After suffering a trapped nerve caused by near-constant sewing — and living an expat lifestyle that meant repeatedly moving her supply stash from one country to the next — clothing designer Aylin K. began to reconsider her creative outlet. Her new chosen medium? Jewelry making. For one, it was a more practical, compact, and portable pursuit — but what it really came down to was her gut-level love for gemstones. “I love gemstones. I love the colors, I love the imperfections, I love the color gradations,” Aylin says. “And some of them are so brilliant! You can really see the difference between natural and manmade gemstones, too.”
Now, working from a long table in her living room that overlooks her lush garden, this self-taught jewelry designer is a running a shop, Abiza Jewelry, that’s more successful than she ever imagined. And she has found that the secret to her success is a very simple one: to make only what she genuinely loves, and to love every part of the process.
Scroll down for a look inside Aylin’s studio, and shop the Abiza Jewelry collection here.
Tell us about your creative background: What other artistic pursuits did you try along the way to becoming a jewelry designer?
When I was a child, anytime I had free time I would either draw or make things by hand. The way you feel when you make things by hand — I love that feeling, it’s like peaceful happiness. In the past, I have done oil painting and acrylic painting, I did some interior design courses, I did silversmithing courses, and I have also a certificate for fashion design. I love everything about design — even when I was in middle school, I had folders full of fashion drawings.
I started my first Etsy shop, Moon Halo, while we were living in Dubai for my husband’s work; that shop was for clothing accessories like ponchos, shawls, and fingerless gloves. It went really well, which I wasn’t expecting, and when we moved to the UK the sales accelerated so quickly that I couldn’t cope with it. I ended up with a trapped nerve, which left me in bed for about 40 days. Plus my materials were taking over: fabrics everywhere, my machines… I decided it wasn’t the job that I would keep doing. We didn’t have enough room for everything, and it was really hard moving the stuff around and finding houses to accommodate both the business and us.
I spent more than a year without knowing what to do next. I loved sewing, but I couldn’t keep going. It was a stressful year for me because I discovered that when I am not making things, I’m not whole. I need to make things, I need to fulfill my creative side. If I don’t do that, I just don’t feel comfortable.
So is that when you got into jewelry making? How did you learn how to make jewelry?
I started my jewelry business last year. First I started buying stones; I accumulated quite a lot of gemstones without knowing what I would do with them. Then I just started making. I did some reading about how to make jewelry in the beginning, but the kind of jewelry I read about is not the jewelry I ended up making. I figured out my techniques simply by making pieces and breaking them and remaking them again.
Have your jewelry designs changed much since you started the shop?
Early on, I bought materials that I thought I wanted to design with, but I didn’t use a lot of them. I realized that what I really love is very simple and delicate jewelry, so I started making only what I would love to wear. I think when you make something you truly love, then people feel it.
After opening my jewelry shop, I moved two more times; it’s only been recently that I could focus on my shop. When we moved here, I changed my shop photos, I redesigned most of the models, and I canceled all the listings that I didn’t like. Then the shop suddenly felt more cohesive, and just like that my sales tripled, quadrupled within a month.
For a while, every day I was like, “It can’t be this many sales, it’s going to pass.” My husband kept telling me, “You have to hire someone, you have to hire someone, you’re going to drop!” And I kept saying, “No, what am I going to do if it stops?” I feel very lucky — but I still haven’t hired anyone.
What is your design process like?
I was talking to my husband about this last night and discovered that I wasn’t even aware myself of how I work. He told me that I just see it in my mind and I buy the material. And it is really true — I look at the material and I can see it as a necklace or as an earring, and then I buy the stones and I make what I saw in my head. Sometimes it doesn’t end up as I see it, and I keep starting over and trying again until I’m happy.
Generally, I do my designing during the day, between school runs, and I try to make things all day for at least three days each week. I always have three full boxes in my work area: one for pieces that have been made and photographed and need to be listed; one for pieces that I’ve made and need to photograph; and one for the pieces I’m not happy with and need to start over.
What’s the most popular item in your shop?
I have a raw emerald necklace in my shop that’s really popular, but it depends on the month — the birthstone for each month usually does well, too. In general, I think the raw, rough stones are trending lately, and I really love that — the combination of rough stones and delicate, dainty jewelry.
Do you have a favorite gemstone?
I think aquamarine would be my favorite — it’s just so perfect, the balance between blue and green. I love it, and it’s one of the best-selling things in my shop, too.
What do you love most about your work?
It is really great having your own business — if it is successful, if it is working. Especially if you have kids, being at home and being there for them, but at the same time making your living out of what you’re doing with your hands, is a great feeling. Most of all, I love making new designs — that’s the best part. That, or opening a package of gemstones, which arrive about three times a week.
Also, I really didn’t love the photography aspect of running the shop at first, but it was only when I learned to love it that the business started growing. You have to love that side of the job, it’s very important; when I started enjoying taking and editing the photos and finding the best light, then it really showed — and it showed on the business side, too.
If you had to choose one thing that makes your work different from everyone else’s, what would it be?
I am quite obsessed with the proportions when I work. If I make a necklace and the loops that I’m using to attach the wire to the chain are not in proportion with the loops in the chain, I’ll break it three times, four times to make it even. Although the stone in the middle is rough, I want the connections and the rest of the necklace to be perfect. I know that I’ve made the same necklace five times in one day before. When you make things by hand, sometimes it just goes wrong — there’s nothing you can do, you just cut the wire and start again, cut the wire and start again.
What are your goals or dreams for the future of your shop?
I am getting a lot of wholesale requests and I would love to be able to do that, but I don’t have the capacity at the moment; I think to be able to do that I need some help. Other than that, my social media is rubbish, but I feel lucky that I’m doing quite well already without it. Lately, I’ve also been getting emails asking if I have a brick-and-mortar shop that people can visit. I wonder if I would like to have a shop — I’m not quite sure about that. Maybe one day?
Photographs courtesy Abiza Jewelry.