Ask a Badass: Dominique Ranieri Jewelry

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Starting a new business can be scary. It takes time, effort, dedication and a determination to see your product succeed in the way that you want it to and hope it will. In essence: you have to be a badass. You have to know that what you’re doing is worthwhile and that you can withstand setbacks.

So, what’s it like starting your own business? What goes into growing your brand and sticking to what’s true to you? How do you choose one of the myriad ideas one might have and pour all of your heart into it?

Dominique Ranieri of Dominique Ranieri Metalworks, a handcrafted jewelry company based in New Orleans, says that her company “just sort of blossomed out of something that was a side-hustle. I was working in a restaurant, bartending, cooking for private events, babysitting–a bunch of weird jobs. I started making beaded jewelry to give to my friends as gifts when I was too financially strapped to buy them things. From there, I decided to take a metalsmithing class because, why not? It sounded pretty cool, I wasn’t feeling particularly challenged by any of my jobs, and I love using tools. I wanted to take this little craft to the next level. It was never about a love for jewelry or fashion that brought me here. To be honest, I didn’t really wear jewelry until I started making it. It was more so a burning desire to create things with my hands.”

And everything that you see, from the earrings to the necklaces is created by her. “My little business is run completely by me. I do everything from design to cutting, filing, and sanding. I sit out for hours at art markets trying to convince people that things I imagined in my head have monetary value. It’s extremely rewarding but also the most tasking and time-consuming endeavor I have ever undertaken.”

So, what does it take to build a brand? What goes into creating something entirely by your own hand from the ground up? Let’s ask a badass!

What made you decide, “Okay, it’s time. I have to start living for myself and create something for myself”?
 
To be honest, I’ve always told myself that I will not sell out. I will never work some corporate job that is meaningless and soul-sucking but gives me financial stability. I can’t imagine spending the majority of my waking hours doing something I’m not passionate about. I recognize that being able to do the type of work I do requires a lot of privilege, for which I am forever grateful.
I needed make sure that whatever it is that I begin to do, I can wake up every morning and not only feel good about it but also look forward to it. I lost a lot of my creativity during high school and college, and if you would have asked me if I considered myself an artist I probably would have laughed. But when something feels right, when you don’t have any doubts, you just know that that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. Nothing else up until this point has felt right.
What made you want to go into small business?
Without trying to sound too pompous, I’ve always felt that whoever I worked for-whoever my manager was in any given job-that I could probably do their job better than they could. This is wildly incorrect, because I have no idea how to run a restaurant or really run anything for that matter. I just have always had a hard time taking direction from people who I feel are incompetent, so I was like, hey, I should just work for myself and stop complaining.
What are the challenges you face as a young entrepreneur and how do you manage them?
 
There is such a steep learning curve when it comes to the logistics of owning and running a business. I feel like there exists a dark veil that keeps the majority of the young population ignorant to how financial things work (taxes are what is busting my balls at the moment) unless you were fortunate enough to study said focus during college. How do you form an LLC? What constitutes as a business expense? Do I need permits/licensing? I googled “how to start a small business” so many times and just went further and further down a dark rabbit hole. For us people who studied liberal arts, we are completely lost. I’m lucky to have some seasoned resources (hey Dad) to give me advice and make sure I’m doing everything the way it’s supposed to be done. I am always asking my more experienced friends for advice. I’m super fortunate to have resources available to help me because when I look these things up online, I consider throwing in the towel.
What goes into making this jewelry? What gives it that special, personal touch?
 
So what i didn’t realize before getting into this was that it takes SO long to make a piece of jewelry if it’s truly produced 100% by hand. I’m talking days, maybe even weeks if it’s really intricate. There are shortcuts, but I am not yet at the point where I want to be taking shortcuts. I produce things in small batches (5-10 pieces at a time) and I put my heart and soul into it.
My designs are inspired by my surroundings, objects I’m drawn to, and vintage pieces I have found in my closet that were handed down by my mother and grandmother. I try to make my designs as original as possible, while also taking into consideration what is aesthetically pleasing and in style right now. I very often get to my studio with some drawings, start making what I intended to, and then end up with something entirely different. Experimentation and improvisation are how I keep this craft exciting for me.
 
Do you think that more people should shop small businesses as it gives them a more unique product?
 
I cannot express a strong enough ‘yes’ to that question. Not only do you get a one-of-a-kind product, you are directly supporting the person who sold you that product and the person who made it. Choosing where to spend your dollars is a political act. My politics to do align with most large corporations, so why would I want to aide in their financial successes? I try to my best to only spend my money at independently owned businesses, and to barter as often as I can.
 
Does living in New Orleans influence the products you create?
I’m sure it does, I just am so enveloped in my atmosphere in New Orleans that it’s kind of hard to identify how it influences me without stepping out from it. I’m drawn to a bold, funky, organic aesthetic. I think those adjectives also accurately describe New Orleans. I also was taught by a local, so I’m sure my work reflects his to a certain extent. There’s a certain grittiness and imperfection that I maintain in my pieces, which is a direct reflection of my surroundings.
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Let’s talk branding. How would you like to see your brand grow?

I get asked this all the time and I truly have no idea. I’m so happy doing what I’m doing right now. I am able to live off my art. Thinking about growing my brand is daunting but i realize that in order to have a successful business, I need to learn how to be a smart businesswoman, not just a productive artist. I know how I don’t want to see it grow: producing at such a quantity that quality is compromised. I still want to always be making the pieces. The transition into wholesale and commission is a step I am looking to take in 2018 (holler at me boutique/shop-owners).
 
How would you like your brand to be represented? 
My ‘brand’ still feels weird calling it that because I truly just make things that I like and I don’t really think about the branding part of it. At this point I suppose it has evolved into a brand on its own. It’s very important to me that people know that this is a female-owned and operated business. I do my best to source my materials from suppliers that I can actually get to know and have good business practices.
What has creating your own brand given you?
 
It’s given me confidence to take risks and experiment. It’s given me the opportunity to be a part of a creative community that is so supportive and inspiring. I get to make beautiful relationships with people whom I never would have otherwise met, whether it be a fellow metalsmith or a customer from somewhere across the country.
 
And creating your own brand can give you freedoms you didn’t anticipate before. Ranieri goes on to say of the freedoms she’s now afforded, but how it’s also a double-edge sword.  “I create my own schedule, which is a privilege and a curse. The work truly never ends for me, even when I leave the shop. But I have the freedom, I suppose, to work as much or as little as I want and my livelihood is directly correlated to my willingness to hustle. I never knew I was a really hard worker until I started working for myself. In my other jobs, I always just coasted by putting in the least amount of effort to get by. But I’ve found that I am my most productive and diligent when I self-impose a schedule and set goals. Because this work is so much a part of me, I can’t let it be mediocre.”
However, she’s “lucky enough to take time off for the holidays and spend time with family and friends. I travel as often as I can, and I get to partake in a lot of fun events. There inherently exists freedoms with working for yourself, but I guess i exercise my freedom by choosing to pour all of my energy into my work.”
While it’s a rewarding experience to carve out your own path, the road is winding and often filled with bumps and tree roots ready to trip you up. It’s a frequently uphill battle and occupied by long stretches of waiting for success. It’s a tough walk, but one that’s worth it if you want the freedom to create your own product.
So, round up your extra holiday cash and head on our to her website to pick up some truly unique and handmade jewelry that your friends will be jealous of! Also make sure to follow her on Instagram for some seriously awesome content. You won’t be sorry!

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