WORD POWER: How Journaling Can Give You Clarity

When I first started out in my biz, I journaled a lot. A LOT. It was one of the tools I learned from my mentor, Deborah Kruger, to get settled into my new artist self. You can see Deborah’s beautiful fiber work and learn about her artist empowerment workshops here.

And Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way</strong, provided other excellent reasons to write daily. Not keyboard or type–WRITE. Cameron stated that something about the slower, more physical act of writing, connects our conscious brains to our unconscious desires and roadblocks more profoundly than typing.

I found this to be true, and wrote religiously.

I began to enjoy more success. My work gained an audience, eventually a national audience. My work appeared in print. I was asked to teach others how to be inspired, how to promote themselves, how to stay true to their artistic self.

I even began to teach others (informally) how to listen to each other, as I’d learned in Deborah’s workshops. I gave my time freely to friends old and new to help them find their own path to art.

But eventually, like that old adage “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride”, I realized that, though I listened and listened and listened, no one was listening to ME.

Part of it is, to listen well, you have to learn how to listen–without comment, without interruption, without telling that person what YOU think they should do.

It takes trust. The listener has to have the speaker’s best interest at heart. (You’d be surprised how many people who love you don’t really necessarily want you to be successful.)

And it takes time–sometimes 2-3 hours to really let someone open up and get to the heart of the matter.

Time is short, we’re all busy, and I’m not much at being a squeaky wheel (except with my husband!) And so I’ve been stuck with my feverish thoughts and frantic scrambling to uncover my own secret longings and artistic “next steps”.

Writing this blog has helped enormously. Sharing what I’ve learned, and musing “out loud” on the things that hold me back and keep me up at night have helped me work out a lot of tangled knots.

But yesterday, once again, I realized how much the journaling helps, too.

One last wholesale order has held me up. It’s a good order, from a great customer. But somehow, everything that could go wrong, has. It was misfiled. I was out of a critical component to finish the order. And the customer is on the west coast, making the coordination of phone calls a little trickier.

In short, the order is late. Really late.

This is so unlike me, it’s worrisome. And as I race to finish the order (and as I wait for Monday to see if they even still want the order, I keep asking myself, “Why did I let this happen??”

I walked downtown with my husband for coffee yesterday morning. Earlier, I’d moved a piece of furniture looking for something and found a brand new, untouched composition book underneath. On impulse, I took it with me. And as Jon stood in line with our order, I snagged an outdoor table and began to write.

I really only had about 10 minutes to write at the coffee shop. I wasn’t even really sure what to write about. But I was consumed with guilt about this order, and I wrote about that.

And a page into it, I realized what was going on.

This order was my last wholesale order.

To clarify, it’s the last order I’m filling from a wholesale show. The last order from an era I call “the wholesale show era”.

The wholesale show era began almost eight years ago. It was a strategy that helped me build my wholesale biz to a national level–fast. It was expensive and exhausting, but also fun and thrilling. For awhile, it worked really, really well.

And now it doesn’t.

If you’ve been reading my blog entries, you know of the shift in my focus and priorities. I’m changing strategies to find different wholesale markets. They don’t seem to be venues that go to the traditional wholesale shows. So somehow, I have to get to them.

I’m going back to rebuild retail markets, too. In fact, last week Jon totally revamped my website which you can see at http://www.luannudell.com

There are some glitches, of course, and more work to be done. Check out the site and feel free to e-mail me your comments. Er…when my e-mail link is put back on the new site….

So some of those major changes are already in place. The process is exciting, and thrilling.

It’s also scary and exhausting. There’s a lot of comfort in doing the same old thing. Even if the same old thing isn’t working any more. I call it this limbo-like place of doing the same thing and expecting different results “Waiting for the buffalo to come back….”

And so the thought of this last wholesale order from my last wholesale show (at least for the next year or so) has been holding me back.

And that’s why everything has gone wrong.

That insight–from ten minutes of writing, a page of verbal rambling–was like sighting a clear path through the clutter of my studio. AHA! So that’s what that’s all about!

Knowing what’s going on helps me see what needs to be done.

I will call the store owner tomorrow with my apologies. I will have peace offerings that hopefully will offset the inconvenience I’ve caused.

And with the power of the written word in hand, I will move on down my new path with a little more confidence.

And relief that, even if no one has time to really, truly listen right now, I can always listen to myself.

MADE IN AMERICA: Use Quality Components in Your Work

I have a friend in the jewelry biz in Providence, RI. When I was starting out in the biz, he was very kind to me.

He reps for one of many U.S. manufacturer of jewelry findings. These companies have been producing jewelry components–clasps, headpins, tie tacks, ear wires, etc.–for many decades.

And they are hurting.

I don’t understand all the issues. The world of commercial fashion jewelry is a mystery to me, though fashion jewelry is about all I ever buy.

Apparently, the minimalist, tiny jewelry of the late 1980’s and 90’s just about did everyone in. Jewelry sales plummeted, and what was sold was pretty small and simple. I’m personally glad that era is gone for awhile!

The way fashion jewelry is made and marketed has changed drastically, too. Much, much more is imported from overseas, and marked up 3, 4, even more times for resale. It’s hard for small jewelry producers to work with that kind of mark-up in a country where you would hope to at least pay your employees minimum wage and a few benefits.

The hobby jewelry industry has grown exponentially, too. More people than ever are making their own designs, whether for resale at craft shows, wholesale to stores or just for personal use. This is a good thing, actually. Jewelry is BIG again, interesting, collectible. But it also means the actual sales of components are in smaller lots. I buy HUNDREDS of components, not hundreds of thousands. I am pretty small potatoes to the jewelry components industry, and there are thousands more like me.

And the market has become more cost-driven than ever. If components can be made cheaply and quickly overseas and sold here for a fraction of U.S.-made products, people will buy them. As fads and fashion change almost overnight, quick turn around and variety are also the name of the game.

It would seem there is no place for those big ol’ dinosaur American manufacturers of jewelry components anymore.

Unless you care about quality. And choice.

This is not a “buy American!” rant. This is my personal worry about a world that is cost-driven above everything else.

Because ultimately, even if you try to AVOID the cost-driven mindset and buy quality, this “best price” thing can bite you in the butt.

Take a couple of recent headliner examples. It’s turning out that commercial pet food is now mostly made in China, and even if you think you are buying a premium brand for your beloved pet, chances are some shortcuts were made that not only compromised its quality, but perhaps your pet’s health (and life) as well.

It turns out that all those wholesome vitamins and herbal supplements you’ve been taking, because you care about your health and well-being, are probably made in China, too. And many may have the same dangerous quality control issues as uncovered in the recent pet food scandal.

Even though we cared about quality over price, even though we thought we were making good choices, it turns out we actually had NO choice. And very little of the quality we paid a premium for.

My experience with most imported jewelry components has similar threads. The parts look good in the catalogs. Just as nice as American-made products, but soooo much cheaper. What a great buy!

Until you have them in hand and see that they are just not as nicely made.

Or until you go to use them and realize the silver casting is not as well done. I have a whole batch of sterling toggle clasp sets where I have to hand-ream out the silver “sprue”-like stuff clogging the jump rings. It was a fine detail I overlooked until I actually put the parts into production, too late to return them.

Or until you actually sell the items and then have to deal with the returns for faulty parts–clasps that quit working after a few months, or micro-thin silver plating that wears off quickly. THAT was a fun lesson to learn in quality. NOT.

Lately I’ve seen advertisements for gold-filled components that my friend points out simply can’t be MADE in gold-fill. Gold-fill components are a nice-looking and well-priced alternative to gold. Real gold-fill is a kind of sandwich technique, with an actual layer of gold “bread” covering a base metal “filling”. It’s much more durable than gold plating, which is not regulated and so the gold plate can be as thin as a few microns.

But he points out that gold-fill cannot be used in CAST components. Because when the high heat of casting is applied, all the layers melt and blend together. You end up with a discolored glob of gold and base metal, NOT your lovely gold bread sandwich. Components made by casting and cannot possibly be “gold-filled”. They are probably gold-plated at best.

The clasps and findings he showed me are made of cast components.

Are they at least good-quality findings, though probably not gold-filled as advertised? Well, my thinking is, if they are not being truthful about what they are and what the actual gold content is, do I think they are being truthful about their durability?

I’m not a betting girl, but even if I were, that’s not a bet I’d make.

There are overseas components I do trust and use in my work. Sterling silver findings from Israel, Turkey and Italy offer variety and interest, and “work” just as hard as my American-made components. But I’ve learned the hard way to either test first, or ask my friend when it comes to other sources.

And there is a place in the world for cheap or low-quality.  Not every piece of jewelry is meant to last forever, or even more than a season.

What bothers me is, if people continue to choose price purely over quality, then someday, when all the American jewelry components can no longer compete with overseas manufacturers, they will fold up their tents and disappear.

And then we will have NO choice.

It’s up to us. It’s not about “buying American” to show our patriotism or “because we should.”

It’s because it’s the right choice all the way around.