This month’s Student Spotlight features Isabelle Ecker, who realized her passion for crafting jewelry at a young age. Over the course of two years, since her line was officially developed in 2014, Isabelle has built a strong brand of fine, handcrafted jewelry. Here we discuss how a pre-teen with a love for jewelry built a mini-empire for her line, and what she contributes to her success – from her coursework and mentor support at Tyler School of Art at Temple University, to various networking and business opportunities.
Identifying Her Passion and Following Through
“I started making sterling silver jewelry back when I was 13 years old. After I made my first silver ring, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” says Isabelle about finding her passion. Before even attending college, Isabelle took part in various workshops and classes to better understand the craft. Isabelle explained of her pre-college training, “I attended weekend workshops at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia as well as Tyler School of Art.” While not many business owners find their niche before college, attending workshops, events, and lectures that seem interesting can put you one step closer to finding what it is that really makes you tick.
For any high school students preparing for college, interning or volunteering is a great way to explore different career fields, and add an impressive touch to any college application. Isabelle remembers, “I worked with a [local jeweler] for many years, even through college, who taught me many things. Working with him has definitely helped create the business and jewelry line I have now.”
Through various workshops, classes and an apprenticeship, Isabelle was able to reaffirm her interest in crafting fine jewelry. “I started selling my work when I was 15 years old. I figured I could do what I loved, [by] making my own designs and then selling them! What could be better?!”
Balancing School with a Starting Business
Isabelle enrolled in Temple University’s Tyler School of Art for Metalsmithing/Jewelry/CAD-CAM. As far as developing her line, Isabelle says “Tyler helped me well; giving me the understanding of conceptual art and using those concepts in my work. They have a high end studio and well-educated professors.”
Because she was able to apply her personal business goals and fit it into her coursework in studio classes, Isabelle found that it wasn’t as much of a challenge to balance school with the business. In fact, she saw it as a great opportunity to network and learn as much as she possibly could to apply to her personal business venture. “I learned many additional skills, easier ways to go about things, and how to create production pieces through their Productions Class,” she says.
One challenge Isabelle faced, however, was the focus of the program. “They really focus on CAD-CAM, a computerized way to make something which you then 3-D print. I personally like to build with my hands.” Despite this, she was able to apply her teachings in the classroom, along with a drive to continue handcrafting pieces on her own time, to launch her collection.
Developing the Line
It took countless workshops, hours spent as an apprentice, and coursework at Tyler School of Art to prepare her to officially develop her jewelry line in 2014.
Once the collection was in motion, Isabelle was excited about all of the opportunities her brand had to grow. “I had so many ideas of what I wanted to do! I did lots of practice tests, practice pieces, until I got it exactly the way I wanted it to be,” Isabelle explains.
“I worked with a very talented graphic designer to create my logo, business cards, sign, and website. I was all ready for my debut show at Ambler Arts Festival! It was a nice turn out ‒ not the best show income wise, but you learn shows vary.” That being said, a slow first show didn’t halt Isabelle’s passion for fine crafted jewelry or her ambition to grow her brand. She explains, “The following year at Ambler Arts Festival, it was one of my best shows. So never give up!”
The Melt Collection was one of Isabelle’s first lines. “My Melt collection was inspired by melted pieces I made when I was 13,” she explained. “Every piece is different; and I even enjoy hearing customers’ interpretation of what they see.”
As her business and craftsmanship grew, she built on other lines. Isabelle explains, “My Pebble Collection has grown so much. All cast from wax into silver or gold, using Lost Wax Casting. The newest addition to this collection is my cast in place gemstone pieces. The stones are placed in the wax and go through the whole casting process. Very few jewelers do this because, one it has to be done properly, two it sometimes doesn’t work and becomes time consuming, and three it takes a lot of practice. Each piece comes out slightly different so each one is a one of a kind: ‘OOAK’.”
Success and the Future of Isabelle Ecker Jewelry
For her business, Isabelle imagines, “I see my company doing more craft shows, high end shows, home jewelry parties, office parties.” She intends to further her brand’s reach by attending craft shows all around the country.
For her business, she also sees internal growth. “I would love to find an assistant business manager to help with PR and everything the job comes with. I probably will have a few more jewelers in the studio with all the orders and inventory that there are.”
In the future, Isabelle hopes her brand will be available to an even wider audience. She says, “Getting my work into galleries and jewelry stores would be the next step, possibly even wholesale.”
Advice for Other College Students Looking to Start a Business: Network!
Isabelle explains of her venture, “I absolutely love my job, I am very grateful for my parents that have supported me and continue to do so throughout my venture.”
For those who feel inspired to create a business while in college – whether it’s something you’ve been passionate about since 13, or a recent realization or business opportunity that excites you – there are many things you can do to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
We all have heard about the importance in networking to find job opportunities, but it is also especially important when hoping to start your own business. Networking was also a great part of what drove Isabelle Ecker Jewelry’s success. For one example, her school had a field trip to the American Craft Council’s Baltimore Show in order for students to view other artists’ in the retail and wholesale businesses. By attending this show, Isabelle was able to learn from and network with established jewelers. “I took the opportunity to talk to as many people as I could, ask them questions about how they started, the challenges they face with this business, and if [they can] make a living selling their work. I got my answers, and I also met a fabulous artist who offered me a job assisting her at her upcoming show.” Networking with others in the field you are seeking to enter is not only enlightening, but a great way to make connects and find potential business partners.
Networking doesn’t have to be your standard meet-and-greet format or suit-and-tie formal event. Be proactive in building our own network. Isabelle recommends, “Look up people who have already started a business near you and apprentice or intern with them. You learn a lot more by doing.”
Some may feel that reaching out to others in the field they wish to start a business in is a tricky move – particularly if you see these people as competitors, or are afraid of having your ideas stolen. However, when done the smart way, you can make lasting mentorships and learn far more than you might handling your business ideation privately and alone. “Advice I give everyone: ASK QUESTIONS! Talk to people! You don’t get answers if you stay quiet.”
Finally, Isabelle offers up a solid piece of advice: “I’d say to never give up on your dream.”