Adapted from my talk at the BossBabesATX Community Meet-up on 5/21/2019 regarding personal and professional synergy:
My path to jewelry was a strange, convoluted one. When I was younger - I really loved design. I would cut out my favorite pieces of furniture from magazines, make collages, construct these really elegant lego houses, make miniature models of furniture - the Ikea catalog was basically my favorite book.
My parents saw all this and decided that the best thing for me was... pharmacy. I don’t blame them - they truly believed that that was what was best for me. So, at 19, I was sent off to the University of Texas’s College of Pharmacy. From the very beginning it was obvious it wasn’t the place for me. After two years of struggling, I was kicked out of school. It wasn’t a good time but I finished with a degree in Nutrition.
After that, I took some time to intern with Liberty in North Korea - a non-profit that works with North Korean refugees. Once I was back in Austin, I had to figure out what to do with my life.
I didn’t want anything to do with the sciences. Design was where my heart was at - especially furniture design- but I had no idea how to get there. I started looking into graduate schools to see if I could do a masters in industrial design. I drove to, called and emailed quite a few schools and after almost a year, I still hadn’t found anything I liked.
I ended up going to Austin Community College and laying it all on the table before them: “This is where I want to be - how can you help me?”
They basically told me they didn’t have anything in furniture or industrial design, but why don’t I look into all these other programs? I took everything home and created my own curriculum.
I started taking graphic design and drafting classes, then I moved over to woodworking and metalworking. When I was in art metals, my instructor noticed that I had been making a lot of bracelets and said, “Hamaila - have you looked into the jewelry department? I think you’d fit in well there.”
So, in January 2018, I started Jewelry Techniques and fell in love. I’m still taking jewelry classes, still learning and growing. Almost as soon as I started making and wearing my jewelry, people started asking when I would start selling. Even my instructor asked if I had started selling just a few months in. In September 2018, I launched my website.
Launching a website is a lot of hard work y’all. And getting the website up is the easy part. You have to hustle after it’s up to make it successful. People don’t just stumble upon it and start buying things. I started putting more energy into instagram and markets.
While doing markets, I realized that all my previous experiences and interests were coming together and manifesting in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. I was using graphic design for my business cards, my website, my printed materials and social media posts. Woodworking and drafting came into play with my displays and metal working lent itself to the actual process of jewelry creation.
On Instagram, I started seeing all these incredible badass ladies, making their jewelry, living their lives and seeming like they had their shit together - so I started asking myself, “How can I do that? How can I get there?”
For the most part - it was healthy and inspiring. I remember one artist in particular - Hannah Parks - she always had the coolest photos, really incredible designs, she was featured in magazines and her website looked great. How did she do it? I wanted to be like that! I related to her and admired her more than many of the other makers I found on instagram particularly because it seemed like she had walked a similar path and was just a year or two ahead of me.
Then I also saw makers at markets who had stuff similar to mine, but they always seemed to do better than me, and have a better idea about how to price their things, how to talk to people and how to display their stuff. My admiration for my fellow makers became tinged with negative emotions like jealousy and envy. Over time, it got to the point where I deleted a lot of makers off of my instagram. It wasn’t healthy for me.
In February of this year - I got a job with Limbo Jewelry as a Jewelry Production Assistant. I’ve been in love with Limbo and their designs since I was in college. Because I was in college then, I couldn’t afford any of their pieces but my siblings bought me a ring from them as my graduation present. I have worn it almost every single day for the last five years. Working at Limbo was the closing of a weird synergistic full circle for me. I never would’ve imagined myself working there five years ago, but that thought would have brought 23-year old Hamaila so much joy and wonder.
My first day at Limbo I realized that they had hired two people to fill one job opening and the other person they hired was none other than Hannah Parks herself. The universe works in strange ways.
Of course, we became really good friends.
The Limbo studio is just six badass women making jewelry together. It’s one of the best work environments I’ve been in. Almost everyone has their own side businesses and we all support each other and take care of each other. Naturally, some of us started doing markets together. Me and my coworker Chelsea did CraftHer last month. We both talked to each other through our insecurities as the day approached. We both felt like we were behind, we didn’t have enough inventory, that we got in on a fluke - but talking to each other helped us assuage our fears and in the end we both did really well.
A few weeks later- me, Hannah and Chelsea took part in a pop-up event at the Nina Berenato store in the Domain. The best part of that was being able to spend some time and just talk to all the women makers who were participating in this pop-up. I realized they are all badass women who are just doing their best and no one really has their shit together. The same makers that I used to compare myself to became human to me and I realized they had the same challenges as me.
Me and Hannah had been playing around with an idea, but this pop-up solidified it for us. We wanted to create a space- a community- for Austin Women Jewelers. It’ll serve two purposes. First, we want it to be a place where people who aren’t jewelers can go to find jewelry and support local artists. Secondly, we want a space where Austin women jewelers can come together, learn from each other and grow together. Right now, it’s only a small instagram page - but we’re hoping to expand it to a website soon. We all have the same roadblocks, so let’s get together and work our way through those roadblocks together. Because, ultimately, that’s what synergy is- coming together and fostering relationships that help us grow.
Photo by @Jealexphoto/jessica alexander