In 2009, Stephanie Rivas found herself unemployed and in pain. "After I got laid off, I started playing with clay as a stress reliever, and also because I had developed pretty bad carpal tunnel. … I thought that would help me get through it." Later that year, she started using the clay to make jewelry. She's completely self-taught, although "I've been making jewelry always," she admits. "I was always taking things apart, combining them into new or different things … clocks, keychains, little pictures Mod-Podged onto bottle caps."
"People would ask, where'd you get that?"
Yet it wasn't until three years ago that she thought about doing it as a business. Rivas began experimenting with manipulating metal, combining her sculptural clay work with more traditional metal jewelry, seemingly creating for a bold warrior muse – a forest-dweller, a huntress, clad in protective brass chestpieces and antlers. She taught herself how to solder, snip thick steel wire, and create linking techniques that took two-dimensional pieces 3-D … all of it by hand, all of it on her own.
Now a veteran of local craft fairs like the Grandma Party Bazaar, Big Bang and Stitch Rock, Rivas has a fix on the Sea of Bees customer. "People are kind of opening their eyes. They don't want mass-produced things, they want something with a story, something made by hand," she says. "And they don't want the same thing their friend has."
"I started getting a lot of design ideas in 2009. I felt like there was a huge void in the market when it came to handmade things that had a vintage quality or appeal, especially when it came to animals."
FIRST PIECE MADE:
"I did a bird necklace and a bird ring, and it definitely had a lot of people interested. I thought it would probably be easy for me to make a whole bunch of these and try to make a business out of it."
TIME SPENT EACH WEEK:
"I spend 30 hours per week at least, depending on whether there's a craft sale coming up, not just making the jewelry but also uploading images and answering customer questions." The hours have eased somewhat since she launched her own site and left the Etsy marketplace, which required a lot of customer correspondence.
No, though her boyfriend helps with cutting thick wire or packaging orders occasionally.
Clay from Michaels ("If I buy it in too large of quantities, it dries out, so I can't go wholesale yet"); metal sheets and wire online; waxes and polishes from museum
It turns out Rivas is a genius at repurposing, finding the right tool for the job in places most of us would never look. "It sounds weird, but my favorite tool is this" (she shows off a rubber gum stimulator). She also uses a nut pick, a wallpaper roller and a window screen and spline installer. "I spent a lot of money on cutters and shapers, but conventional tools don't give you that detail."
SOLD: on her website and stocked locally at Mother Falcon, Etoile Boutique and Dear Prudence.
"Women in their 20s or in their 60s … whoever can rock it, I guess." (Famous customer alert: Feist was seen wearing a Sea of Bees bear bracelet at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival.)
"I had the pleasure of meeting John and Melissa from Mother Falcon a couple years ago and I started going to art shows." After creating sculptures at the Tribute to Alien and Redrum art shows at the Felcman's gallery/bar the Falcon, Rivas now has plans to expand Sea of Bees to include small collectible sculptures.
"I feel like I was blinded before, and now I can see something that I had no idea was there."
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