“The first piece I ever made was an ugly pair of earrings with a bird, a gun, and a heart,” says the charmingly dry jewelry designer Erica Weiner. “People still ask for them. I signed up for a craft fair in Philadelphia. I had like 20 pairs of earrings. I sold them all and made $600. I was so psyched. I thought, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’”
After that first earring design, things took off quickly for Erica, but it was a long road to get to that point—one filled with up-all-night dress-making gigs and apartments in Bushwick, Brooklyn, when the neighborhood was more starving artist than artisanal pizza.
Having grown up in Nansa, New Jersey—“a small, commuter town with all white people”—she was dying to get to New York. As a teenager, she would train it into the city and hang out on St. Marks Place, smoking cigarettes, getting piercings, and
wearing JNCO jeans. She went off to Vassar for college and got into art history and took classes that sparked her interest in ruins and souvenirs—a curiosity she incorporates into her trinket-flecked collection. “I like to buy something and know exactly how old it is and exactly what it was for,” she explains.
Her really big break came in 2005 when she scored a market appointment out of her Ludlow Street apartment with an Anthropologie buyer. “She placed a giant order—like 10,000 necklaces at once. I remember she asked, ‘If we get this P.O. to you now, can you deliver in four weeks?’ I said yes. Then I had to google what a P.O. was.”