It often starts as a hobby; when you finish your first rainbow-colored friendship bracelet at summer camp and think, Damn, I want to make these for everyone now. And later, the hobby meets a moment of self-confidence; when you hunt for your father’s smallest pliers in the garage and fix the necklace clasp that you accidentally tore apart.
Then come the mini projects, the hot glue gun and the excessive bead collection that never stops multiplying. And if you’re lucky enough to be like Karen Konzuk, founder of Konzuk Jewelry, you somehow combine a lifetime of artistic interests into a sustainable business that eventually disrupts an entire industry. Her signature style that uses concrete and stainless steel materials translates into a sort of wearable architecture — where a minimal aesthetic meets and industrial elegance that adorns the body with the perfect balance of masculine and feminine energies combined.
But it’s not a unicorn story of overnight, Etsy success. In fact, Karen’s story is chock full with pure hustle, hard work, and an unwavering belief in her unique vision. And if you’ve ever dreamed of taking on the world with the beloved hobby yourself, her’s is a story that will helped you learn how to do it.
She studied up
As a student at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Karen hit a lucky break. With a concentration in sculpture, she had a conversation with an instructor who encouraged her to consider designing jewelry. And taking them up on the advice, she set her future in stone.
In my final year, I focused on creating a production line of jewelry that I could sell. I also wrote a business plan with lofty goals of selling to major department stores across the county. With an entrepreneurial spirit I knew I wanted to create more than fine art, and more than just an accessory. I wanted my company to be known for innovation in design and materials.
She pivoted her plans
When graduation came around, Konzuk wasn’t exactly meeting with buyers at Bergdorfs. But she had the foresight to know a dream doesn’t have to die when plan A doesn’t pan out.
When I graduated from NSCAD, I was accepted into a studio program called Harbourfront Centre for Crafts. Harbourfront facilitated a juried group of craftspeople who could rent space in the studios at very reasonable rates. I worked here while also at a part time job, mostly as a receptionist or office worker at various places.
She got stable
Often when entrepreneurs share their come up stories, it’s brimming with memories where the money was bleak, the struggle was real and no one would believe in their vision. Konzuk was no exception, especially in an oversaturated market that had yet to see work like her own.
To fund my “startup” I approached several banks with my business plan who barely glanced at the document and went straight to the financials. When seeing I had no personal assets – just student loans – most of the banks turned me away. One bank did give me a minor loan at a very high interest rate which helped to start off the line of jewelry. It was not enough to keep going and live off, so I had to sell my car which was gifted to me by my parents.
She took small steps
With the money she saved by moving home and selling off her assets, while simultaneously working the smaller, part time jobs, Konzuk was finally able to make some ground on launching her collection.
With this capital I was able to build up my business, one small step at a time. Cold calling stores, attending trade shows around the US and Canada and doing everything myself – except for graphic design and marketing which I am lucky enough to have a very talented husband in this field. Within three years, I was able to quit my part time job and work full time for myself.