Q&A: Emma McKinstry

Emma McKinstry     cleo earrings

Today's Q&A is with jeweler and entrepreneur Emma McKinstry, a former colleague of mine and current friend. Emma's rise from making jewelry as a hobby to turning to it full time in just a few years, getting the attention of national fashion magazines and even getting her pieces on celebrities is inspirational for any maker and fledgling entrepreneur. Her designs are bold and bright and always classy.

1. When did you realize you were a creative person and wanted to make jewelry?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been working on one creative project or another. I love the feeling of creating something – taking an idea or thought and turning it into something tangible. A friend introduced me to jewelry-making in high school and from that point on, I was hooked. I find it quite therapeutic, and I love that the possibilities for jewelry design are virtually endless.

2. What inspired you to get your business started and what made you decide to work on your business full time?

I began selling jewelry as a way to make some extra spending money right after I graduated from college. During my post-college job search – and then for the first couple years working in my first job – jewelry-making was just a side project. It served as a creative release, and selling through Etsy was a good, low-impact way to make a little extra money. 

After I had been working in the “real world” for a couple years, though, I realized that I wanted to work for myself, and that I wanted to work for myself as a jewelry designer. From that point on, I treated jewelry as a real business, instead of just as a pocket-money-making hobby.

A year-and-a-half later, I had started to land national media coverage for my designs and was generating enough sales to begin considering leaving my job. I finally made the decision to jump off and start life as a creative entrepreneur once I realized that the only way my business would grow any further would be if I had more time to devote to it. It was an extremely scary decision, but was the right one for me and my business.

3. Where do you get inspiration and ideas for your pieces?

Inspiration is everywhere – especially in a city like New York. I work with a lot of geometrical shapes, so I look to architectural elements for inspiration regularly. Nature is another good source of inspiration, as is people-watching. People in New York are fearless when it comes to fashion, and I often draw inspiration from one element that appeals to me in an otherwise-over-the-top street style look.

4. Can you describe one of your favorite/best moments so far of being a jewelry designer and in this business?

A range of positive experiences come to mind, but the two best moments were probably: (1) the very first time I saw one of my designs in a national women’s magazine (Redbook), and (2) the time I spotted a picture on Instagram of Olivia Munn wearing my save the date necklace – the first celebrity to wear one of my pieces. These were two milestone achievements – both very exciting.

5. Everyone has one of those negative moments or experiences that makes them reconsider what they're doing. Have you ever had one of those moments and what lessons did you learn from it?

Of course I’ve had moments like that!  Experiences or situations that make you pause for a minute and question what you’re doing are just part of the territory of running your own business – but these are the moments that also always lead to me feeling more committed than ever to what I’m doing. The overriding lesson I’ve learned is that it’s okay to fail. It sounds cliché, but failure can be a really intimidating thing – especially when you’re personally invested in a project or initiative. Now, though, I see failure as a source of motivation and innovation. Whenever something doesn’t go the way I planned for it to, it forces me to think outside the box about what else I might try to achieve my end goal.

6. What is your creative process and schedule?

My creative process is admittedly a bit haphazard. I never sit down with the intention of designing one collection. Instead, I sketch whenever an idea or style pops into my head. Sometimes I’ll have a burst of creativity and inspiration and will design a bunch of pieces in one sitting; other times, I’ll go days without designing anything. When it comes time to put together a new, cohesive collection, I look through everything I’ve sketched and piece together styles that fit within my chosen theme or look for the season – and then work to fill in any holes that might exist within the resulting collection. I typically have collection designs finalized several months out from when the season will be made available online. This gives me enough time to have everything manufactured and take care of whatever else needs to happen for each new collection – photo shoots, outreach to stores and media, copywriting, etc., etc.

7. What is your favorite piece you've ever made?

I actually just got a new bracelet back from the manufacturer I work with (in Rhode Island), which might be my new favorite piece – and not necessarily because of the specific design of it, but because of the inspiration behind it. The bracelet is inspired by a signet ring that my parents both have – and which they’ve had since they were very young and dating. The bracelet design mimics that of their rings, so it holds a sentimental value to me.

8. How do you market yourself and what kind of feedback/response do you get?

Social media and public relations are the two primary ways I market the business. I use social media to connect with existing and potential customers, as well as key influencers like fashion bloggers. For PR, I pitch my designs to a wide range of media – magazines, online outlets, blogs, newspapers. Media coverage has been really helpful in generating sales – and, it’s always fun to see something you’ve designed in print!

9. What are your short-term (i.e. 2015) goals for the business? What are your long-term goals?

I started selling to independent boutiques earlier this year, and one of my top goals for the rest of 2015 is to continue to expand the list of wholesalers who carry emma mckinstry. Long term, it’d be a dream for the company to become the go-to for American-made fashion jewelry. I’d also love for the brand to expand to include other fashion and lifestyle accessories, in addition to jewelry.

10. Do you have any advice or suggestions for people who want to become entrepreneurs, especially in the creative fields?

Don’t give up. There’s always going to be an insane amount of competition for entrepreneurs in creative industries, but keep plugging away and keep looking for ways to improve your product or innovate within your business. Growth can be (very) slow at times – but if you keep working at it and keep improving on what you’re doing, the hard work will pay off.

For entrepreneurs in the fashion industry, I’ve found a few websites that I rely on quite heavily for advice and new suggestions. StartUpFashion.com and FashionBrainAcademy.com are two that come to mind immediately. I’ve also turned to HeartIFB.com, which is a site for fashion bloggers but has some advice that I’ve been able to apply to my own business. The Shopify blog is another great resource – for all e-commerce businesses.

For more on Emma and her shop, emma mckinstry, please visit www.emmamckinstry.com or follow her on Facebook or on Instagram.

Thanks, Emma, for participating! Continue the conversation on Twitter: @mckinstryemma and @LaBoss.

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