BEHIND THE BIZ // EMILY OF ELVA FIELDS (FINE JEWELS)

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EMILY WHEAT MAYNARD // ELVA FIELDS

You may remember when Emily and I collaborated for her Leading Ladies series on the GEM necklace. Read about it here and here. If you don’t know about Elva Fields — Fine Handmade Jewels, here’s a little info:

Elva Fields Jewelry, started in 2003, is the result of this dual fascination, indulging both the academic and artistic facets within the designer. Emily scours local and far-flung markets, auctions, and shops for unusual vintage and antique pieces to use in all three of the Elva Fields lines—Elva, June, and Deb—which are named for the artist’s great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, respectively. The treasured finds are then reconfigured and incorporated in unexpected, timeless designs. Elva Fields Jewelry, made in the designer’s studio in Kentucky, can be found in boutiques throughout the United States. (copy via elvafields.com)

Was there a moment in your life when the lightbulb went off and you just knew what you were going to do?

I remember sitting at the [jeweler’s] bench one afternoon during my semester at the Jewelry Arts Institute in New York (where I was learning ancient metalsmithing techniques to enhance my studies of ancient Greek and Roman jewelry for the master’s thesis I was researching and writing in graduate school) and suddenly realizing how happy I was to be making something, creating something. At the same time, I had a flash of what my life had been for the previous two years — loving life in the stacks of the library, soaking up and seeking information. I knew then I’d be happiest combining the two — historical research and creating art — to carve a career path for myself after graduation. I haven’t let go of the idea since.

elva fields - vintage jewelry - meg biram - fine handmade jewels

Elva Fields has such a strong aesthetic, how did that come about?

I’ve always been a very visual person — I know if I like something pretty much right away, so I think that sensibility certainly comes into play during the creative process.  I know instinctively and immediately when a design feels right. More importantly, though, I think the Elva Fields aesthetic is largely influenced by the vintage materials incorporated in each design — objects with an interesting story to tell always bring strength to the scenario.

elva fields - necklaces - vintage - meg biram - fine handmade - jewels

Once you knew you wanted to have your own jewelry line, what steps did you take to make that a reality?

Before leaving New York City once grad school was finished, I headed to the Jewelry District and purchased a bag full of colorful beads, some clasps, cord, and wire, bringing them home along with some vintage finds I’d saved from a flea market adventure earlier that year. The prototypes I created were necklaces for my bridesmaids (at the time, I was getting married in just a few weeks) and — once I had the design of each determined — I taught myself the beadwork techniques to complete them.

With product ready, I brainstormed business names, logo fonts, and packaging options, and I looked up every local printing company in the phone book to find out how much they would charge for business cards to be sure to land the best deal. (We still use the company today, actually!) I registered the business with the state, county, and city, filling out lots of paperwork along the way, and met with the Small Business Association to devise a proper business plan. After securing a small loan from my grandmother, Elva Fields officially began, launching with a series of small trunk shows that were glorified family affairs and a tiny showcase in a local boutique. I ran the business with a full-time job elsewhere for the first five years, making jewelry at nights and on weekends at an old desk in a guest room, and this fall we’ll be celebrating our 10th birthday in our downtown Main Street studio.

elva fields - inspiration board - meg biram - jewels

What lessons have you learned along the way?

  • Keep going … as long as it still brings joy.
  • Never mind what anyone else is doing, just keep your head down, work your hardest, be patient, and focus on your own ideas and intuition.
  • Surround yourself with kind, thoughtful, capable, and hard-working people.
  • Ask for help, and trust your own instincts.
  • Family is always more important than anything happening in the studio.
  • Step away and come back to it with clarity … creativity cannot be forced.

elva fields - beads - vintage jewelry - fine handmade jewels

What has surprised you about owning your own business?

While I consider myself a very driven (read: stubborn) and focused person, I was certainly not prepared for how all-consuming starting and running a business would be. Work and life mix in ways I would have never imagined — from taking a conference call while in labor (true story) to spending an hour re-organizing beads after my two toddlers have ransacked the studio when the sitter cancels, to chalking up a day or two of almost every vacation to vintage sourcing for the business. Each day I realize how entrenched Elva is in my life. Because I am passionate about what I do, it is less of an invasion and more of an anticipated blending of worlds, but no less challenging to make transitions seamless and successful. Truthfully, often they are not … and such is life, I suppose. Surprising, unscheduled, and unscripted.

elva fields - vintage necklace - fine handmade jewels - meg biram

What hardships have you had along the way?

Plenty … but none that I haven’t learned a great deal from.

What do you wish you would have known going into this?

“This is going to take a while.”  (That Elva Fields would not be an overnight success…but more of a “slow and steady wins the race” type of business.)

elva fields - working with beads - making jewelry - meg biram - fine handmade jewels

What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?

I’m an old-school daily planner type of gal — pen and paper all the way. I love a good list, and jotting down a series of to-do’s for each day gets my head in the game and keeps me on track with priorities. I adore crossing things off a list — live for it, actually — so that’s great motivation. What I don’t do every day and absolutely should (because it works nearly every time I do it!) is to assign each task a specific, allotted time frame — a start and completion — to ensure everything is accomplished in a realistic and timely manner. It is, by far, the most successful way for me to organize my day.

elva fields - packaging - meg biram - fine handmade jewels

Highlight of your career so far?

Seeing our jewelry in the pages of a magazine will never get old, but overhearing a complete stranger ask another who was wearing a necklace, “I just have to ask — is that an Elva Fields?” just made my day.

Best advice you’ve been given?

Top three:

  • If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. (Jerry, my SCORE business advisor)
  • Kill the snakes closest to you. (my mother)
  • The time to take the cookies is when they are passed. (Elva Fields, my great-grandmother, via my mother)

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Photos by Kriech-Higdon Photography

Behind the Biz takes a deep dive behind the scenes with business owners and entrepreneurs. Don’t miss my other Behind the Biz features with Rochelle of The Shirt and handbag designer Blair of Blair Ritchey. Tweet along with me at #behindthebiz and @megbiram.