Exploring Handmade Jewelry
How Retailers Are Finding a Niche With Local Artists

By Natalie Hope McDonald

The focus is always on fair trade at WHEAT’s Fair Trade Store in Phoenix, Ariz. The retail shop, which supports the mission of WHEAT, an organization that provides management training and mentoring with the ultimate goal of helping people to earn a living wage, also embraces the idea that artists from around the world should be paid equitably for their work. As such, the merchandise found in the shop comes from fairly traded craftspeople worldwide who work with the Hand to Hand Project, a fair trade initiative dedicated to world hunger education and advocacy. Each aspect of the retail experience complements the work being done right in the local community.
Dr. Tamera Zivic, executive director and CEO of WHEAT, explained, “WHEAT’s Fair Trade Store carries only handcrafted items, including jewelry, both locally made, as well as items from global fair trade artisans. WHEAT is a charter member of Local First Arizona and supports our community’s local artisans, particularly those who craft various jewelry items.”
The jewelry items in the shop, which include pendants, earrings and bracelets, are often displayed along with other fashion accessories. Zivic said, “Jewelry is a hot item for us and is displayed throughout the store, sometimes in a jewelry section, sometimes with other items that are enhanced, such as scarves and jewel boxes.” 
There are a few different ways the staff like to showcases these wearable art pieces, like displaying different lines according to material, artisan, country of origin and color. “We also have a featured artisan or artisan groups with their stories available near their items,” Zivic explained. “All of the items that we carry have stories about the item itself and how it was made, as well as information about the artisan.”
 WHEAT currently carries handcrafted jewelry from both local and global designers. Many times the introduction of new pieces coincides with special events to meet the artists, which is especially popular if a craftsperson is from the nearby region. These special events are held throughout the year, with the most popular time being October, the month dedicated to learning more about fair trade issues. 
“Customers are very enthusiastic about finding handcrafted, unique and sometimes one-of-a-kind items that are usually of a higher quality than those in chain stores,” said Zivic. “These items also appeal to the conscientious consumer who is looking for upcycled, and ethically and locally produced products.”
She said that showcasing available information about each artist tends to make each purchase much more personal compared to the experience in a typical chain store, shops that specialize in mass-produced merchandise. “For some customers,” Zivic said, “we are the go-to place for jewelry and other items that are not found in any other brick and mortar stores.”

A view of the A Store Named Stuff shop. “We have what is known as ‘stuff style’ displays. Our displays are ever changing and unexpected,” one of the owners said.

More than 300 Different Artists
At A Store Named Stuff in Kansas City, Mo., Co-Owner Casey Simmons spends a lot of time seeking out the most interesting handcrafted items for the eclectic shop she runs with her sister, Sloane. In the jewelry category alone, the range of artists featured includes hand-forging metal smiths, glass and composition bead makers, enamel artists and leather and mixed media craftspeople.
“We have one of the largest collections of handmade jewelry we have ever come across,” admitted Simmons. “It fills 37 consecutive feet of jewelry displays.”
The sisters use a novel jury system to determine which great pieces actually end up on the shelves and in display cases; it’s a process that has allowed the women to expand the store from a small boutique shop to a much more spacious destination that mines inventory from more than 300 different art sources.
“We jury our local and regional artists through an application process,” Simmons explained. “Our national and international artists are selected by referral and through meeting at handmade shows throughout the country.” The shop also hosts many different events each year, the most popular being ARTober, a month-long celebration of artists and their processes each fall. “Jewelry artists are always featured,” she said.
The jewelry that ultimately makes the cut at the shop is displayed creatively. “We have what is known as ‘stuff style’ displays,” explained Simmons. “Our displays are ever changing and unexpected.” And they are abundant. The jewelry here is shown in a series of antique wood and glass counters that the sisters have collected over the years. “We even have an old candy counter with individual drawers that is eight-feet long and stands counter height. It holds an impressive collection of charms, pendants and beads that we can create into a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry while you shop,” she said.
 Simmons explained that being able to craft on-site while carrying so many handcrafted items has really set Stuff apart from many other retailers in the region. “There is nothing quite like the connection between a handmade piece of art and the wearer,” said Simmons. “Our jewelry tells stories. Each handmade original carries the artist’s passion within it; and the connection is between people. When you own and wear handmade art you carry those stories into the world with you.”
She said this appreciation for artistry and the connection between the maker and buyers is missing from big-box and chain retail. “That connection simply does not exist in mass-produced products,” she added. “It is our greatest joy to connect our customers to our artists through their work.”

Jewelry at A Store Named Stuff in Kansas City, Mo. The store stocks interesting handcrafted items.

A Monthly Event where Customers Meet Artists
For the past 19 years, Arizona Handmade Gallery has been showcasing amazing pieces of art in historic downtown Flagstaff, Ariz. From the beginning, the mission of the retail space was to carry art ranging from the fine to functional, everything from displayable pieces to wearable jewelry handcrafted by regional artists.
Stephanie Stinski, a retail associate at the gallery, said they carry many different kinds of handcrafted jewelry in a range of styles, designs and textures. “Just as the name suggests, Arizona Handmade Gallery is a store which specializes in work created by artists in Arizona,” explained Stinski, “so all of our jewelry is locally made. It reflects the variety of people and landscapes that live in our diverse state.”

Jewelry at A Store Named Stuff. The jewelry at the store fills 37 consecutive feet of displays.

Many of the jewelry artists featured at the gallery work at least partially with sterling silver and semi-precious stones, including turquoise, agate, amethyst and ruby. “These materials are beautiful,” she said, “relatively affordable for local and visiting customers, and since they are durable materials they last the test of time.”
A few of the most popular jewelry artists featured here include Peggy Pollak, a Flagstaff local who wax casts leaves and flowers directly into sterling silver. “Arguably one of our most organic jewelers,” Stinski said, “she is popular because people love the outdoors in our little mountain town, and she captures nature (often literally casting local plants) in her creations. She is one of our only artists who use patinas to add color to her work.”
Another Flagstaff local, Rosa Kilgore, uses a different approach with bronze and freshwater pearls, as well as other gemstones and silver. And Sarah Harms, who’s based in Camp Verde, Ariz., is a blacksmith who mixes steel with silver, copper and photographs printed on aluminum. “Her hammered-steel look is popular with both men and women,” said Stinski, “and often appeals to a different demographic than the other artists.”
Another favorite jewelry designer is Karen Puckett from Sedona, Ariz. “She is all about fused glass and the way light plays with color,” explained Stinski. But for a very Western look, Flagstaff local Cathy Jolma is a go-to. She uses leather, stones and silver to make bracelets, belts, rings and necklaces that are quite rustic and tend to have unisex appeal.
Stinkski said that what makes these handmade items so appealing to customers is their uniqueness. “They are usually one of a kind, and even if they are part of a series, it’s an individual piece of art that was made locally.” she said. Because Flagstaff is a popular tourist town in the region, a lot of customers are interested in buying a souvenir with a direct connection to the geography.
Her own experiences have shaped the way she approaches retail – including one “a-ha” moment when she was just a kid. “I went to France as a teenager and at a gift shop in one of the castles I visited, I bought little figurines of knights and dragons for some of my friends,” she said. A few months after she returned, she found the exact same figurines in a local toy store with “Made in China” stickers on them.
“Even though the gifts I had given my friends had the sentimental value of something I bought for them when I was traveling, I was disappointed that they could have just as easily gotten them in town,” she said. “When you purchase something made in the place you visit, it has a special connection to that place, and people appreciate that connection.”

At A Store Named Stuff, the work of metal, glass, bead, enamel, leather and mixed media jewelry artists is available.

Locally made art can be just appealing to locals as tourists, especially during special events when customers have the chance to meet the makers. Stinski has noticed that local customers like the idea of supporting someone who is working in the region. “You know you’re supporting one of your neighbors, so to speak,” she said. “I personally think that local customers can see what inspires local artists because they live in the same place; it reminds them of home.”
One way the gallery connects with the local community is during the town’s First Friday ArtWalks when the galleries stay open late on the First Friday of each month for special events. Artists usually attend these events and customers, said Stinski, love meeting them and discussing their work. There’s a lot of cross promotion across the region for the event, which reaches many younger people on social media thanks to creative marketing by the Flagstaff Arts Council.

Small gifts in bins at A Store Named Stuff. The owners jury their local and regional artists through an application process.

The gallery usually features new jewelers at least a few times each year, too, to keep the inventory fresh. “This month,” said Stinski, “we are featuring a new jeweler in the gallery, Nancy Foo, and in March we will feature our leather artist, Cathy Jolma.” 
Another important aspect here is that many of the jewelry items are moderately priced. For example, artist Karen Puckett sells some of her fused glass stud earrings for just $12, while select Sarah Harms’ bracelets and necklaces are just $16.
“We also carry some beautiful statement pieces that are $500,” said Stinski, “and everything in between. It is important that we have high quality art-jewelry, but we also want anyone to be able to come into the gallery and find something that they love and can afford.”

S. Sloane Simmons and Casey Simmons, co-owners and sisters, A Store Named Stuff in Kansas City, Mo. The store stocks jewelry from a range of artists.

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