Serena Van Rensselaer was originally a student of Art History and Cultural Anthropology, but while studying abroad in San Miguel D’Allende, she discovered her untapped passion and aptitude for jewelry design. She is now an inspired creator, perceptive businesswomen and shrewd gallery manager in Manhattan’s picturesque Soho neighborhood. We recently visited Serena’s gallery and spent the afternoon speaking with her about the industry.
Here is part four of our series, “Life of a Jewelry Designer.”
If you want to evolve your jewelry design interest into a more professional occupation, you’ll need to create a sales strategy. If you want to create a sales strategy that works, you’ll need to find a niche within which you most comfortably fit as a salesperson before you get started.
For some, this could mean a quiet workplace at home where you diligently monitor your website and update your social media profiles. But for others, this could mean setting up shop in large marketplaces, getting conversational and establishing a hands-on relationship with your buyers.
Regardless of the business platform you’ll ultimately wind up in, Serena unwaveringly recommends the creation of a website as an obligatory responsibility for all successful jewelry designers.
When first establishing yourself as a marketable presence, the ability to direct clients to an online resource is crucially important to a foundation of relevance and trust. If you’re selling in a marketplace and meet with an interested buyer who asks you for a link to a page which you have yet to put together, you’ll risk seeming amateur, which could give shoppers the wrong impression.
For some designers, website establishment, online marketing and social media promotion are sufficient means of business existence. However, for many others, Serena recommends that some face-to-face marketing could be an extremely profitable sales technique as well as a uniquely beneficial learning tool and stream of feedback. “If you’re looking to pursue that face-to-face connection,” she begins, “you can’t overlook the rich potential of market selling.”
When she was first getting started as an established jewelry designer, Serena says she sold her work at different markets every weekend for nearly 2 years. “It was a great way for me connect with my buyers,” she explained. “When I set up at those inner-city bazaars, I was meeting people from all over the world, and constantly getting a really diverse pool of helpful feedback from tons of clients. It was like a weekly design evaluation for my work.”
To begin this undertaking, it would be practical for you to reflect upon your personality in order to then decide the level of personal interaction and potential criticism you would feel the most comfortable handling on a consistent basis.
“Sometimes, shoppers will criticize your work right in front of you,” Serena warns. “It’s not intended to hurt your feelings; it’s just the way people naturally react to pieces while they shop. Someone might pick up one of your necklaces and say that it’s too heavy or bulky, for example.”
When reflecting on your level of comfort, you might decide that this sort of live criticism is something too challenging for you to handle, and could negatively affect your morale. However, if you feel confident and poised enough to handle sentient criticism, marketplace interaction could potentially give you some great fly-on-the-wall perspective on your buyers’ feelings towards your work, which could consequentially help you alter your collections to better accommodate industry demand. Plus, it’s important to keep in mind the positive responses you’ll likely receive as well.
“When you consistently hear feedback on your pieces, it becomes a great learning resource and a helpful tool to effect stylistic changes,” Serena explained. “If every weekend at markets I overheard shoppers saying they wished they could find more green accessories, I could go back to my studio and start incorporating the color green in my designs. If shoppers kept complimenting and buying a certain style of earrings I made, I could go back to my studio and make more. Simple as that.”
When listing your pieces online, it’s much more difficult to attain such a consistent level of feedback from faceless buyers who impersonally browse your work as anonymous users. At a marketplace, you’ll shake hands with buyers, talk to them about their tastes and preferences, and get a genuine feel for the individuals you’re designing for. “It’s an opportunity designers shouldn’t overlook,” Serena says. “Especially early in your careers, selling in markets will give you some irreplaceable insight on your clients, and on how you should move forward as a professional.”
Want to learn more? The New York Institute of Art and Design offers an online jewelry design course that can teach you how to create and sell your own unique line of jewelry. Request your free course catalog today!