After experiencing massive success with a pop-up shop featuring local artists and entrepreneurs, jewelry designer and shop owner, Merl Kinzie decided to make her temporary project a full-time commitment. Today, her retail boutique and metalsmith studio, the SHUDIO, features eco-friendly jewelry, sustainable clothing and plenty of chic, boho details.
Merl’s penchant for natural materials is reflected in the boutique’s earthy, laid-back design. With touches like reclaimed wood, neutral colors and an abundance of plant life, she’s created an oasis for conscious shoppers and style mavens alike. Below, we invite you to take a tour of the SHUDIO and listen in as Merl offers her perspective on business, art and healing the environment, one fab necklace at a time!
Tell us about your new retail shop and metalsmith studio! Where did you get the idea for the SHUDIO?
The SHUDIO is actually a happy little accident (thanks, Bob Ross!). I had co-owned a retail shop a year prior to starting the SHUDIO with two other friends, but at the end of our lease, we found we wanted to pursue different career paths. It had never been my dream to run a brick-and-mortar store, instead preferring the freedom of making my own work hours every week, and they were happy as a clam to continue on the shop we began. I wanted to focus on more of an interactive space with eco-friendly-minded workshops, pop-up shops full of ‘green’ wares supporting local vendors, as well as creating and producing more online editorial styling work. That’s actually where the ‘SHUDIO’ moniker began as an amalgamation of (pop-up/work) “shop” plus (creative work) “studio”! After continuing with those offerings for six months, it became apparent that not only was the concept of a pop-up confusing to my customers, but the set up, promotion and break down of each one outweighed the profits and success. Because I was finding myself featuring a core group of the same artists and entrepreneurs every month that my customers wanted to buy from consistently, I decided in essence to turn the pop-up shop into a full-time retail boutique, while still keeping my work studio within the shop and offering occasional workshops, maintaining the balance of shop plus studio.
What challenges did you face while bringing your business to life? How did you overcome them?
Why did you create your eco-conscious jewelry line, Clyde’s Rebirth? What was the inspiration behind it?
I wasn’t satisfied with my position as a lead photographer with a local studio back in my home state of Wisconsin, and had been searching for other creative outlets. This happened to coincide with the emergence of fashion blogging and I stumbled upon a few creative ladies who were deconstructing vintage costume jewelry and reimagining them in new ways. I was instantly intrigued, and because I had years of practice making stretchy beaded jewelry for my mom as a child, I knew I could conquer the craft! Ha. In reality, I had no clue what I was doing, but thanks to YouTube and being a voracious learner, I taught myself the basics pretty quickly. Because I’m absolutely the type of person who jumps into a new endeavor with both feet—cannonball style—I allowed myself to buy an alarming amount of vintage jewelry from various thrift stores and got to work dismantling and letting my imagination run wild with new configurations. I loved the idea of taking something that’s already lived a life in one iteration, and breathing new life into it for the modern woman. Plus, who doesn’t love owning a one-of-a-kind work of art that no one else will have? I received an amazing response from my first slew of designs, and being one who willingly jumps into the unknown with gusto, decided to give it a whirl on a more full-time basis! The name itself comes from my crazy cat lady status (“Clyde” being my oldest feline), and the “Rebirth” paying homage to the vintage and recycled nature of my materials.
How do you ensure that all of your products and manufacturing processes are as eco-conscious as possible?
I only purchase my materials from reputable companies that can guarantee the items are either vintage deadstock (i.e. manufactured in the past but never released into the world) or recycled and remade here in the U.S. It involves some early legwork and research, but after you find those businesses, it makes life much easier. All production work is in-house. In fact, I personally handcraft each and every piece as it’s ordered, which keeps the process transparent and accountable—if you visit the shop, you can literally see my workspace, including all my metalsmith tools and materials used. I even try to utilize every bit of scrap material I create. In fact, some of those styles have become best-sellers! I’m very conscious as I’m designing a new line or even working on current production work to maintain precise measuring and cutting as to not contribute to my waste pile. I even research more natural alternatives to some chemicals or compounds that I might use (like switching out a liquid polishing additive for baking soda in my tumbler). While I do want to grow that facet of my career a bit larger, I never want to build to a point where sourcing eco-conscious materials is at risk or sacrificing quality to meet demand. I would rather eschew larger profit margins in order to maintain my strongly held ethos of creating as little waste as possible while producing impeccably made jewelry.
Why do you think it’s so important for businesses to remain conscious of how their products and services are affecting the environment?
Large companies literally directly impact the world we live in. Harsh dyes run off into local waterways and poisons not only the natural flora and fauna, but the people dependent on that aquatic source. Overpopulated factories offer insanely hazardous working conditions for the employees and contribute heavily to the general air pollution. Fast fashion items are becoming disposable, single-use items and sit in ever increasing landfills after a few wears. Even down to the superfluous plastic within plastic wrapping that garments and accessories are packaged in adds up quickly. That last reason is why I use vintage scarves to wrap my online jewelry orders in to severely cut down on paper waste, and let’s be honest—who doesn’t love a beautiful vintage scarf? To get a handle on just how horrific the ramifications of fast fashion are, pick up Over-Dressed by Elizabeth Cline or stream “The True Cost” on Netflix. It really opens your eyes to the destructive nature of the entire industry.
What’s been your most effective marketing strategy to date? What brings your business the most exposure?
I’ve had wonderful success building a brand look and feel both offline (in store) and online through social media. What’s been most effective for me is rewarding the folks that follow me when they help in spreading the Clyde’s Rebirth word. Offering a discount for sharing an Instagram post or gaining extra entries by tagging friends on a giveaway rewards them while helping introduce new followers to my work. Making sure I have a clean, yet eye-catching, photo helps incentivize the reposting because many people are particular about their feeds (guilty!). For me, I’ve found that I’m most happy and productive when I work with great people, great minds and people I love to work with. As a result of that pursuit, those relationships, which have actually become true friendships are the ones that foster the most positive brand exposure. It makes it easy to help and promote each other when we believe in each other so much. Plus, when a friend or someone you admire recommends a company, you’re more likely to follow up on that suggestion versus seeing an ad online. I value sincere relationships above all else, and I think my customers—as well as those of the company or person I’m working with—can really sense that, creating a deeper level of trust in my brand. I actually have some exciting partnerships with some really A-plus people coming up in 2016 that I can’t wait to share!
I loved the idea of taking something that’s already lived a life in one iteration, and breathing new life into it for the modern woman. Plus, who doesn’t love owning a one-of-a-kind work of art, that no one else will have?
What role does social media play in your business strategy?
Sometimes it feels like a necessary evil, but mostly it’s a lifeline bridge to find and connect with like-minded customers and brands I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. I’m not nearly as organized or dedicated as I maybe should be, but I think as a sole entrepreneur you have to establish limits and boundaries, otherwise you will most certainly run yourself ragged attempting to do it all. I was never a “good” blogger even though I find writing to be a thoroughly enjoyable task; it just became a chore I had to tackle on top of all my other hats. Instagram is certainly the easiest, as I have a photography background and perfectionist tendencies, which push me to really art-direct myself to snap the perfect shot. I’m totally guilty of pushing my Instagram pictures to Facebook and Twitter, and then checking those as “done.” I know it’s an overused line, but I honestly don’t have the time to be consistent and present on so many channels, which I think is what’s required to actually maintain a positive presence on them. Running a handmade jewelry line plus a brick-and-mortar shop on my own, I stay pretty busy as it is. This is why I’m at a point now where I can finally admit to myself that bringing people on to help manage certain facets of my company is vital to its growth and success—though if anyone has tips for managing control freak tendencies, I’m all ears!
How do you stay organized in terms of production? What’s your strategy for keeping your supply levels in check?
I’ve tried a few different methods, but the one that seems to work the best for me is a large whiteboard hung in my workspace on which I keep a constant tally of incoming orders for each jewelry design—including individual and wholesale—that I need to complete that week. Though I try to keep at least a couple of each style in stock, those are mainly there to replenish the SHUDIO or accommodate any rush orders, and any incoming are made to order. It’s easiest to complete a certain number of the same design at once before tackling the orders for another piece. Because I’m such a visual person, keeping my materials in plain sight is not only pretty and inspiring to look at, but also keeps me aware of stock levels. I’m not nearly organized enough to have exact counts or measurements on-hand for each section of wire, jump ring or deadstock brass loop, but I can easily see if a certain material is getting low and it’s time to reorder. There was a moment of panic during this past holiday season where I had misplaced a container of tiny brass rods that are in multiple designs and contacted my wholesaler in a panic needing a rush shipment in order to deliver the necklaces before Christmas. I made it just barely thanks to their amazing help! Now, I’m more on top of my supply level game.
We love the natural feel of your studio! How did you infuse the space with such an earthy vibe?
Hi, my name is Merl and I’m a plant-and-reclaimed-wood hoarder. Hi Merl. I really don’t think it’s possible to have too many plants—they instantly brighten up any space, help to purify the air and have been proven to inspire happiness when the outside world is suffering through winter. I’m also a big proponent of mixing different wood textures and finishes, though it’s more harmonious when they are within the same light or dark family. I think those contrasts bring a depth to a space that matched wooden items lack. And you can never go wrong with a variety of natural fibers, like wicker baskets and planters as well as thick jute rugs. Oh, and white, white walls! It helps to bounce the light around, illuminating and feeding all those plants you’re collecting.
Tell us about the process of designing your jewelry pieces. Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Where don’t I find inspiration?! Everything from vintage to modern fashion, architecture, furniture and home design, shapes and textures found in nature, typography—you name it, there’s something that will speak to me, whether in form or function, that ignites an idea for a certain style or element in my jewelry. I might see a unique wood-working joint, and my mind spirals into ways that it could be interpreted into a pendent design. The way a certain edge or curve of a font can lead to a curiosity about how that translates into a 3-D earring. Although, it’s funny because, even after almost seven and a half years of designing, I still forget that gravity is the final determining factor. I will sketch on paper, ignoring the laws of physics and then be cruelly reminded when my materials don’t just flow in midair. Again, we’ll call them “happy little accidents” and in most instances, my sketches evolve from a sketch into something totally different yet superior than the original.
What’s an average day like for you? What’s your routine?
It totally depends on what day of the week it is. Mondays are my one day off when I get to catch up on laundry, provide a lap for the cats to rotate on and off of, grocery shop and generally relax. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my production days, so while I’m in the SHUDIO, it’s closed to the public allowing me to power through my orders without interruption. I’m open at the shop from Thursday to Sunday (from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends), and will either be continuing production work, tackling the dreaded administrative duties or merchandising and styling the shelves. I am the exact opposite of a morning person, however, I’m attempting to rise earlier than I’d like to in order to have time to eat breakfast, tidy the apartment I share with my boyfriend, get a workout in and get ready for the work day without feeling like I’m a chicken sans head running around. So far, it’s a work in progress. I am beginning the arduous process of hiring some help managing the shop to ease some of that workload, which would also allow me to be open more days as well.
What resources do you use as a small business owner? What apps, websites, podcasts etc. could you not live without?
I wish I could listen to more podcasts, but being such a visual person, I find it impossible to focus on the audio while I’m working without getting hopelessly distracted. However, I’m a member of some truly helpful Facebook groups dedicated to metalsmithing as well as the Being Boss group started by my inspiring friend Kathleen Shannon plus her podcast partner, Emily Thompson, which has proved to be a wealth of inspiration and support for all things fellow bosses encounter. Besides that, I am an obvious Instagram fanatic (I use Afterlight to edit all my images, giving them a consistent look through my feed), I use MailChimp for all my email marketing needs, Squarespace to design and run my online shops, Spotify for the shop’s playlist and Square POS system with my iPad for shop transactions. I’m old school and prefer to use a physical planner as I find the process of writing versus typing helps things stick in my head better.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of owning a business? The most rewarding?
I have a very hard time separating my self worth from the financial and social media success of my businesses. It’s kind of impossible not to feel depressed and dejected that something you are solely responsible for isn’t meeting the monetary and marketing goals you’ve decided upon (often prompted by the evil act of comparison). It’s a goal of mine to strive for placing less importance on those numbers and more on the tangible successes, accomplishments and achievements I meet. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to make money, but at the end of the day, the relationships that I build and connections I make are what will not only grow my career, but also fulfill me to a level an amount in the bank or a number of followers will not. The most rewarding is definitely hearing someone compliment your efforts. It truly will never, ever get old getting validation for your hard work. It can be as simple as, “Your space looks so elegant, but feels so warm and welcoming,” or “I love this jewelry design!” and I turn into a puddle of appreciative goo at your feet. As most entrepreneurs (heck, most humans) know, it’s so easy to be hard on yourself, constantly comparing your current position to someone else’s. Hearing from an outsider that you’re doing a good job literally means the world.