The Entrepreneurial Spirit - The Story of a Jewelry Designer
Cheryl Robinson Ridley
Interview with Cheryl Robinson Ridley creator of Designs by Chae (TM)
In these times, where unemployment rates soar and jobs are hard to get, more people are taking a chance on tapping into their inner talents and gifts to take the great risk of failure in hopes of making a living on what they really love to do. After all, if one cannot seem break through all the competition then it makes sense to create one’s own career, even if it seems to be pulled out of thin air. This entrepreneurial spirit seems to define most successful moguls in the United States: those special people who come from humble beginnings and rise to ultimate success. I suppose I could interview high-profile individuals who have “made it.” But those stories have been told a million times. What I wanted to do was interview “regular folks,” the ones who haven’t made it big, but have begun the process and they're on their way. I wanted to take a look at the entrepreneurial spirit from the beginning, not the end result because for, most of us, we just can’t see that far ahead that it is possible to be the next Oprah or Warren Buffet or Mrs. Fields.
The entrepreneurial spirit is really a gift that is inspiring to others to “become the best that they can be.” The entrepreneurial spirit is made up of passion, positivity, leadership, adaptability, and ambition. These qualities are found in everyday people
On a beautiful Thursday morning, I interviewed one of my childhood friends, Cheryl Robinson-Ridley. As children our homes were “back-to-back” with no fence delineating the property line, so we had plenty of room to roam and play. We went to school together; we played flutes in the school band together; and it was a time of innocence and lightheartedness. I remember being impressed because her family had a beautiful baby grand piano. She knew how to play.
I meet her again now as a grown woman of 45, married with children, where she works in the local college bookstore part-time, takes classes (with an application pending to the college’s licensed practical nursing program (LPN). Her jewelry making hobby is starting to grow faster than she expected. Cheryl greeted me in a white, long-sleeve tee and jeans – an unpretentious soul. She looks the same to me – petite, doe-eyed, has the same infectious laugh; and she is still shy. Only now she has grown her hair out into long dreadlocks, which look cool on her – it gives her a “Terri Morrison” feel. I brought along my usual – Dunkin’ Donuts French vanilla coffee with a shot of espresso. We sat in her large living room in two rounded, comfortable chairs in front of a fantastic picture window; and Cheryl set up her designs for me to view. She has incredible talent; and, yet, she is extremely modest.
The Interview Begins
Q: I notice a lot of marine life in your jewelry, tell me more about that.
A: It’s not intentional that I pick certain charms. I love nature, so that is what stands out to me (in picking charms). Nature gives me inspiration. I take walks in the woods, and listen to the sound of the leaves under my feet. It’s what I find peaceful and I try to incorporate it into my jewelry. I’ve been doing nature walks since I was a little girl – my father used to take me.
Q: How long have you been making jewelry?
A: Since 2005. I started really because I was bored and wanted to try something new.
Q: What kind of goals have you had?
A: I always wanted to be in the spotlight, but my problem is I’m just too shy. The jewelry thing started as a hobby and I just kept them (all the pieces). Then friends wanted to see them and buy them.
Q. Where do you get all your supplies – every piece is so unique.
A. Wherever! All kinds of stores. I try to find gemstones I haven’t seen before. Sometimes I’ll just buy a stone and save it knowing that I’ll turn it into something later. Home Depot is even a great place to find stuff – it’s wearable art. I bought a bunch of washers and made a necklace out of that! My next (jewelry piece) I want to make out of alpaca fleece and maybe try to weave it into something. We’ll see. (laughs)
Q: Do you sketch out your ideas first?
A: No, I’m not an artist. My husband is an artist. He’s made some designs for jewelry by sketching it out. He tells me I should (sketch), but I can’t. I just put the pieces, links, charms, chains out and move them around and see what happens.
Q: You remind me of stories of Michelangelo, where he would get a piece of marble and carve out what he believed was in the rock already.
A: Really? (laughs) Yeah, that’s how I do it. Move it around and let it become its own thing.
Q: So how are you selling your jewelry now?
A: I’ve done some craft fairs, but they’re tough. You need the right location, know who the other competitors are. It doesn’t work for me. I can’t sit all day – and I’m shy; and I hate to haggle (laughs). I need another way to sell. So I post my jewelry on Facebook and Pinterest and have made sales that way too. I’ve done(sic) parties; and my jewelry has sold that way. Now I’ve been contacting celebrities directly. For example, I contacted Renee (Graziano) because I like her style. So I actually wrote to her on Twitter, sent her a complimentary piece. And she loved it. She told me she wore it while filming “Mob Wives” recently.
Q: You’re jewelry is so unique, everything is different.
A: I only make one of a kind pieces. (For example) someone wanted me to make the piece I made for Renee; and they would pay me a great price, but I couldn't find the chains anywhere! So I guess they really are one of a kind.
Q: They say that successful entrepreneurs love what they do. Do you love doing this kind of work?
A: (Long pause and Cheryl looks at all her work on the table.) Do I love what I do? Yes, I do…I love it. It brings me peace. I just find it troubling that when this gets big it will become work – a job I HAVE to do. And I don’t want to lose the feeling I have when I make jewelry. It’s a fear. I strongly believe, though, that everything happens for a reason. Will this take me into the entertainment world by showcasing my jewelry, I don’t know. I try not to question it though. It is what it is. I’m just gonna go with it. I do it because it relaxes me. And I know I make beautiful things.
Q: Tell me how you came up with the name Designs by Chae (TM).
A: Well, when I was younger, I wanted to sing – and we came up with a “stage name,” Chae. But again, I was too shy so the singing thing was not going to happen. But the nickname stayed, it’s my pseudonym! I realized after doing the jewelry thing for 5 years it had to be called something! So Designs by Chae (TM), it is. This is me.
Q: What do you want for Designs by Chae (TM)?
A: I would like it to be known by high-profile people, but I want everyone to know about it eventually. Marketing for now is business cards, Facebook, word of mouth, and my blog.
Q: Do your kids help or have they developed an interest?
A: My 16-year old, Kiana, actually designed the necklace for Renee. My youngest has designed stuff too. But they’re not serious about it. They make their own jewelry or birthday gifts for friends.
Q: What do people not know about Designs by Chae (TM)?
A: Well, all orders have free shipping!
Q: Earlier you said you were not an artist, but just look at these pieces. This is art!
A: (Long pause) Hmmm. I guess you’re right. I hadn't thought of it that way. Yes. It is art (laughs)
Cheryl has a fabulous laugh; and it is wonderful to see her in her element with what brings her joy.
Follow Chae on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/chae001 or send her an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Liza Lugo, J.D.
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