We were lucky enough to meet Mary through an online Facebook group when she posted an ad looking for someone to do product photos for her new spring collection. After shooting her spring promo line I was able to tour her in-home studio space and get a closer look into what goes on behind-the-scenes at Mary Frances Flowers Studio.
How did you get started?
I interned for a jewelry designer in college who encouraged me to seek further education at a school up in NYC. So, I moved to New York after college, completed the course in all the basics of jewelry making - solder, wax carving, stone setting, etc. It was amazing, and I'll foreve rbe grateful for my time there. I worked for a super cool jewelry designer in NYC for a little bit before I realized that the South (and love) were calling me home. I moved to Asheville in August of 2014 and decided to give this whole jewelry business a try. There's been a ton of ups and downs but four years later, here we are. I still wake up every day and can't believe I get to do this for a living.
How did you know you wanted to start this business?
Well, truthfully, it kind of just happened. I moved to Asheville, and although I interviewed for jobs doing all kinds of things, I just knew making jewelry and starting my own business would make me the happiest. I remember having a conversation with my dad about it, and he said, "What's more important - your happiness and well-being or following conventionality and getting a job just to 'have a job'?" He's an entrepreneur so doing something out of the norm was never foreign to him. I think back to that advice alot, and I always remind myself that my happiness is more important than doing something just because I think that's what I'm "supposed to" be doing.
What is the hardest thing about being a small business owner?
There is literally no roadmap to success. You have to make your own - which sounds super exciting (and it is), but it's also kind of terrifying. You can plan and plan and plan, but you have to be willing to change plans at the drop of a hat. You might think you know your customer perfectly but then you bring your product to market, and it resonates with a totally different group of people than you thought it would. So, you've got to adapt and rearrange your strategies to fit who your true customer is. Honestly, it's just all a gamble. We all work our tails off to do what we think is right and what we think will work, but you have to learn to be flexible and believe in yourself in order to keep going and find "success". Also, "Success" is relative; it's different for every person so just because something didn't work out how you imagined, doesn't mean it's a failure. It's just a different kind of success. You succeeded in learning that lesson and now you can move on.
Tell me a little bit about your design themes! What draws you to the elements and mediums that you use? What inspires you?
Nature! Obviously, this is the biggest inspirational draw. Take a look at any of my designs and it practically screams at you. But then, there's also nostalgia and sentimentality that inspire me. The stories behind something, like a piece of lace, can really get my brain going. I've also always been drawn to architecture and movement - I love the way certain shapes push and pull at others, creating a kind of dance, and I strive to find ways to incorporate interesting patterns and shapes into my designs.
Describe your office space and what your most productive time to work is.
I've moved at least once every year since my business started (4 years ago!) so I'm up to about 5 studios total by now. Each one has been a cool learning experience in how to plan a space both aesthetically pleasing to the eye and functional for everyday. My current space in Raleigh is a 5x7' sunroom off my living room. It fits my desk, work bench, and a packing table (and sometimes Porter, my 75lb bernedoodle). It's tight, but everything has it's place so it works. My work bench has been with me since the beginning so it's really special to me. I've treated myself to certain tool upgrades ever year, though, so it just keeps getting better and better with age. Although I have a desk in my studio, I still spend about half of my computer work time in the living room or a coffee shop. I've found that it's really good for my creativity to move my work spaces around and keep things fresh. Also, I'm definitely more productive in the morning, right when I wake up (which, admittedly, is much later than it probably should be at around 7:30/8AM. I'm one of those people who needs a solid 8 hours of sleep or my brain doesn't function properly). If I don't get work started until after lunch because I've been driving back from a show or had an early meeting, my day is kind of shot, and I don't get nearly enough done. I'm learning that it's best to schedule meetings and workouts for later in the day so my brain can jump right into the work as soon as it gets into gear in the morning.
What is your favorite piece and why?
Oh man, it changes daily. The Turtle Necklace is one of the most special to me because it was a total experiment that came out absolutely baller & is now one of my best sellers. If I could pick a whole collection, I'd definitely say the FLORA Collection is my favorite I've ever made. I wear at least one piece from that collection every single day. Every piece is very wearable but also statement-making. Every time I wear any of the rosemary pieces, I always get stopped and asked about it. But, truthfully, my favorite pieces are custom pieces. I'm working on a bunch of custom pieces right now for my upcoming September wedding, and I'm really pumped to get to share those when they're ready. They all hold a story, and those are my favorite kinds of pieces - the ones with history.
What are some goals you have for your business?
This one is ever-changing. When I first got started, I wanted to conquer the world. I wanted my jewelry in every store across America. But now, I'm starting to hone in on who my customers really are and what their needs are. While yes, I'd still love to have my jewelry in a major department store one day and in all the big magazines out there, I also really love the intimate moments of designing a custom piece for a single person. I love hearing the background of the stones I'm repurposing and who's going to wear the new piece. It's really meaningful to me that people allow me to play a small part in the stories of their lives. I don't think I'll ever stop creating full blown jewelry collections for the masses, but I think I'd really love to work with individuals more on custom projects as well. Hopefully, within the next few years, I can gain a team who will help me achieve the goal of producing beautiful, high quality jewelry for many people as well as allow me to work on a select number of custom projects, too.
Oh, also, I have about a million ideas for a home line and a larger accessories line. It's a double-edged sword when your brain never shuts off. But, I just released a limited number of bridal belts available exclusively at Gilded Bridal in Raleigh! I'm super excited to delve into a new category and see where it takes me. The belts are amazing - they're really just an extension of my jewelry line so if you like what I already have out there - you'll fall in love with these belts. Contact Gilded to learn more.
What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in their small business?
Everyone has to start somewhere, and everyone starts in the beginning. You can't start a business from the middle. I'm painfully impatient so the whole 'silently working till you're a badass and people say "oh, she's an overnight success" when in reality you've been working hard for years' is super hard for me. I want million dollar sales, a team of 100, a warehouse shipping daily... like, yesterday. But, that's not how business works. I want this company to last - I want people to have my jewelry in their jewelry boxes 20, 30, 40 years from now. And if I want quality and longevity, I have to be patient enough to let it build. Gain my customers's trust, prove my company's worth and value, and gain experience by trying and failing lots and lots of times before I finally start to figure it out. So, here's my advice: Let yourself fail. Try new things. Ask for help (and take notes!). Don't let fear or pride hold you back. You are exactly where you are supposed to be so sit back, soak it in, and enjoy the ride. (Also, fake it till you make it is real. On days when you don't believe in yourself - fake that you do and eventually, you just might again.)
What do you use most for marketing? What is your favorite social media platform?
Instagram & my email list. I get the most views on my site from Instagram far and away more than any other platform. However, I get the most sales from email marketing. Tip: Get to know your customers. Pay attention to what they like and what they purchase. Tailor your emails directly to them rather than sending mass emails blindly. It's better to have a handful of super amazing loyal, repeat customers who can turn into brand ambassadors (and bring in more customers) than a ton of one-off customers who only buy your product once and then forget about you. Invest in who is investing in you.
Where can we buy your products?
My website! www.maryfrancesflowers.com