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Got It Made

How One Designer Built a Team When She Was Used to Doing Everything Herself

Got It Made BY katie nave freeman 02/10/2017

 

When Marisa Howard, then a commercial lighting designer, first started making her own jewelry by watching YouTube videos, she never imagined she’d be in a position to support herself full-time on the hobby—let alone others. But interest in her minimalist, rune-like metal creations—which now go by Seaworthy—grew in a flash, and, BAM, she’s now the head of a team of four. Here’s her bosslady approach to getting there.

 

ON WHY THAT FIRST HIRE MATTERS MOST

“I had gotten a couple of bigger orders while I was still working a part-time job at a retail store and was just overwhelmed. I had a woman named Marley come over to my basement to help out—and it was not like a nice finished basement, it was a dark basement. She helped me organize and label everything to get through that push—and then when I got a studio, she was there two days, then three days a week. Eventually I was able to woo her away from her other job full-time, in 2013. Now she’s my right-hand person and the main maker handling production. I was really lucky she was my first employee because she is just a hard-worker and is very self-motivated. It’s really important to have someone like that—it sets the bar really high for everyone else. She’s been my barometer of what a good employee looks like, and you need that. And I honestly never thought that I would be able to employ people, and she made me realize that was possible.”

 

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Oblyn Hoops
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ON KNOWING IT'S OKAY TO TELL PEOPLE TO DO IT YOUR WAY

“I’m self-taught, and when I hired my first bench jewelers, who are people trained through jewelry school, I was really intimidated. I thought they would come in and see how I did things and think that it was all wrong. It wasn’t that way, of course. But it's a strange thing because there are some processes that I’ve just made up over time—that you don't really learn from a book— but it’s how I like it. And in terms of finding the right people to do that, you can do a bench test with a jeweler, which means you show them the end result and then give them the parts to get there. For me, often it's not that they do it exactly right. It's that they ask the right questions or see the problems that they could run into. If someone can look at the process in a certain way, they’re like an open book, and I know I can train them.”

 

ON (SOMETIMES) TAKING THE PLUNGE BEFORE YOU'RE READY

“Sometimes you create a job when you don’t have one. Another one of my full-time employees, Jenny, is just one of the most capable people I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve known her forever, and she got in touch with me in 2014 and said she wanted to be my intern. She’s the most overqualified intern I’ve ever had apply, but I said sure. So she helped with this big order and then told me ‘I want you to make a job for me here.’ At the time, I didn’t really think I had the money, but I realized I really needed her—so I figured it out. Now she runs the office side of our business and helps with sales. I was ready for the next step—I just didn’t know it. And it allowed me to stop working 14 hours a day. That's another thing when running a small business: Know when to get help, even if you don't think it’s possible, because if I had stayed in that position, I would have burned out.”

ON RALLYING THE TROOPS

“Growth isn’t just about our little team at Seaworthy. We have a local community of all of these small businesses, and we really all count on each other to get to the next level. When I first started, it took forever to cut each of my pieces out by hand. I found a local guy with a water jet cutting machine, which I’d never heard of. He had never cut jewelry before, so we just did a trial-and-error process until we figured it out. Now he cuts for something like 30 jewelry designers! When we started out, it was just me and just him, and now we each have these teams.”

 

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Forza Earrings
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