Home is where the heart is – and, in this case, in a sweet brass cutout on an 18-inch chain. Brooklyn Charm founder and owner Tracie Howarth features state-shaped charms, among countless others, on Etsy and at her Williamsburg brick-and-mortar store. Tracie makes design-it-yourself jewelry easy and unintimidating.
A friend introduced me to Brooklyn Charm when she gave me a necklace for Christmas that features charms of the places I’ve called home – my hometown state (OK), the state at which we met in college (Go, Missouri Tigers!), and our latest home-away-from home (I want to be a part of it, New York, New York…). Delicate and personal, what a special gift! Here, Tracie shares her tried and true tips for custom-designing jewelry and lessons of turning an artistic passion into an entrepreneurial venture.
How did Brooklyn Charm Shop come to be?
I moved to New York, like many others, to “make it big” in my industry of choice, jewelry design. It’s a competitive and creatively challenging unforgiving field. I started selling jewelry supplies on Etsy to keep me afloat. I was soon able to quit my jobs and support myself with the online business part-time while still pursuing my jewelry design career at local markets.
I decided I wanted to expand my supplies to people at these markets. I gave them the opportunity to choose the materials themselves, though, in order for me to make a piece for them on the spot. I worked the market circuit for about a year with the concept of “design your own jewelry.” Before I knew it, Brooklyn Charm was born.
What’s rewarding, challenging, or scary about operating a small business?
The most rewarding part is being my own boss, which is actually also the most challenging and scary part of it, too. I take pleasure in managing a project and seeing it through. With management, comes responsibility, so problem-solving and creating solutions become imperative and incredibly challenging. These are challenges that all business owners must face. This can be scary and overwhelming. Having help is so vital to seeing through those difficult goals. Without the help of my staff, especially my manager and my husband, I wouldn’t be able to do it all.
Where do you find inspiration for your jewelry designs?
So many things inspire me. I see moss on a rock at the park, and think to myself, “how cool would it be to get some green AstroTurf, cut it up into small pieces and make grass earrings?” Whether a skyscraper, cloud, child holding balloons or a rainbow in an oil puddle on the street, if something catches my eye, it inspires me.
What’s an example of something a customer has created that inspired you?
I once helped a customer who wanted to custom-design a necklace for his mother. He was set on using an evil eye bead, but we didn’t yet have one in stock. He ended up using small eye-shaped Swarovski charms and asked us to wire-wrap a bead in the center to make the pupil. The charm was so compelling and turned out to be very beautiful! He inspired me to think outside the box and challenge myself to look past what it is I see and to dream something else up.
What advice do you have for fledgling entrepreneurial artisans?
It’s most important to set aside time every day for your craft. Treat your craft as if it is a class or mandatory “practice.” Obligate yourself to perform the necessary steps to move your business forward. Write down your goals and make a list of what needs to be accomplished in order for you to achieve them.
When opening a business anywhere, you have to ask yourself, “does this neighborhood need my business? Will this business be able to thrive with the customer base that surrounds it?” Opening a business on highest trafficked street in town doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, it could do much better somewhere else. Brooklyn Charm is fortunate to be in an area that is thriving with locals and tourists. Williamsburg, Brooklyn has come a long way to create a niche within New York, and it’s recognized globally.
What tips do you give aspiring jewelry-makers who don’t know where to start?
Take as many classes as you can, or intern with a jewelry designer. Many designers cannot afford to pay people to help them but are willing to trade lessons for help. The best way for you to learn is to work closely with people. Pay attention to what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Learn from their mistakes, and improve on it for yourself. Surrounding yourself with people who are in the creative field is important for any designer or artist. This creates a conversation and, most importantly, inspires you to move forward with your passion.
What’s new or on the horizon for Brooklyn Charm?
Brooklyn Charm is launching a new website in mid-February. We’re streamlining our class registration process. The store will be celebrating its third anniversary at the end of March. In preparation, we will be shutting the store down for a couple days next month to rebuild all the registers and create a new floor plan that will make it easier for customers to shop.
We also participate in markets throughout NYC and will be set up at the Chelsea Market Artists & Fleas in pop-up during the weekend of January 28th. We’ll offer custom-designed jewelry with all labor and assembly fees waved. Check our website for future pop-up locations and events involving Brooklyn Charm!
Kelsey Mirando is an Editorial Assistant in Books and Special Projects at Martha Stewart. She’s endlessly inspired by art, travel, and life in the Big Apple. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kmirando.