Eight years ago, having dropped out of college and lacking “a clear plan or path for my future,” Chicago native Tatiana Andrea was searching for a creative outlet, a way to pass the time that might also lead to some extra cash in her pocket. She was standing in line at a hardware store when she saw a pile of old door hinges. “They caught my eye, and I thought they’d make cool necklaces,” she says. “I made a few and my friends liked them, so I put them up on Etsy. From there, things just snowballed.”
There’s more to it than that, of course. Between that fateful day and now, Tatiana evolved her style from hardware chic to natural glam, developing an earthy yet feminine collection of intricate, plant-inspired rings, bracelets, necklaces, and other pieces of wearable art, calling it We Are Arrow. She also moved herself and her burgeoning business to London, where along with her Etsy shop, she runs a successful brick-and-mortar retail space inside a converted shipping container (!) on the city’s east side. It’s a perfectly industrial setting that poetically brings her artistic story full circle.
Read on to learn how this once-directionless artist found and followed her own unique creative path.
So, how did you end up living and running your business in London?
After I left university, I moved to Los Angeles. I’ve always been drawn to the creative side of things, so I tried my hand at different mediums to see if anything would stick. I started painting, but realized I was no good at it. I’d write a song and go, “Dammit! I can’t do that, either.” It was really trial and error until I landed on jewelry. Just about five years ago, I came to London to try to sell some of my stuff at markets and visit with a couple friends. I reconnected with someone I hadn’t seen in awhile and, within months, we were engaged. Two months after that, we were married. Making things is what brought me here; finding love is what kept me here.
Once you became interested in jewelry making, did you pursue formal training?
I’m largely self-taught. After Googling “how to make jewelry” — I’m serious — I began to get interested in a process called lost-wax casting, where you make a mold and then have it cast in metal. It’s a method that lends itself to organic shapes and textures — even a speck of dust will leave a natural, one-of-a-kind imperfection. My local arts center in Los Angeles was offering a class on it, and I took it. Immediately, I knew it was the method I wanted to pursue. If I had gotten into silversmithing, for example, my path — and my jewelry — would have been completely different.
How would you describe your work to someone who had never seen it?
I would say that I look for found items with unique textures and shapes, then preserve them and bring them out in metal form. I’m inspired by my surroundings, especially nature and plants; much of my work is formed from petals, seeds, and pods. I’m struck by how something ignored on the side of the road — plants and other vegetation — can get a new life in metal.
Where do you make your jewelry? What’s that space like?
It’s a metal shipping container! It’s both where I work and where I sell. It sits in an oval-shaped parking lot, which is lined with other small, 10-by-10 shops. During the week I’m working, but people can walk up and browse the jewelry for sale. Just across from me is a bike-repair shop, and sometimes people who are waiting there will wander over to look at my stuff. It’s a nice little web of creative businesses that all support each other.
How do you transform something from idea to finished product?
Usually, it starts with me jumping right in with the wax. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t draw well that I don’t sketch things out, or if it’s because, being self-taught, I’ve gotten accustomed to figuring it out as I go.
In the beginning, when I wasn’t sure I could translate what I was envisioning into actual jewelry, I had to be open to letting designs change as I went. But now I’m in a place where I’m doing this every day, staring at balls of wax, and I find it so rewarding. I can spend three hours looking at a ring mold, rotating it and changing it to get it just so.
After I’m done with the wax mold, I send it off to be cast. When I get it back, usually in a few days, I’ll spend a day polishing and refining it from a rough piece into something shiny and wearable. I’d say, overall, the whole process takes just a few days.
How has your business grown and evolved since launching on Etsy in 2010?
Well, I just hired my first full-time employee, which is exciting. I had been taking on college interns in the summer, and that helped me learn how to work well with other people. I’m an only child, so sometimes it’s hard for me to give up control.
Also, having my storefront in East London, I get instant feedback. Online, you’re trying to forge a connection with people and post items that they’ll respond to, but you don’t get the same kind of response. In a stall setup, you can watch people, what they pick up first, and you’ll overhear what they say they like about it. People are so vocal about what they like and what they don’t. All of it — the good and the bad — is good to hear. As is seeing the people who walk right past you; that tells you a lot about your shop setup and what works and what doesn’t.
What’s been your most popular seller?
Actually, one of the first things I ever made: an acorn necklace. It was the second piece I carved in my class while I was learning. I’m kind of shocked it’s still popular. It’s a compliment. I think a lot of people learning a new craft are hard on themselves at the beginning; you really want to throw your oldest stuff away. But then maybe you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, because it means that that early piece was actually good.
What about We Are Arrow has you the most excited right now?
I’ve just released my first new collection in two years, which is inspired by the native vegetation I saw while on a family trip to Guadalajara, Mexico. This time around, I challenged myself to make bigger pieces and go outside my comfort zone. I worked with a local artist to design all the artwork to promote [the collection], and I’m blown away by what she’s done.
And as I’ve said, collaborating with other people is a new thing for me. Another friend shot all of the product photos, and yet another friend designed my logo and fonts. It’s so exciting to work with other people instead of just doing things all myself. I’m learning to let go of a little control, and in this case, I’ve brought in outside people to contribute. And I couldn’t be happier than I am right now.
Photographs by Ola O Smit.