From The Archives!
Back in 2018, Nunn Design was featured on the Design*Sponge Blog. If you didn’t have a chance to read it, we hope that you will enjoy reading about it now.
How would you describe your business and what you do?
Nunn Design is a supplier of jewelry findings for creative makers. We sell primarily wholesale to business owners all over the world. We design, manufacture and source jewelry components that are cast and plated in the USA with imported lead-free pewter and precious metals, and then teach a variety of techniques that allow creative people to make jewelry that is unique to their brand.
In addition to our jewelry findings, Nunn Design distributes everything that our customer will need for the techniques that we teach, such as; resin, clay, glue, inks and molding supplies. We also offer inspiration and education through our blog, tutorials and videos.
What was your background leading into owning Nunn Design?
My background and education is in graphic design and marketing. I attended an applied art school in Seattle, WA that was taught by professionals working in their fields. Many of my instructors owned their own ad agencies, graphic design firms, and public relations companies, or were working freelance illustrators. It was the perfect environment for me. In many of my classes we were working on real life projects alongside our teachers, it wasn’t just theory.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
That is a really tricky question, because when I look back on my childhood, I have been an entrepreneur since I was very young. I just didn’t have anyone in my life that could help me identify that there was a place in the world for people like myself. In addition to being an entrepreneur, I was also extremely creative. Being an artist was a talent that was bestowed on other members of my 7-sibling family who had obvious “talent”. Since I didn’t excel at being a painter or a writer, my mother encouraged me to be a therapist because I was a really good communicator.
When I told my parents that I was interested in studying graphic design, my mother’s response was “You have never shown any talent in that area before”. In a lot of ways, I’m very grateful for her response. It caused me to have a fire in my belly to excel and succeed. My parents didn’t mean to slight me, they honestly just didn’t know about the big world of choices that exists for creative people.
What’s the best part of your job?
Best part? That would be a really hard choice for me to make. I REALLY love what I do. If I were to boil it down to the essence of what is the best, I’d say, being creative. Every aspect of what I do, from running a business, to managing a team of employees, to writing a how-to jewelry tutorial, to designing and launching a new collection of findings, is an expression of my creativity. What is there not to love about that?
And the hardest part of your job?
Since we have a unique niche in the business world, it is sometime challenging for me to find business models to help us navigate our way. Time and time again we have just had to figure things out for ourselves. It hasn’t been easy to find the cliff notes or cheat sheets on how to build a database that will manage our specific inventory needs. Tackling tasks like these have been hard for me.
What on-the-job tools do you use every day?
I turn to our company’s mission statement to help guide us on the job daily. Our mission is: Through collaborative relationships, Nunn Design inspires and nurtures creativity. Having a mission that is solid and speaks to the core of what is important to me personally as well as professionally has been the greatest navigation tool.
People have so many places to be inspired today. One can spend hours and hours pinning, liking and saving images to boards. I’m not saying that there isn’t value to inspiration; I’m just saying that our company’s mission doesn’t stop there. We inspire and then nurture our customers by providing products, tools and education for them to have success executing those ideas.
You describe yourself as an entrepreneur. Why do you use that term verses designer or jewelry artist?
Let me define what entrepreneur means to me. As entrepreneur I identify a problem that exists and create a product that solves the problem. With that product, I can then attract customers. Identifying as an entrepreneur helps me to design products that have both a purpose and a function. My hope is that Nunn Design products solve a problem that my customers didn’t even know they had. Yes, I love to design beautiful things, but what sets us apart in the marketplace is the niche that we fill by making our customers lives and creative process easier and more enjoyable.
What aspects of owning your company provides you the most fulfillment?
I love handmade goods and the makers that create them. One aspect of owning Nunn Design that provides me with such fulfillment is that I have the platforms to feature and tell the stories behind these makers. It is so fulfilling to create products and see each person bring them to life in their own way. It brings me great joy to know that I had a part to play in their process and success.
In your bi-line, you state that you believe that everyone is creative. How would you address those who just don’t believe that to be true?
It makes me sad every time I hear someone say, “I’m not creative” or “I wish I was talented”. I think it triggers my own challenges of being labeled as “not having talent” as a young child.
I believe that we are all born to create. If you watch a small child, you can see that they are filled with ideas and a passion for expressing them. Over time, that small child might be shamed for not drawing something right or for coloring outside the lines. With each experience, the child forms a belief that what they are doing has no value.
As adults we can continue buying into those beliefs, or we can unpack all that junk and clean house! If you don’t think you are creative, it’s because you haven’t been willing to do the work to believe differently.
How do you stay inspired? And where do you get your product ideas?
When I’m developing new products, I am not just thinking about making beautiful findings. I think a great deal about how I can inspire our customers and how our customers are going to use the components. The challenge of designing components for the complete spectrum of jewelry artists that we serve is key part of what inspires me.
Our industry has two really strong trends this year; an industrial, clean, urban look and an organic, natural feel. These two themes were the focus for shapes and textures represented in the 2018 Nunn Design Collection.
You mentioned that you have a non-conventional business culture at Nunn Design. Could you tell us more about that?
Since most of the team were recruited from an administrative rather than artsy backgrounds, creating was a bit of a stretch, and often an extremely vulnerable experience. Regardless, I felt, at the very least, that it would be a great way for our staff to understand our customers and their needs. We began with a quarterly art day where the staff came together to test and create with the latest product line and techniques that we are offering to our customers. Nobody gets a pass because everyone, from customer service to the warehouse, needs to know the product line intimately.
As we have progressed each one of the Nunn Design Team has had the opportunity to have their work and tutorials featured in magazines and on our company’s blog. The results have gone far beyond anything I could have imagined, testimony that even those with no jewelry experience, and from all walks of life, can make beautiful handmade jewelry that, more often than not, has a real story to tell.
What are some of your challenges in designing jewelry findings for other artists?
I think the biggest challenge is designing products that will fit so many different artists’ needs. Having the findings compliment, not compete, with an artist’s style and voice takes a more than bit of thought. I want our customer’s finished jewelry to be a reflection of their creativity and brand, not a reflection of Nunn Design.
What life skills have been most helpful in pursuing a career as a creative and a buyer?
Is clarity a life skill? My daily ritual begins with journaling. I spend each morning becoming clear on my top priority and the priority of my staff. I am a very organized person. I like to have a precise roadmap of where we are going and how we are going to get there.
I would think the world of jewelry findings would be very competitive. How do you deal with competition?
You are right. It is very competitive. With twenty-five years of experience designing products that are manufactured here in the U.S., I have been able to identify the strengths and weaknesses that we face. Some products we can excel at, others we know we just can’t compete.
Besides offering unique quality jewelry findings that are cast and plated in the USA with imported lead-free pewter and precious metals, we know we have to excel at customer service, and we do. We also provide a whole menu of content, tutorials, and videos as added value to our customers.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Six years ago, we received a large request from an art supply franchise with a nationwide chain of stores. In order for us to meet the terms they required, I needed to confirm that our existing line of credit would cover all my vendors if the customer didn’t pay on time. Without my knowledge, our bank had closed our line of credit, as many small businesses were experiencing at that time. I moved forward with the order, thinking the opportunity was worth the risk, and leveraged my personal savings as back-up capital if there was a delay in payment.
Well, there was a delay, which we weathered. The company filed Chapter 11. When the dust cleared I found that my staff unknowingly saved my bacon. Because of our drive for superior customer service, the product arrived one day prior to the company’s filing, and we were not caught up in the bankruptcy. Our company was very lucky. That one experience could have been a disaster for us. Since then, I have been very conservative with our terms. I’d rather grow slowly, than gamble like that ever again.
In July of 2017 the U.S Department of Labor Blog listed that only 36% of small businesses were woman owned. Although that is a great start, how would you suggest that we see those percentages increase?
Over 90% of Nunn Design’s customer base are woman owned businesses. If we want to see the U.S. Department of Labor percentages increase, consumers need to be mindful of where they are choosing to spend their money. Yes, buying quality-handcrafted items from a small business owner does cost more. Let’s make our purchases be meaningful.
Do you have a platform of social media that you enjoy the most? Why?
We are active on many social media platforms from Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. I’d have to say my favorite is Instagram. I find that it is super easy for me to engage with our customers on that platform.
Where is your favorite place to create?
I have to totally unplug from running a business in order to immerse myself in creative exploration. I typically block out a week of time at a stretch and work from home, where else?, on my kitchen table. Although I could build a beautiful studio at work, I think it is really important to create in the same way that many of our customers are going to be creating, in make shift spaces. My husband built me a bookshelf on wheels that I roll out of my bedroom. I pull all my baskets from under my bed, and set-up my studio for the week. I typically work 12 hour days while creating. Once the juices have passed, I pack up the studio and return to my office. My family is very supportive of picnics in the living room during this week of creative chaos. They know that creating jewelry makes me really happy.
One piece of advice for beginners?
If you are new to jewelry making you are in good company. The techniques that we teach are very forgiving and are designed with a beginning artist in mind, yet they are sophisticated enough to attracted a more advance maker as well. Own that you are a beginner and let go of that inner critic. When we were learning to walk and talk, we all looked silly. Give yourself the time and patience to learn something new. Even simple things, such as holding a new tool in a certain way takes practice and concentration. Unpack that mental baggage and tap into the natural creativity we were all born with.
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