Hello! My name is Emily Duffelmeyer, but I call myself Duff and you should, too. I’m married to a wonderful fellow named Soren and I turn 30 in eleven days. I’ve lived in the Midwest most of my life — Iowa, Minnesota and now Michigan — and I’ve had the privilege to travel and see quite a bit of the world. My two favorite cities are Rabat and Montréal.
Before I started Jean Jean Vintage (which comes from my middle name, Jean) I had several jobs, the best of which was managing the chocolate department for Zingerman’s Deli. I have a degree in archaeology that comes in handy when I’m cleaning jewelry with tiny brushes or patiently sorting though tangled necklace chains. I also have a degree in French, a language I’ve loved since I was a kid when I tried to read aloud the French ingredients and instructions on the back of the shampoo bottles while in the shower.
Probably the most important thing about me is that I always try to buy something used or vintage before I buy it new, for both practical and sentimental reasons. My idea of a perfect day is exploring a 4,000 square foot antique mall with ’80s music playing on the speakers, sweet old ladies wearing cardigans at the front counter, and a peanut butter sandwich in my purse.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
My big hobby is genealogy research, which is really just a very personal kind of antiquing. I like to run and I try to get out a few times a week. I enjoy traveling and my husband and I usually take one long trip together every year. I also really love to cook and eat good food.
What first made you want to become an artist?
Well, to me the more interesting question is, “What makes an artist want to become a business owner?” That can be a hard transition and I’m always curious to know how people do it. In my case, I started allowing myself to think about leaving my job and starting my own business when my best friend Lauren opened her shop, Dear Golden Vintage, on Etsy. Watching Lauren transition from her day job to being a full-time (and extremely successful) shopkeeper over the course of a year really influenced me. I saw how challenged and energized she was by her work, and it got me thinking seriously about turning my hobby of collecting antique jewelry into a business.
Why jewelry? I’m fascinated by material culture and the history wrapped up in it. Jewelry is especially compelling because someone wore it and carried it with them through their life, the good days and the bad. When I see a beautiful locket, I imagine the girl it belonged to. What was she like? Did she laugh a lot? Who was her best friend? What did she like to eat for breakfast? I’m hopelessly nostalgic. I want the jewelry I find to have another chance at life with another wonderful girl.
Please describe your creative process.
Well, I had no experience with jewelry prior to starting Jean Jean Vintage, and I was really scared to jump in with all the savvy sellers and shoppers on Etsy. That healthy fear inspired me to do a lot of reading and preparation before I ever listed a single piece of jewelry. I still spend time researching every piece I find before I start the process of listing. I try to take really good photographs in natural light and I also try to write informative copy. I know that the photos are what folks fall in love with (I’m the same way!), but I think the copy is what makes people appreciate the jewelry they buy. I want girls to be able to tell their friends about their Jean Jean Vintage purchase — is it from the 1930s or the 1950s? What kind of metal is it made of? What is the cut of the stone? I think sellers should be working to educate buyers about their products all the time — it makes the marketplace and the buyer/seller relationship stronger.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I have a copy of the 1932 wholesale catalog from the Fort Dearborn Watch and Clock Company. It is a relic of American retail history: 900 pages of jewelry, furniture, linens, accordions, luggage, candy jars, and just about anything else you can think of. It really should be in a library. It is unbelievable. When I looked through it the first time I made noises that most people only make at sporting events.
What advice would you give to artists who are new to Etsy?
Four things: Prepare yourself to start an Etsy shop the same way you would prepare yourself to open a brick and mortar shop in your community. Write a business plan. Get a tax ID number. Print up some business cards. The more seriously you take your business, the more seriously your customers will take you. Also, spend some time exploring other people’s Etsy shops, and not just those ones in the same “field” as you. Find the people who are doing an outstanding job selling anything — marshmallows, hats, building blocks, or vintage shoes — and take some notes. Read a good book on customer service, like Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service. And buy yourself a nice camera. Right now. Don’t even think twice about it.
What are your favorite features on Etsy? What new features would you like to see?
I’ve really been enjoying the Activity Feed. I like it because, even when sales are slow, you can check the feed and see small signs of success. I think it’s important for sellers to measure progress in multiple ways, not just in items sold. What would I like to see? A more forgiving search function! Some Etsy shop names are devilishly hard to spell and missing one letter can get you way off track.
How do you promote your work?
I am acutely aware that I have to be my own biggest cheerleader all the time and I’m the first to admit that I should learn a few more cheers! Right now, I’m doing three things consistently: blogging, advertising and tweeting. I started my blog a couple of months before I opened my shop, and I think it is a good way for people to get to know me and my work better. When it comes to advertising, I took a tip from Lauren and started budgeting for and selectively placing online ads as soon as I opened the shop. That has been a good decision. And as for Twitter, not only is it my number one referring site but it is also my favorite place to connect with Etsy folks. I am extremely grateful for the warm, wonderful community of vintage sellers I’ve met there.
All of this stuff is for nothing, though, if I can’t come through for the customer when it counts. In the end, the best way to promote Jean Jean Vintage is to give the best service I can and work on developing meaningful relationships with the folks who shop with me. If someone has a great experience in my shop and tells a friend about it, that is the best promotion I could ever hope for.
In ten years, where would you like to be?
Who knows — I am kind of a “follow your bliss” type of person. I hope to be healthy, above all else. I would love to have a family and maybe a pup or two. I want to be playing the piano regularly again (I stopped a few years ago). I think I would really enjoy being a jewelry appraiser and doing volunteer work in that area. I also think it would be fun to start a website that reconnects people with their lost family photographs.