How to Turn Your Hobby into a Full-Time Hustle
Michelle Meronek always had an interest in design—she played around with making jewelry for family and friends in high school—but she took a few detours before deciding soldering and stone-setting was what she wanted to do all dang day, every dang day. Switching career gears can be a scary thing, and since Michelle seems to have handled it like a boss (look no further than her shapely, burnished-metal and gemstone earrings and rings for proof), we figured we’d ask her to point us in the right direction.
Q: What did you study? And did you have any idea that you would eventually end up in the jewelry world?
A: “I studied business administration, which has certainly proved to be helpful! I always made small pieces of jewelry on the side throughout college, but, no, I didn’t know that’s what I would end up doing. I knew I wanted to be involved in design, but I was looking more on the fashion side of things.”
Q: Okay, so what changed?
A: “I was working in the production world of fashion, but it just didn’t feel right. I started looking for a jeweler who could show me how to do more advanced production techniques. I got lucky enough to connect with Claire Kinder on Craigslist, of all places. She decided to take a shot on me! It just felt so good to be doing that, and after about a year, I quit my job to work for her full-time for an invaluable four years. I wasn’t actually that nervous about it because it immediately felt like the right decision. I tell everyone in a similar situation to seek out a mentor and to ask a lot of questions.”
Q: Do think it’s better to shadow someone else versus just jumping right into doing your own thing?
A: “For me, it was the right thing to do. I didn’t have the technical skills or knowledge to make these things I was dreaming up before working for Claire. I learned what I know by watching, then doing. Mine helped me articulate the language of jewelry fabrication, both through words and through technique. Working under someone gives you the opportunity to make necessary mistakes and receive feedback in a constructive and productive way. It's the real world—when you do something wrong, you're expected to fix it. At least in the beginning of your career, that added support will help you find solutions without having a mental breakdown.”
Q: What advice to you give to newbies now?
A: “Be prepared to start from the bottom, and take your time establishing your foundation. I think it’s a wonderful thing to call yourself a beginner. In a technical craft, such as jewelry, your foundation will reflect the quality of your work, as well as your speed, ability to fix mistakes, and ability to weather the frustrations (they'll be there and you know it!) when the material doesn't do as you intended. Your artistic life is a long-haul, so do what you want with it—but be willing to work hard.”
Q: What’s something you’ve learned about starting a business that might not be obvious to someone who hasn’t done it?
A: “Do things the right way, not the fast way. Be deliberate when organizing your business, as it will save you so much time in the long run. Take the time to make personalized master documents of things you'll use on a regular basis, like invoices. Write things down, and keep organized.”
Q: How do you keep learning and finding new ideas now that you’re flying solo?
A: “I don’t actually design much when I’m in my studio. I feel like there has to be a sense of freedom and play for your mind to travel to those creative places, so I get a lot of my ideas from being out in nature. When I’m on a hike or in a lake, coming up with new concepts or shapes doesn’t feel forced.”
Q: Any final wise words?
A: “Find your people and be kind to them. Don't get competitive. If there's anything more valuable than practice and patience, it's community. I met some of my best friends in those formative years—if you keep yourself open, you will meet many independent, driven artists who are just as curious about that tiny soldering trick you use as they are about your soul, your uniqueness, and your creative path. Don't be nervous about asking for tips or advice—if one person isn't willing, there's someone else who is. And stick with them.”