Tell us about your previous working situation.
Before quitting our day jobs, I was a surfing instructor and Kristin was a supervisor for Starbucks. We met each other in 2006, while I was giving a lesson and she was a student at another surf school. She was wearing this tiny black bikini and it was an instant attraction. We have been together ever since.
When we met, neither of us had even begun to make jewelry. Both of our jobs were pretty flexible, and we had plenty of time for a hobby — after all, we were living on an island! Soon after beginning our new adventure together, we found some creative new friends. Nilma Hunter of nipeli had just signed up for Etsy, and she suggested we do the same for ourselves. We never could have guessed how much our lives would change after registering our account.
How did you end up making jewelry together?
Had someone told me that I would grow up to be a jeweler, I would have thought they were crazy. Both of my grandfathers were experienced carpenters, a skill I found fascinating to watch as a young child. I was amazed that someone could create an item by hand that was of use in everyday life. I never made any connection that I was capable of creating something someone would want.
Sea Babe Jewelry was born on the beaches of the North Shore of Oahu, where some of the best surfing waves in the world are nestled within one seven mile stretch of coastline. When I was teaching surf lessons, Kristen would paddle out with my classes on the slow days, but on busy days, she would stick to the beach and watch. Kristin needed something to do while waiting, so we both took up the hobby of collecting shells on the local beaches. We found secret spots to go “shelling,” including a spectacular sea glass beach. Some friends of ours were turning shells into jewelry and selling the pieces at local shops, so we thought we might like to give it a try.
I don’t know why, but we became a bit obsessed. We found ourselves making things at three in the morning or later. Our roommates must have thought we were crackers. Before long, we had a whole line of shell rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. We bought a little table, a black sheet and set up a booth at the North Shore farmer’s market. We sold several pieces and hurried off immediately to purchase more supplies, a process we repeated for almost a year.
Did you do anything to prepare for making the transition into full-time Etsy selling?
We had no idea this was coming or how our business would mature into viability. It happened almost overnight. Fortunately, both of our schedules were somewhat flexible enough to accommodate rapidly growing demand. The recession was in full force, and tourism in Hawaii was declining rapidly. Kristin’s work had cut back her hours, and I was not getting as many lessons. Uncle Bryan Suratt was a great boss who fed me as much work as possible, yet understood when I could not be there because I had to fill orders. Thanks, Uncle Bryan!
As my forging skills improved, customers requested gold rings. The defining moment in our success happened when I committed to forging gold. As I would finish each order, Kristin would set up the packaging and the photo studio consisting of a light box we would place next to a window with two studio lamps. We got a tip in a Critiques thread from a seller named piedrastudios, who offered the advice of giving our buyers a sense of Oahu. We began photographing our pieces on local leaves, stones and coral, which proved to be valuable advice.
In the beginning, it took every penny and then some to keep our stock up and purchase new tooling all while trying to pay the rent. The most important thing we did correctly was to buy the best tools and materials we could find. Beyond that, looking back, it was very important that we had all of our shipping materials, packaging, staples, tape and more.
What is your best marketing tip?
Our most effective marketing tool has been engaging popular blogs for giveaways. We would Google “popular blog giveaway,” “Etsy blog giveaway” or my favorite, “mommy blog giveaway.” The most important part to a successful giveaway — give something away that people actually want. It won’t work to just dig through your overstock! I created a product, the $20 ring, and would send one to a blogger for review and offer another as a prize. When the blogs would do a giveaway with our ring, it drove traffic to our store.
Posting a giveaway is not enough in itself. Promote your giveaway by posting it to Facebook and Twitter. In the past, we have used Etsy’s Promotions forum to make other buyers and sellers aware of our giveaway. You can also post your giveaway to EtsyGiveaways or one of many other giveaway hubs. This is all free publicity, aside from the cost of your item.
What is your most popular product?
The most popular item in my shop is the 2mm Single Band, which is also one of my most versatile rings. The single band has proven to be a very popular wedding and fashion ring as well. I offer the single band in any of our textures or finishes and is available individually or in multiples — they stack up quite nicely together!
What has been your most memorable request?
The first request I received for a wedding band set in 14k white gold gave me the pin-prickly feeling inside of my mouth that you get when you fear for your life. I had only been forging fine silver rings for a month before the request came in. I embraced the challenge, and successfully made the rings, though they took me forever to complete. Equally memorable, a bride ordered 24 bangles as gifts for her mother and bridesmaids. Each individual was to receive a stack of three bangles. Kristin and I could not believe it was possible for us to make such a sale. We were ecstatic! Both of these sales came in our early days when I was in dire need of capital.
Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
Yes! Most of my mistakes have been organizational. I did not keep good track of my inventory and receipts. At the end of the year, Kristin and I were logging receipts like mad. We don’t ever want to go through that again!
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
One word: communication. I really want to give my customers the very best I have to offer, which includes both quality and service. The difficulty I have is in balancing work time and convos. During wedding season, it is not unusual to wake up to 15 or more convos. Understandably, a wedding ring is one of life’s most important purchases, and this type of dialogue is absolutely necessary.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything that you miss?
I guess the most enjoyable aspect is making my own destiny. I love the technical and creative aspects of my work. Almost every day I make something that someone will not only love, it will most likely be worn every day, treasured and passed on to future generations. This feeling of satisfaction I get is immeasurable, and I find myself smiling and laughing when I work.
I do miss surfing every day. I miss taking people into the ocean and giving them the experience of their life. Surfing is such a great thing to share with someone — I am positive that everyone I taught will remember my name and the exciting day we spent surfing together.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Oh gosh… everything? The challenges change from day to day. The main struggle right now is finding the balance between what we are capable of and what our business needs from us in order to prosper. We can’t make more time, so we are trying to do things quicker and more efficiently, while also eliminating mistakes. My best advice is to have a good sense of humor about things, I am still working the rest out as we go.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone considering a similar path.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to buy more gold. The market price has almost doubled since I began working with it. For anyone else, I would suggest to be more organized than you think is necessary. We did not do so well at first. Focusing on the little things has really helped us move forward. We have learned that good enough almost never is, and, if you can do something about it, do it. Putting things off has cost us nothing but time.
What goals do you have in store for the future of Sea Babe Jewelry?
There is so much that we want to do.
- Kristin is moving from Seababe into her new shop.
- We are relocating our businesses to San Luis Obispo on California’s beautiful Central Coast.
- Kristin has been spending most of her time focusing on markets and wholesale accounts. This year she is looking forward to establishing a stronger presence here on Etsy.
- Seababejewelry will continue to be stocked with wedding sets and ladies’ fashion rings. In addition to the current stock of bangles, cuffs and earrings, many new fashion jewelry pieces will be featured in 14k, 18k and higher gold and affordable sterling silver pieces.
- New tools will help to create new designs; so keep checking in to see what is happening. I am in the market for a lathe and a mill, allowing me to create several designs, which I have, received requests for, but have been unable to make as of yet.
- I plan to keep making my current lines. In addition, I would like to create pieces inspired by Art Deco and Bauhaus. It will be very exciting to see what I can come up with.
- I will be opening a new shop catering to men’s rings and accessories. Our rings will still be available from Seababejewelry, but the boys will now have their own place to shop for a gold ring or a nice set of handcrafted cufflinks. I even have some designs in mind for belt buckles.
Thanks to David for sharing his story. You can see some of his work in the Seller’s Items below and be sure to check out this great video of Dave teaching the Etsy seller metalicious and her family how to surf.
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