Much to our surprise, jewelry and jewelry-making has always been a standout category here on Design*Sponge. Considering the endless possibilities of adornment and expression, it makes sense that those of us that are in love with design are also attracted to pieces that we can wear on our bodies and gaze upon at any moment during our day. For me, noticing the glint from a stone on my finger as I type makes me smile and keeps me going throughout the day.
Today we’re talking with Becky Nunn of Nunn Design about all things jewelry, small business and beyond. I find it fascinating and inspiring that Becky has the creative insight to imagine the many iterations that can come to life from the individual pieces and elements one can use in making a piece of jewelry. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did and thank you to Nunn Designs and Becky for the beautiful images. You can see more of Nunn Design’s jewelry on their site right here and on Instagram here. –Caitlin
This post is brought to you in collaboration with Nunn Design, a woman-owned business. Thanks for supporting our sponsors that help us bring original content to you every weekday.
Image above by David Goetze Photography
How would you describe your business and what you do?
Nunn Design is a supplier of jewelry findings for creative makers. We sell primarily wholesale to business owners all over the world. We design, manufacture and source jewelry components that are manufactured in the USA, and then teach a variety of techniques that allow creative people to make jewelry that is unique to their brand.
In addition to our jewelry findings, Nunn Design distributes everything that our customer will need for the techniques that we teach, such as resin, clay, glue, inks and molding supplies. We also offer inspiration and education through our blog, tutorials and videos.
Image above: Nunn Design Flat Tag Collection is designed for jewelry artists who do custom metal stamping and engraving, yet is elegant enough to be used as design accents. Photography by David Conklin Photography
What was your background leading into owning Nunn Design?
My background and education is in graphic design and marketing. I attended an applied art school in Seattle, WA that was taught by professionals working in their fields. Many of my instructors owned their own ad agencies, graphic design firms, and public relations companies, or were working freelance illustrators. It was the perfect environment for me. In many of my classes we were working on real-life projects alongside our teachers, it wasn’t just theory.
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
That is a really tricky question, because when I look back on my childhood, I have been an entrepreneur since I was very young. I just didn’t have anyone in my life that could help me identify that there was a place in the world for people like myself. In addition to being an entrepreneur, I was also extremely creative. Being an artist was a talent that was bestowed on other members of my 7-sibling family who had obvious “talent.” Since I didn’t excel at being a painter or a writer, my mother encouraged me to be a therapist because I was a really good communicator.
When I told my parents that I was interested in studying graphic design, my mother’s response was, “You have never shown any talent in that area before.” In a lot of ways, I’m very grateful for her response. It caused me to have a fire in my belly to excel and succeed. My parents didn’t mean to slight me, they honestly just didn’t know about the big world of choices that exists for creative people.
What’s the best part of your job?
Best part? That would be a really hard choice for me to make. I REALLY love what I do. If I were to boil it down to the essence of what is the best, I’d say, being creative. Every aspect of what I do, from running a business, to managing a team of employees, to writing a how-to jewelry tutorial, to designing and launching a new collection of findings, is an expression of my creativity. What is there not to love about that?
Image above: Nunn Design Jewelry Kits for Embroidery are available for both retail and wholesale. The pieces above were created by artist Jessica Long of Namaste Embroidery. Photography by David Conklin Photography
And the hardest part of your job?
Since we have a unique niche in the business world, it is sometimes challenging for me to find business models to help us navigate our way. Time and time again we have just had to figure things out for ourselves. It hasn’t been easy to find the cliff notes or cheat sheets on how to build a database that will manage our specific inventory needs. Tackling tasks like these [has] been hard for me.
Image above: Nunn Design offers online tutorials like how to embed organics into resin. You can see some final pieces that use this technique above! Photography by David Conklin Photography
What on-the-job tools do you use every day?
I turn to our company’s mission statement to help guide us on the job daily. Our mission is: Through collaborative relationships, Nunn Design inspires and nurtures creativity. Having a mission that is solid and speaks to the core of what is important to me personally, as well as professionally, has been the greatest navigation tool.
People have so many places to be inspired today. One can spend hours and hours pinning, liking and saving images to boards. I’m not saying that there isn’t value to inspiration; I’m just saying that our company’s mission doesn’t stop there. We inspire and then nurture our customers by providing products, tools and education for them to have success executing those ideas.
Image above: Nunn Design distributes USA made leather to provide a seamless experience of creating finished jewelry for their customers. Photography by David Conklin Photography
You describe yourself as an entrepreneur. Why do you use that term versus “designer” or “jewelry artist?”
Let me define what entrepreneur means to me. As entrepreneur I identify a problem that exists and create a product that solves the problem. With that product, I can then attract customers. Identifying as an entrepreneur helps me to design products that have both a purpose and a function. My hope is that Nunn Design products solve a problem that my customers didn’t even know they had. Yes, I love to design beautiful things, but what sets us apart in the marketplace is the niche that we fill by making our customers’ lives and creative process easier and more enjoyable.
What aspects of owning your company provide you with the most fulfillment?
I love handmade goods and the makers that create them. One aspect of owning Nunn Design that provides me with such fulfillment is that I have the platforms to feature and tell the stories behind these makers. It is so fulfilling to create products and see each person bring them to life in their own way. It brings me great joy to know that I had a part to play in their process and success.
Image above: A portrait of Becky with some finished pieces made from Nunn Design elements and findings. Photographer: David Goetze Photography
In your bi-line, you state that you believe that everyone is creative. How would you address those who just don’t believe that to be true?
It makes me sad every time I hear someone say, “I’m not creative” or “I wish I was talented.” I think it triggers my own challenges of being labeled as “not having talent” as a young child.
I believe that we are all born to create. If you watch a small child, you can see that they are filled with ideas and a passion for expressing them. Over time, that small child might be shamed for not drawing something right or for coloring outside the lines. With each experience, the child forms a belief that what they are doing has no value.
As adults we can continue buying into those beliefs, or we can unpack all that junk and clean house! If you don’t think you are creative, it’s because you haven’t been willing to do the work to believe differently.
Image above: More delicate embroidered pendants created from Nunn Design Jewelry Kits for Embroidery. These were made by artist Britney Grossman of Serene Stitching. These embroidery kits are available for sale by both retail and wholesale methods. Photography by David Conklin Photography
How do you stay inspired? And where do you get your product ideas?
When I’m developing new products, I am not just thinking about making beautiful findings. I think a great deal about how I can inspire our customers and how our customers are going to use the components. The challenge of designing components for the complete spectrum of jewelry artists that we serve is [a] key part of what inspires me.
Our industry has two really strong trends this year; an industrial, clean, urban look and an organic, natural feel. These two themes were the focus for shapes and textures represented in the 2018 Nunn Design Collection.
You mentioned that you have a nonconventional business culture at Nunn Design. Could you tell us more about that?
Since most of the team were recruited from an administrative rather than artsy backgrounds, creating was a bit of a stretch, and often an extremely vulnerable experience. Regardless, I felt, at the very least, that it would be a great way for our staff to understand our customers and their needs. We began with a quarterly art day where the staff came together to test and create with the latest product line and techniques that we are offering to our customers. Nobody gets a pass because everyone, from customer service to the warehouse, needs to know the product line intimately.
As we have progressed, each one of the Nunn Design Team has had the opportunity to have their work and tutorials featured in magazines and on our company’s blog. The results have gone far beyond anything I could have imagined, testimony that even those with no jewelry experience, and from all walks of life, can make beautiful handmade jewelry that, more often than not, has a real story to tell.
Image above: Rustic yet refined pieces shown above. Photography by David Conklin Photography
What are some of your challenges in designing jewelry findings for other artists?
I think the biggest challenge is designing products that will fit so many different artists’ needs. Having the findings complement, not compete, with an artist’s style and voice takes more than [a] bit of thought. I want our customers’ finished jewelry to be a reflection of their creativity and brand, not a reflection of Nunn Design.
Image above: Nunn Design Rings offer all sorts of creative possibilities. Photography by David Conklin Photography
What life skills have been most helpful in pursuing a career as a creative and a buyer?
Is clarity a life skill? My daily ritual begins with journaling. I spend each morning becoming clear on my top priority and the priority of my staff. I am a very organized person. I like to have a precise roadmap of where we are going and how we are going to get there.
I would think the world of jewelry findings would be very competitive. How do you deal with competition?
You are right. It is very competitive. With 25 years of experience designing products that are manufactured here in the US, I have been able to identify the strengths and weaknesses that we face. Some products we can excel at, others we know we just can’t compete.
Image above: Another look at some finished pieces created with the Nunn Design Jewelry Kits for Embroidery, available for sale by both retail and wholesale methods. These pieces were made by artist Shelly Georgopulos of Shelly Sells Lemonade. Photography by David Conklin Photography
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Six years ago, we received a large request from an art supply franchise with a nationwide chain of stores. In order for us to meet the terms they required, I needed to confirm that our existing line of credit would cover all my vendors if the customer didn’t pay on time. Without my knowledge, our bank had closed our line of credit, as many small businesses were experiencing at that time. I moved forward with the order, thinking the opportunity was worth the risk, and leveraged my personal savings as back-up capital if there was a delay in payment.
Well, there was a delay, which we weathered. The company filed Chapter 11. When the dust cleared I found that my staff unknowingly saved my bacon. Because of our drive for superior customer service, the product arrived one day prior to the company’s filing, and we were not caught up in the bankruptcy. Our company was very lucky. That one experience could have been a disaster for us. Since then, I have been very conservative with our terms. I’d rather grow slowly, than gamble like that ever again.
Image above: Mixed metals and patterned pendants work well as statement pieces. Photography by David Conklin Photography
In July of 2017 the US Department of Labor Blog listed that only 36% of small businesses were woman owned. Although that is a great start, how would you suggest that we see those percentages increase?
Over 90% of Nunn Design’s customer base are woman owned businesses. If we want to see the US Department of Labor percentages increase, consumers need to be mindful of where they are choosing to spend their money. Yes, buying quality-handcrafted items from a small business owner does cost more. Let’s make our purchases be meaningful.
Do you have a platform of social media that you enjoy the most? Why?
We are active on many social media platforms [including] Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. I’d have to say my favorite is Instagram. I find that it is super easy for me to engage with our customers on that platform. Beyond, those platforms, we also have our own blog that people can subscribe to. Since we also service wholesalers, we need to make it easy for them to purchase our products so we created a short video that explains how to purchase wholesale from Nunn Design. From there, wholesalers need to register with us and go through a quick approval process prior to purchasing from us.
Image above: These landscape pendants show off the intricacy that can be achieved with the Nunn Design Jewelry Kits for Embroidery. These were created by artist Sarah Buckley of Itty Bitty Bunnies. Photography by David Conklin Photography
Where is your favorite place to create?
I have to totally unplug from running a business in order to immerse myself in creative exploration. I typically block out a week of time at a stretch and work from home (where else?), on my kitchen table. Although I could build a beautiful studio at work, I think it is really important to create in the same way that many of our customers are going to be creating, in makeshift spaces. My husband built me a bookshelf on wheels that I roll out of my bedroom. I pull all my baskets from under my bed, and set-up my studio for the week. I typically work 12-hour days while creating. Once the juices have passed, I pack up the studio and return to my office. My family is very supportive of picnics in the living room during this week of creative chaos. They know that creating jewelry makes me really happy.
Image above: Portrait of Becky Nunn by David Goetze Photography
One piece of advice for beginners?
If you are new to jewelry making you are in good company. The techniques that we teach are very forgiving and are designed with a beginning artist in mind, yet they are sophisticated enough to [attract] a more advance maker as well. Own that you are a beginner and let go of that inner critic. When we were learning to walk and talk, we all looked silly. Give yourself the time and patience to learn something new. Even simple things, such as holding a new tool in a certain way, takes practice and concentration. Unpack that mental baggage and tap into the natural creativity we were all born with.
Thanks so much for sharing a peek into your life and business, Becky!