We don’t love to admit to being distracted by shiny objects, but wow—that happened in a big way this summer when we met Colleen Clark at a street fair in Chicago. We couldn’t pass up a peek at the one-of-a-kind necklaces and other incredibly striking pieces sparkling in her booth. (And now we’ve got you thinking about summer and sunshine and walking around in sandals. You’re welcome!)
Colleen has four collections, but she calls her personal style “contemporary organic.” Every single one of her gorgeous pieces is original and handmade by her—check out our second-to-last question to learn about her unique creative process.
People with Panache: Hi Colleen! Your work is stunning. How did you get into making jewelry professionally?
Colleen Clark: It started in high school. The girls on my swim team and I had a thing with making necklaces and bracelets. We would add colored beads and wear them until the chlorine ate through the string. And it stuck with me.
PWP: So fun! When you really started doing this as more than just a hobby, how’d you know how to do it?
CC: I did tons of research online looking up other people’s jewelry, looking at things that I liked, and going to department stores.
Seriously, my first works were like the Flintstones—they were pretty rough-looking. So I’m pretty much self-taught with jewelry. But I’ve been doing it for 11 years, and just recently I’ve started doing it full time.
PWP: What inspires you in this field, in your particular pieces?
CC: I’m really meticulous, and I try hard to make things that are strong and don’t look cheap, with good clasps that don’t fall apart. I was originally pulled more into the gemstones, and then I taught myself about different cuts and different grades of stones.
The stones actually come from different parts of the world, and so they have different properties and meanings. Labradorite is my favorite stone. It has that blue flash within a gray stone, and it’s from Laborador, Canada. Labradorite is protecting and brings good fortune. It just has a really good energy.
PWP: So gemstones are your main ingredient, so to speak?
CC: Yes, my price point is a little bit higher because of the stones that I use, so I came up with a different collection called Pink Label by Colleen. And within that collection I do use the Czech glass and different cuts of less-expensive stones.
I don’t buy anywhere outside of the United States. That’s just the way I’ve always done things.
PWP: Nice, we like local! How long have you been a full-time jeweler?
CC: Eight months full-time. And it is really tough. You wouldn’t think of it as hard, but it’s like 15-hour days, and it’s such a rollercoaster of emotions, too. That, I think, is the kicker. When you hear a “no” from a store, your look is not going to fit, it’s like a dagger in the heart. It’s the same when you don’t get into a show too.
PWP: I can imagine. What has been your biggest challenge along the way to where you are now?
CC: Getting my name out and having people take a chance on me—because I am new and my prices are a little bit higher. But they’re not ultra-trendy pieces that fall apart and you never touch again. I make things that people can keep forever.
And I take every single piece really, really personally. I don’t just mass-produce. I am personally involved with every single piece—emotionally, too. So I think the biggest thing is making a name and a brand for myself.
“I fall asleep a lot making designs up in my head… I remember the design every time. I’m so weird.”
PWP: What’s it like to sell something you’re so attached to?
CC: It’s really cool when you see someone pick up your jewelry, and it looks a certain way, but when they put it on, it looks different! It just sort of pops. Like when a woman looks in a mirror and is like, ”Oh my gosh, that’s it.”
PWP: What’s your favorite part about this business?
CC: The making of the jewelry. I always put together a piece in my head, and then I’ll just make it. I don’t draw it out or finagle with different pieces to see if this piece works or if that piece works. I just come up with it in my head, completely like a 3-D image. And then I make it. And I fall asleep a lot making designs up in my head. Then I wake up the next day and go buy the beads. I remember the design every time. I’m so weird.
PWP: No, that’s the definition of passion! What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
CC: Don’t sell yourself short.
Check out Colleen’s Jewelry Collection here.