Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. Today we chat with the inspirational jewelry maker, Amanda Kane of Vintage Fairie. Amanda shares how she reconnected with herself through work and creativity.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Growing up simultaneously in Chester County, Pennsylvania and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, I was heavily influenced by art, nature and the sea. I have three children that keep me super busy, a house full of rescued animals, and am completely addicted to yoga.
I guess who I am today begins with my Father and Mother. My father worked very hard to protect much of the open space in East Bradford Township, Chester County and thereby instilled in me a strong respect for our natural surroundings. My mother, a “Longwood Baby” (Longwood Gardens) and a lover of history, treasured her Philadelphia suburb; its historic architecture, and its timeless stories. Both of my parents felt as though they lacked artistic abilities (not true) so they did their best to encourage my inner artist. My Grandmother, a resident of Kennett Square, PA, had a sharp eye for fashion and design. Her jewelry collection made my heart swoon. By age 6, I built a booth and sold fruit from my family’s tiny orchard along our windy, barely traveled, one lane country road. By age 8, I added beaded jewelry and jewelry made from the colorful computer wire my Father would bring home.
Rehoboth Beach had a lovely store just off the main drag back then, and the owner was kind enough to sell my jewelry there. I would create books and accounts, not knowing really what I was doing but thrilled at doing something that made me feel accomplished. Rehoboth in those days was lined with gorgeous boutiques filled with finds from all over the world. I would wander into these stores and be inspired. I loved how many of the stores thought “out of the box”- the items carried within had significance. Not your typical Tiffany’s bracelet, but items that had true significance, made by hand. Bracelets to bring about abundance, or luck, evil eyes to protect, deities, of which I would grow to eventually understand and respect, but in those days was simply attracted to the craftsmanship. Then there was the sea, and how I would barely leave it. A young mermaid, I was. Necklaces of tied shells and seaglass, sun kissed skin and white salty hair. How Rehoboth influenced me… I began working at the age of 13- 60 hours a week. I continued making jewelry until art became a major focus for me in High School. I eventually left home and Rehoboth for Carnegie Mellon University. I thought I would end up doing something with my artistic background, but instead when into IT. I think we get stuck, at times in our lives. It was a long time before I would do something creative again…
2. What prompted you to start Vintage Faerie?
I guess it goes back to seeking a connection to myself. I wasn’t finding it in my daily life, so I made it.
My husband and I had our first child and he was (still is) beautiful. Bright blue eyes the color of the sea, angelic face. From a very young age I knew something was not quite developmentally right with our son, but in those days it was very tough to get proper medical help, especially for a child so young. My son continued to regress. He lost his speech, he did not look at us. He lined all of his toys in rows. He had no emotions, did not eat unless it was milk and bread. He could not connect with others, certainly not peers. He flapped his hands and paced, a lot. More significant issues began to show themselves every day. Would he be ok? There was no way I could work- he needed me. Our Doctor’s could not help. We needed specialists. Out of pocket specialists. Thousands of dollars, travel here and there, eventually, my son was diagnosed with Autism at 3 years of age- after 1 and 1/12 years of searching for answers. At this time, one “specialist” noted my son to have low-moderate mental retardation. The best I could do for him was let him be comfortable. And this typically consisted of him rocking in a corner, reading a book. I saw a child in there- his eyes lit up. He was there. No one would listen to me. This is when I decided that I had enough.
To discuss the pain I went through those years- the lack of medical and family/friend support, the isolation, the stares from other parents on the playground, the ignorant comments from people, the friends that walked away because it wasn’t pretty- I’d be here, writing, for a year. I could see the light within my son. I could see a bright and smart boy, and damn it, I was going to find him. If it took every penny (which it did) that we had saved, every waking hour, I was going to find my son and bring him back.
There were no traditional preschool options for him and the most important thing my son needed was to be surrounded with peers. We eventually enrolled him in a school that failed him, completely. I thought I had enough before this… I researched everything I could and became his therapists while we tried to sort out the other messes. So much money was needed to help him. Insurance covered nothing. Money was running out and all I could think of is how are we going to survive? How can we continue the $3K doctor visits, the $250 and hour therapy sessions? So I turned to what I knew- art and creativity. At least I would be able to have a release, and maybe, just maybe I could do something to help pay the bills, to help my son.
I began, quite simply, with reusing found objects- religious charms, vintage pendants and so forth, to make necklaces, bracelets and earrings. I loved anything antique and vintage- those pieces told a story. Eventually I taught myself how to solder, updated my skills and began making jewelry while my son napped. I would stay up all night to learn a new skill or gain inspiration. I forced my husband to help out. I built a webpage. At that time, we were known for making photo charms. I had a box of WWI French postcards- beautiful still-lifes of faeries and angels, hand painted by the photographer. Lovely notes written in calligraphy on the backs, telling of stories forgotten. I made gorgeous copies, collaged some, and turned them into charms. One day, I was contacted by a Sales Representative group asking if they could rep me. “Heck yes!” Was my response.
“Oh, and what is your business name?” They asked… “And we need all marketing materials within the next 48 hours”.
“Um. Ok. Sure”. Holding the phone to my ear pacing around my studio, looking for a sign, any sign, while they were not so patiently waiting for an answer.
“Amanda, are you there?” The Rep Agency asked.
“Yes. Yes, I’m here. My business name. It is…” Thinking what the heck am I going to say? Then I spy the WWI faerie postcards and blurted out:
And so it came to be. My business name.
Today, we are still influenced by a drive to help so we donate quite a bit to charity. We still love antique and vintage components and use them when we can. Yoga influences my work tremendously, but if I had to chose, I’d say my work is still highly influenced by those stores, in a small sleepy Delaware beach town all of those years ago. Everything we craft is by hand, with little machine intervention. Almost as if you just came across a sacred artifact. We appreciate the rustic and a imperfect look and feel as that is where story begins. We make talismans for today- from hand stamped words, to semi-precious stones.
3. Describe a typical day.
A typical day for me is to try to get up and have enough energy to make a cup of chai tea. Everyone in my house knows, you do not speak to me until I have had my tea. Although they are beautiful, I do not care much for mornings, being a night owl. Especially school mornings. Abruptly I am fully engaged in the battle of the little people. Who doesn’t want to go to school, wear that or this, eat that or this, who wants to throw himself or herself on the floor screaming that we should have had a snow day and in protest refuses to move. After I carry (ok, drag) these protesting souls off to begin their day, I usually hit a yoga class, when work permits. Without yoga, I’d probably be in an asylum. And that just cannot happen otherwise those little people would take over, my husband most likely held hostage, kids not bathed for weeks and animals starving.
After yoga I jump right into work. Layout projects for the day, print off new orders, make some jewels. We end the work day packaging up orders ready to ship, answer email, facebook and instgram comments. Then it is time to face the tired little people again. I won’t bore you with those gory details. After the little ones head off to dreamland (ok, after I have yelled get back to bed for the 100th time and threaten everything) I sit down and try to work on items that still need my attention. This varies day to day- could be marketing work, special projects. Being a working mother, there is never enough time for anything, I feel. I am hard on myself and feel like this could be done better, or I should be more efficient. To give the children a little more time with me is worth staying up ridiculously late playing catch-up with work. We do our very best, and that is all we can do.
4. What is your most successful form of marketing?
Because marketing is dynamic, what worked for us two years ago does not necessarily work as well, or in the same manner, today. Jewelry is a very tough market- there is a lot of competition, so it is imperative that you get yourself out there. We have done well with word-of-mouth marketing. Customers have shared our website not only with their friends, but with boutiques in their area. Facebook was an easy marketing tool until they changed things around for businesses last year. We were pretty late to ride the Instagram wave but are catching up. Instagram is such a fun way to connect with other artists and like-minded souls out there.
Our best marketing: I have been very fortunate to have made some amazing local friends and acquaintances- artists, yoga teachers, and creative, giving souls. These women are amazing role-models: strong, intelligent, caring, generous, supportive women that I want to share with the world. Women truly supporting women. These women are a gift. A rare gift. They give endlessly and I could never thank them enough. It is through their generosity, kindness, and sharing of Vintage Faerie that fuels me so I am able to continue to do what I love doing.
5. What inspires you and fuels your creativity?
The sea, the moon, a warm summer’s night. Seashells and sea glass. Symbols, beads and stones- their stories, properties and meanings. I am especially influenced by folklore and tribal cultures.
6. What advice would you give to those looking to start their own business?
Go for it. Jump in. Believe in yourself, what you know and what you can do. Stay true to yourself, your style and your vision. Do not compare yourselves to others.
Just for fun…
1. If you could invite any 5 people to a dinner party, who would you choose?
And Daryl from The Walking Dead
2. Describe yourself in 3 words.
3. Favorite place to escape/relax.
British Virgin Islands