she’s sharing some insight into everything from client relations, to the business resources that helped her along the way, to why communication is key. –Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
Entrepreneurship is in my blood. I come from parents that were successful, creative business owners. I adore the freedom that my business gives me to express my own vision. I am living my dream — not someone else’s.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I always admired jewelry since I was a child. Playing in my mother’s jewelry box was like a trip to a gallery. In my teens I wore her jewelry to school and loved the compliments I got from wearing it. I felt naked if I didn’t have on fly jewels that would catch someone’s attention. I was so inspired by fashion and wanted to make my contribution to the industry. During my junior year of college, while studying illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I started creating jewelry as another creative outlet. My friends and family started requesting custom pieces. I was hooked after my first sale. I fell in love with the process of creating, selling and seeing my clients excited to wear my jewelry designs.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
The best advice I was given when starting my business was to, “Be true to yourself so your art can be true to the world.”
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The most difficult part of starting my own business was not having a mentor to help guide me. I had to figure out the business on my own. It was tough at first, but now I have wisdom that money can’t buy. My business experience is my greatest teacher.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in running my business is that my clients are my biggest asset. Without my clients, my business wouldn’t exist. It is my job to provide a superior customer experience. My goal is to keep my clients happy and wanting more. It’s about sharing a piece of my best self with every client.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
One failure I learned from in particular was when [I was] working on a past custom ring order. During production of the ring, I changed a slight aspect of the design that made it more structurally sound. I didn’t think it changed the design much, but after the client saw the finished piece, he thought it looked lovely, but not the same design he signed off on before I [started] the final. After giving my explanation [of] why I made the change, the client understood why, but was still disappointed that I didn’t check in to get his approval to make the change in the first place. It was a humbling experience and major learning lesson in communication. To resolve the issue, I made the entire piece over again from scratch. The second attempt was exactly what the client wanted and the experience built a stronger business relationship between us. Communication is key: it saves time and money.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
If I could have three more hours a day, I would use [them] on more self-care routines, quality time with family and friends, museum-hopping, and experimenting at my jewelers bench on new metal creations.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
I’ve never felt like I made a sacrifice in starting my business because it’s what I wanted to do.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
I’m most proud of the clientele I’ve retained over the years. My clients are loyal and some of my biggest inspirations when it comes to my designing.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I recommend anyone starting a creative business to take business and creative courses to strengthen skills in both areas. Read books such as The Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer or The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell to gain more marketing insight. Consult with a free business advisor at your local Small Business Association. Having a creative partner is also helpful to collaborate on ideas and split up the responsibilities of the business.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
I believe failure is an opportunity to grow, to learn and try again. There are numerous ebb and flow moments in my business daily. I stay persistent and don’t quit.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. What is your mission?
2. Who will your business benefit?
3. How will you finance the business?
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
The first app I check in the morning is Instagram. I love the exchange of creativity through instant images. It’s been a valuable way to promote my product and gain new clientele by sharing images and links of my work.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
The hardest thing about being my own boss is balancing the creative and operational aspects of my business. I would rather just create all day in my workshop. Now that my business has expanded more than ever, I have to utilize my spreadsheets to track projections, sales, expenses, shipping and sales tax records. Quickbooks is everything!