Since I’ve started working at UG, Emilie Shapiro is a name I’ve heard often. (And here’s a fun fact: she used to be a regular Emily like me, but rebelled against our all-too-common name and switched to the “ie” ending at age 13). We carry many of her stunning, raw gemstone jewelry pieces, and everyone at the office sort of fan-girls about her work. So when I heard that Emilie was up for a studio tour, I was psyched to be on the invite list.
I set off expecting the drive from my home in suburban Long Island to Long Island City, Queens to be less than pleasant, and unfortunately I was right. After a hectic morning crawling down Queens Boulevard and searching for a parking spot for what felt like hours, arriving at Emilie’s sunny studio was a welcome respite.
From the moment we cracked open the door, the vibe at the studio was easy and welcoming. We were sort of a big crew–our blog editor, our jewelry buyer, our photographer, our SEO specialist/jewelry-lover, and myself–but Emilie and another maker who she works with, Erica, were totally accommodating. They offered us apples and coffee and turned on some classic rock. They let us drool over the gorgeous pieces they had on display. Emilie urged us to try on whatever we wanted, which was basically everything.
Our blog team has visited Emilie before, but not since she moved to her new studio space. And this time, we were lucky enough to watch her in action – she did a demo for us on how she sets the striking Waterfall Ring. Following our lesson, we got to chat with her about how she’s grown as an artist and business owner, teaching others the craft, and even a bit about her family. Turns out, her grandfather once had a toy factory in the Brooklyn Army Terminal, UG’s home! We must be kindred spirits.
We last visited your studio a few years ago. What made you decide to move on to another space?
Thankfully, my business has grown quite a bit in the last few years, so I moved to another studio with more space and amazing light. We’ve been in this studio for almost three years and I’m still not tired of the amazing light.
What inspires you about this new workspace?
The creative energy in the studio is the biggest inspiration. I have a team of four amazing women who are each have an important role in the business. We have a lot of light and lots of plants which makes the environment feel like home.
You’ve written posts for us in the past that aim to help up-and-coming artists from an entrepreneurial angle. How do you find the balance between running a business and staying creatively fulfilled yourself?
Finding a balance is probably the hardest part of running a creative business. It’s really easy to become overwhelmed with workload. I make it a point to make some time for myself every day that has nothing to do with the business – whether it’s riding my bike, meeting up with friends or cooking dinner for my husband. I have a pretty intense travel bug and I’m always finding inspiration from other cultures. There’s no short of inspiration in New York City – I love to take walks, go to museums and see live music. Especially in the warmer months I try to get to the beach as much as I can.
What do you find yourself saying most often to young makers looking to break into the jewelry business?
Allow yourself space to find your voice in the medium that you work in. It takes a long time and you want to be putting something out there that is truly unique to you. A goal is just a dream without a deadline. Set one for yourself to force yourself to get a jump-start on your business.
In addition to hand-crafting your pieces and keeping your business afloat, you also teach classes. How has that impacted your day-to-day schedule?
I don’t teach as much as I used to due to my more demanding schedule in my own studio. When I do teach, it’s so creatively energizing to watch people get excited about learning new techniques. It also keeps my own jewelry skills sharp. I learn so much from my students and have met so many cool people over the years!
Do you find that teaching others leads you to new realizations about your craft, or in general? How so?
Absolutely! One of the greatest challenges of teaching is learning how to explain a technique in many different ways. Everyone learns differently so it takes a lot of patience to work with everyone differently. Teaching has really made me a much better craftsperson.
Are you working on any new techniques or skills to perfect your craft? Are there any new materials you’re interested in working with?
I am constantly exploring new techniques and experimenting with new ways to set stones to make my work truly unique.
Let’s go back to the you we met three years ago. Do you have any new advice to share with her?
Don’t be so afraid to ask for help. I try to focus on the things that I’m really good at and no one else can do, and ask for help where I need it. I can’t tell you how many hours I lost trying to photograph and edit my own product shots before eventually hiring someone. In the long run the investment you are making in experts really does pay off.