Laura Blackfeather

A Designer's Beginning
It all started with a pair of earrings...

I was working in Grand Teton National Park as a seasonal ranger when my roommate brought out her six-tiered, carrying case of beads one rainy night and patiently taught me how to make a pair of fringed seed bead earrings. I proudly wore them to work the next day with my uniform and Smokey-the-Bear hat. Tourists loved it and my confidence soared with each compliment.

That weekend I drove the 65 miles into Jackson Hole and visited the town's one and only bead shop. I couldn't believe how many different types of beads there were. Next to the counter was a display stand filled with earrings. I studied them all, learned what a headpin was and filled my bead tray.

I must have made 100 pairs of earrings that summer, not just fringe but all different styles. I kept some and made the rest for friends, family, fellow rangers and extended campers. When they insisted on paying me, the wheels began to turn.

Three years later I was living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota where I further developed my beading techniques. A year or so later, I had a baby and decided to relocate to southern Oregon, where my parents had recently retired, to finish my college education. As a single mother and college student, income was essential, though I quickly learned how painful it was to leave my son for any length of time.

By then I had my own six-tiered, carrying case of beads and had learned how to make necklaces and bracelets, too. It's wonderful what our children inspire us to do. I bravely decided to sell my jewelry as a means of ''working'' from home. I made pouches, dream catchers, medicine wheels and hair accessories as well as my standard earrings, bracelets and necklaces. While my son slept, I beaded. And beaded. And beaded.

I brought samples of my work to the local shops that carried Native American jewelry and home décor, matching the type of product to the style of the shop. Before I knew it, I had orders from half a dozen shops in town! Fortunately my son was a long sleeper.

I sold jewelry for two years while finishing my degree. Though I eventually developed a website, I primarily used it to showcase my work. I preferred selling to retail shops for the personal relationships I was able to establish with the buyers. Although the profit margins were slightly lower because of the store's percentage of my sales, the volume was greater so I was able to make better use of my time, and saved on space for storing inventory and shipping supplies.

I worked in waves--once a retail order came in, I purchased my supplies and started beading. I stored my finished pieces in shoe boxes underneath my kitchen table/work station. Each shoe box was labeled according to which store the pieces were going to. I delivered the jewelry as soon as the order was complete--son in tow.

I had no marketing budget so I relied on the shops and tourist traffic to advertise my work for me. I designed sales tags on my computer out of business card stock that included my logo, business and personal name, and the city and state I lived in and tied them to each piece to familiarize customers with my brand. Even though my direct contact information was prohibited from being listed on the tags, customers were still able to find me in the local phone directory and on the Internet.

I also created brochures that provided information about my business, my personal background, the healing properties of the gemstone beads I used in my pieces and the story behind my jewelry designs. Word of mouth spread like wildfire and helped me gain exposure as a designer-artist in the local area.

I discovered Fire Mountain Gems and Beads® long before I ever applied there for a job. Fire Mountain was my favorite jewelry-making supplier--wholesale prices without the wholesale hassle. Because I used precious metals and gemstones in my jewelry and needed to design pieces that were moderately priced according to their perceived value, low prices and quality product were crucial to my success as a designer. Fire Mountain's prices were the best I found. Their customer service team helped me immensely when I was experienced enough to know what I was looking for, but still novice enough to not know what it was called. Or what gauge I needed. Or what strand-count meant. They introduced me to products and techniques I never knew existed, thoroughly expanding my jewelry-making world and increasing my confidence.

After graduating with a degree in technical and creative writing and minors in studio art, psychology and Native American studies, my jewelry-making took a seat on the sidelines while I actively pursued a writing career. I wrote for several award-winning magazines, was the associate editor of a national best-selling book and later became the editor for a multi-million dollar commodities education company. I dug out my beads several times a year, usually right before Christmas or when a birthday invitation arrived, but my passion for jewelry-making wasn't yet fully re-awakened.

Then the company I was working for closed. A colleague of mine mentioned Fire Mountain. Lo and behold, they were looking for an experienced copywriter. I started work three weeks later, hence combining my love of writing with my love of beading.

That was in April of 2006. Being surrounded by jewelry-making supplies and writing about them all day re-ignited my love of beading to the point where I'm now designing pieces I never knew I was capable of creating, including a necklace design that was featured in Bead Unique magazine. I am also the wedding resource editor as well as a copywriter. In addition to writing about jewelry-making products, I study current wedding trends, design jewelry to fit these trends and write project instructions to accompany each design. I also compile the online wedding jewelry-making trends with up-to-the-minute wedding styles and design ideas.

My freelance jewelry-making days served their purpose at the time, allowing me the freedom and flexibility to work from home during my son's formative years. They also boosted my self-confidence and stimulated my creativity to a new level that has served me well in the years since. The thrill of talking to strangers I see wearing jewelry I've designed, and seeing the joy in their faces when I introduced myself as the designer, is the best feeling in the world.

Happy beading!

For more detailed views of these and other designs created by Laura, visit the Gallery of Designs.