Editor’s note, December 2020: In our Featured Shop series, we shine a light on a standout shop from Etsy’s talented seller community, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at their process and story. And as we spend more time at home these days, getting cozy and catching up on our reading lists, we’re taking a moment to revisit some of our favorites—like the story of this New York-based jewelry designer from October of 2018.
As she chugged away at her desk job in the financial-services industry, Shuang Everett Li couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that she needed to make a change. “The longer I stayed, the more it didn’t feel right,” she says. “The job paid well, but I knew I didn’t want to spend my days building spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.” What she did yearn to do was make jewelry—despite having no formal training in the craft.
Shuang began taking classes on the weekend and tinkering with ideas in her free time, then started selling her pieces on Etsy. Next, she scaled back her day job to a freelance role, giving her more time to develop designs with her financial safety net intact. But after two years, she felt ready to take a bigger step, quitting her day job and officially launching Everli in 2014. Nerve-wracking as that decision was, it ended up fueling Everli’s purpose: to make jewelry that serves as a tangible source of courage and calm, and that emboldens others to take big, life-changing leaps of their own.
Read on to discover how Shuang’s mountain series and other designs have inspired wearers around the world to overcome personal challenges (with style), then shop the Everli collection.
What was the original inspiration behind Everli’s aesthetic?
Early on, I decided my jewelry would be more than just pretty, because there’s pretty jewelry everywhere. I wanted to make pieces that would mean something to the person wearing them. A lot of my inspiration came from my experience of leaving behind a very comfortable, well-paying corporate job to pursue jewelry making. That choice really tested my confidence, my skills, and my resolve to decide for myself what success means, and what a well-lived life looks like.
What was that experience like for you?
I had to keep telling myself that nothing gets built overnight. Enjoy the process, don’t just fixate on your end goal. Trust your intuition. Don’t compare yourself to other people. There was all this advice I kept repeating to myself, and eventually I thought, “What if I could make jewelry that can serve as a form of encouragement on a daily basis?”
That’s the direction Everli took on: It’s an inspirational jewelry line, yet subtly so. I’m not literally spelling out “you can do this,” but the symbolism and details in each piece evoke that idea. I want my pieces to give their wearers a sense of comfort and encouragement as they go about trying to figure out their own lives or make changes to their own situations.
Are there specific designs that people have really responded to?
One of my best sellers from the very beginning has been the mountain series; it’s resonated with customers around the country and around the world. It relates back to an actual hiking experience I had. I was a real city girl when my then-boyfriend, now-husband challenged me to go on this hike up a mountain in Yosemite. It literally took me 10 hours to get up and down the mountain. I was beyond impressed with myself for accomplishing that, because I didn’t believe I could do it, but I did. At that time, I was still on the cusp of deciding whether to keep climbing the corporate ladder or make the jump into a creative field. So to me, the climbing experience was saying: You can do so much more than you give yourself credit for. Don’t be afraid to take that first step.
That’s amazing—so you took that lesson right into the design studio.
I turned those feelings into the mountain ring. I would wear the ring and whenever I doubted myself, I’d look at it and think, “Just put one foot in front of another and eventually you’re going to get there.” That spirit of “I can do this” has spoken to people from all walks of life, whether they live in urban places or more natural ones. The other interesting thing, as I look back, is that while you’d think the most enjoyable part of a hike or a challenge is getting to the top, what actually sticks with you is the fact that you completed that difficult route. It’s not about the view from the top or the photos that you snap there.
What’s another example of how you subtly embed meaning into your pieces?
My Morse code necklace and bracelet. You can spell out a name, a place, a phrase, or a date that’s of personal significance to you. I’ll translate that into the dashes and dots of morse code in a very understated way. Nobody will look at the piece and think it says something. The necklace becomes like a secret that you can keep close to your heart.
Tell us about your design process. How do you create such organic-looking pieces?
I’ve evolved quite a bit as a designer, from doing very basic stuff to learning more skills with time. Right now, I make most of my jewelry using lost-wax casting. If I want to create a ring, I carve it out in wax, then use files, dental tools, and heat to create textures and carved-out pieces. It’s a very sculptural kind of exercise.
Once the design is done in wax it’s cast in a metal mold. Every time someone places an order, I cast from that mold. That gives me the creative freedom to achieve the aesthetic I want: very organic in form, not super perfect. Some people want everything to be precise, but I’m into the more nature-influenced shapes and forms that make you want to touch the piece. That ties back to my mission that my jewelry is something I want you to wear and interact with, because there’s also a story and a message there for you.
Can you tell me about your materials?
I work predominantly with silver, gold fill, and solid gold from recycled sources, and I recycle all my scraps from my studio, sending them back to the manufacturer so the material isn’t wasted.
What’s next for you, design-wise?
I’m a new mom, to a 4-month-old girl. So right now my job consists of taking care of her, but also growing the business at the same time. That’s been a learning experience in itself. Motherhood is inspiring so many new feelings and discoveries, which I’m sure are not unique to me but universal for a lot of mothers out there. They’ll probably become the source of inspiration for my next set of designs—when I get to them! I have to be super intentional with how I spend my time now and it takes a lot of planning, but it’s doable—and I feel really grateful that I’m able to continue working while also being there for my daughter.
Product photography by Hannah Thornhill; portrait and studio photography courtesy of Everli.