Frances Strathern, 24, started making jewelry at age 14, went on to major in Jewellery and Metals at the Alberta College of Art + Design and then started franny e fine jewelry in 2010. She got a $15,000 loan to open a “tiny” gallery space in Calgary and worked part-time elsewhere until recently to make ends meet. She still works seven days of the week, but now it’s entirely for herself. It hasn’t been easy. She’s just now “approaching” the point where she can support herself financially. Still, she loves it. Here’s her story.
Did ACAD prepare you for this business?
ACAD is very hands-on and studio based, but then you have your academic classes as well. It was a good balance of the conceptual art side of things with skills, but it just didn’t prep us very well for the business side of things.
What are the surprising lessons you learned about business?
As an artist, I want to create what I want, but that’s not necessarily what’s going to sell. Complex pieces like lockets and pieces with secret components I have a harder time selling. As I expand I want to focus on simpler lines where I can create a bunch at a time and wholesale to galleries.
How do you compete in a world where there’s so much jewelry on the market?
It’s tough. I’m still trying to find all the right sources for my natural gemstones and metals. It’s all about finding the best material costs. I know I won’t be able to compete with the big guys because they have employees and big machines, but for now I’ll just do as much as I can while keeping it as handmade and as local as possible. It’s about educating the customer on what went into the piece, the time, where the stones came from and that it’s a one-of-a-kind handmade object.
How do you find the time to both be an artist and sell pieces out of your shop?
Good question. I’m a one-woman team so I do my own website, my own online shop and I’m here throughout the day at the gallery usually Tuesday to Saturday. My studio time is usually early mornings, evenings, Sunday and Monday. Every day is different, depending on what custom work I need to get done, if the shop is running low or if I have to supply the other galleries I’m in.
What was your best day on the job?
It’s pretty exhilarating when a stranger comes into the shop, has a vision and then I’m able to work with them to make their own custom piece and also do it while being true to the art.
What’s a rough day on the job?
Everyday is different. It’s a roller-coaster. Some days you get scared because you’re not sure things are going to work out. Then the next day something really good unexpectedly happens.
What else have you had to learn?
Leases, lease-hold improvements, supply contracts and balancing overhead with material costs. A huge challenge is to figure out what prices to set. They range usually from $49 to $1,000. If people want to do custom pieces in gold I’ll do that separately and quote them out according to the market price. I don’t carry much gold right now because it’s very expensive. Learning how to talk to customers is a big part of it too, because you need to find common ground before you can even try to educate them about the product. I’m learning a lot.
Any advice for people who want to get into the business?
Be passionate about it, but be rational and be ready to adapt to anything.