Today's interview is with Monika Reed, founder of Favor Jewelry. A modern minimalist jewelry company which designs beautiful jewelries who are thoughtfully and ethically made in Portland, Oregon. Each piece of jewelry is uniquely handcrafted using precious metals that will not be harmful to the environment by applying small-scale metalsmithing techniques and with non-toxic chemicals. Monika Reed isn't just a designer, she's also a philanthropist who's mission is to give back by helping organizations that are doing good work such as: Women For Women International, Raphael House in Portland and Unicef Nepal Earthquake Relief just to name a few. Read on to learn more about Monika and Favor Jewelry!
Tell us about yourself, your background and what led you to where you are today?
My name is Monika and I live in Portland, Oregon. I’ve lived here for almost a decade and I love it! It’s rainy, green, and beautiful. When I’m not working I spend my time hiking and traveling.
Photo Credit: Monika Reed
What's the story behind Favor Jewelry?
When I was in college I saw my debt piling up and started selling jewelry online as a way to offset my tuition. I had been making jewelry since my first job in a bead store when I was 15. Within a few months I was making more selling jewelry than I was at my other part time jobs and I convinced myself I could pay for graduate school if I just gave myself a six month break from school to set up the business to run more efficiently. I took the break but I ended up loving it so much I never went back to school! That was eight years ago.
As a jewelry designer, where do you draw your inspiration from?
I believe my best designs come from quiet moments in the studio. It’s a struggle for me to turn off daily stress and media overload so that I can slow down to uncover my best work. I think the trick is having lots of time to turn my brain off. I naturally want to think about work, systems, and numbers. When I can get quiet by hiking or taking some time off, it’s easier to access my creativity. My best work always comes after I return from a trip. I find some inspiration from travel, but mostly I think I’m not overwhelmed by the stress of running a business and instead I am able to let the designs flow.
How long does it usually take to create a Favor Jewelry piece? Talk us through the process of creating one of your designs?
I’m not a very technical designer and I’ve never been formally trained, so I work best by just sawing and soldering things together until they look right, then slowly refining the design. I usually come into the studio early when it’s quiet, make myself a cup of tea, and sketch a few ideas that have been swirling around. Then I get started making. I’m usually working on several pieces at once and they all sort of come together at the same time to look like a cohesive collection. They almost never look like the pieces I initially intended to design!
You stated that the Favor Jewelry Summer Collection wasn't planned and organically manifested itself. Can you share with us how the Surprise Summer Collection came too be?
I typically design two collections a year: Spring and Fall. After I had designed the Spring collection I had some new ideas and went back to the studio to try them out. Usually the designing process takes several days and many hours of editing and refining, but this time the pieces all worked more or less immediately. It felt magical and I decided that instead of sitting on the pieces until Fall I wanted to slip it in as a bonus for Summer!
All your jewelries are handmade in your Portland, Oregon studio. What are the best responsibly mined gemstones or metals you preferred working with?
All of our metals are milled in the US and that has been a core value of Favor since day one. I remember working in a bead store when I was about 19 when the first recycled sterling silver wire came to market and it blowing my mind that reused metals could be such high quality. I never saw a reason to buy any other way. All of our sparkly stones (emerald, black spinel, and clear cubic zirconia at the moment) come from a lab in Germany where they are grown and cut. After doing some research into the mining and stone cutting industries, it was obvious to me that I need to prioritize lab grown stones whenever I can.
What's the process for the selection of each jewelry pieces?
After I design a group of pieces, I usually wear them for a few days and gauge reactions from people. I also ask opinions from friends and employees to see what people like and what isn’t working so well. Fresh eyes are always helpful!
I was always a saver rather than a spender and so I think it’s been easy for me to be picky about my purchases. It always came naturally to me to question where a product comes from and how it is made.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Sometimes, it’s easier than others! I build quiet time into my day and as an introvert that is very beneficial. I meditate in the mornings and I walk a mile and a half to and from work every day. Those times are great for letting my mind unwind. I also prioritize travel and make sure to schedule at least one trip every year. I put it on the calendar months in advance and buy the tickets immediately so I can’t reschedule because of work.
What has been the most important lesson (s) you have learned so far in your entrepreneurial journey?
Get help! I am terrible about asking for help but there is something absolutely invaluable in talking through business problems with people who have experience or even just a fresh perspective. It’s easy to get sucked into the details of running a business and sometimes the best way of solving problems is just to zoom out.
Favor Jewelry donates 5% of all online sales to charity such as; Women for Women International, Raphael House of Portland, Unicef Nepal Earthquake Relief, Natural Resources Defense Council and SCRAP? How important it is for you to give back to your community and support other organizations?
Giving back is a central foundation of Favor. I was originally studying to be an ESL teacher with the intention of working in public education or non-profits. When I started the business, I hadn’t seen many companies with a commitment to giving back or improving the world in any way. I knew that if I was going to give up a job in education I would have to improve the world in some other way. It started with designing with an ethical goal and once the business was profitable I knew it was time to start giving back financially.
What advice would you have for other upcoming ethical jewelry designers?
Starting out with an ethical mindset can feel overwhelming! There are so many ways to improve a business that it can be difficult knowing where the most impact can be. It’s a never ending cycle and Favor is far from perfect. I started with a commitment to metals milled in the United States and always opting for recycled materials if they were available. From there I decided that I would never plate my metals because that process creates toxic byproducts that cannot be disposed of safely. These sorts of self-determined constraints force me to be a more mindful designer. An easy improvement jewelers can make is swapping out toxic metalsmithing chemicals for food grade substitutes! There is a lot of information on Google for this sort of thing.
What can we expect to see from Favor Jewelry in the coming years?
I would really love to make some home wares. I’ve been making some functional home pieces lately for myself and I would love to expend them into a full collection.