How it all started
It is a common question to ask at dinner parties or while getting to know someone, “If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?” It was in the summer of 2006 after graduating from college that my husband, Jon, who was then my boyfriend, asked me this question. This was a turning point in the story of Made By Meg, but the story really began long before that moment.
I have always been a treasure hunter. Who isn’t? From a young age it is instilled in our brains to look for treasure. It’s another thing for your imagination to see treasure where others may not. I have always collected things. As a child my mom introduced me to the collecting of rocks. I aspired to have a collection like hers one day. Although my collection never reached the magnitude of hers, it was the beginning of my collecting habits.
After rocks, my collecting of beach finds became a favorite. During trips to Florida to visit my grandparents, beach outings were a regular activity. If I was not riding the waves on my boogie board or building a sand castle, I was searching for beach treasures. I would end up with a bucket full of shells, driftwood and sea creature skeletons. My mom, understanding the thrill of taking home treasure, let me take home my bounty to add to my collection.
It was not until I went on a trip with a friend to Maine in the summer of 1993 that I found my first piece of sea glass. It was not just any piece of sea glass, though. It was the top of a spice container and still had the plastic top with holes showing. I was so excited to have such a treasure to add to my collection of beach finds.
Not far from my passion for collecting was my passion for creating. Having a difficult time in most subjects in school like reading and writing, I found that art class was a subject where I could shine. My creating didn’t end in the classroom. It continued outside of school as well. If I was not collecting something, I was creating some kind of artwork. I spent time building gardens around our house, painting flowers, practicing hair styles on my dolls, playing with polymer clay, and one of my favorites, making jewelry. At a young age my mom taught my sister, Kelly, and I how to make friendship bracelets. Once I mastered that I moved on to beading. Using all different kinds of beads, I would make necklaces, bracelets and earrings for myself, friends and family.
My passion for creating never stopped. In high school I concentrated on my art classes and took all the advanced art classes available. I also took the opportunity to do an independent study and assist the art teacher at the middle school every morning teaching her students. This passion continued into college and I majored in Studio Art with a concentration in painting.
It was during my senior year of college that my passion and interest in the jewelry industry really took shape. During this year I worked for two major jewelry stores as a sales associate. It was at these stores that I learned about gemstones and different types of jewelry. Going back to my rock collecting as a child and my interest in my mom’s collection, I felt as though things had all come back full circle. I didn’t know it at the time, but learning about jewelry designs and how jewelry was repaired would become essential to my future.
It was not long after graduating that Jon asked me that ever important question, “If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?” My answer was, “I would like to be a jeweler and design and make my own line of jewelry.” His response was, “Then, do it.” Then I needed to consider the steps needed to do that kind of thing. I went to the one person who I knew had made his dream of jewelry making a reality, Jim Huntley. While working in the jewelry industry I met Jim because he was the jeweler who did all the repairs for the store where I worked. He had his own shop in town where he worked. I called him up and asked if I could come down to his shop to talk with him. He said, “No problem.” When I got to Jim’s shop, I told him about my plans which really did not consist of anything. I told him that I wanted to be like him and I thought the best way to do that would be to learn the trade under his expertise. I asked him if he would be open to letting me apprentice under him. He said he would be happy to. I was so excited to start the following day. Jim set up a jewelers’ bench between him and his other jeweler, Daniel Abushakra. For the next two months I went to Jim’s shop and learned from Jim and Daniel. I learned so much about jewelry repair and construction. I learned how to cast jewelry, laser weld, solder, polish and so many more techniques of the trade. I really enjoyed learning more and more every day. It was unfortunate that I could not apprentice forever, but I had to get back into a paying job.
At this point I was not sure where to go. I gave my information to a temp agency hoping to get something that would make it possible to still learn the trade in some way. The next day I got a call that a job was available for me to start in an hour! To make a long story short, after a strange turn of events and fate, I ended up at that job for the next three years. I began working as a CAD drafter for a fire alarm company, and although it was a visual kind of job, it was not particularly creative. During my weekends and evenings off I would spend a lot of time feeding my creativity by making jewelry. It was during one of these weekends that an opportunity presented itself that was a step in the right direction for me.
I was sitting in a bead store working on my latest beaded necklace, when a woman walked in. She was there to speak with the owner of the bead store. I was not paying much attention to their conversation until my name was mentioned. The owner said, “Well I don’t have the time for something like that, but Meg might be interested.” The woman was requesting to commission me to wrap some sea glass. It would be added to her line of jewelry which was for sale. I had not done any wire work since high school, but remembered really enjoying it and wanting to try it again. I took the opportunity, knowing I could make it happen. The woman left me with ideas of things that she wanted done and we agreed on a commission rate. I made all the pieces for her within the week. She liked them so much that she continued to commission me for more work. As time went on, I became better and better at fulfilling her requests. She benefited from my expertise because she did not know how to wire wrap. With my assistance she was able to add to her line of jewelry. After some time, I became stagnate in the whimsical type jewelry being commissioned. I have never thought of any of my artwork as having a whimsical theme or feel to it. So I started playing with some sea glass from my childhood collection. I made jewelry pieces that were my style and so very different from the whimsical pieces I had been making. I made some for myself, some for my Mom and a few for friends. It was like an itch I had to scratch. As all artists know, when you have the passion you just can’t stop it. I had been introduced to marrying my passion of jewelry making and art work with my passion for my collected treasures. Once my mom’s friends caught on to my original designs, I started receiving orders. It was not too long after this that I started getting encouragement from friends and family to start a business. I felt I was ready to make my own jewelry and have my name on it and with that, Made By Meg was born.
I quickly learned that starting a business from scratch is hard work. You learn so much about yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. I was fortunate enough to have a very supportive team of friends and family behind making my dream a reality. One of the first problems I ran into was that my collection of sea glass was limited. Luckily, my mom’s friend, a collector of sea glass, offered part of her collection to me to get started. After that ran out, my parents took it upon themselves to become what is now known as The Official Made By Meg Sea Glass Hunting Team. They go on trips specifically to hunt for sea glass to keep my collection plentiful and my business going. It took some time and trial and error of investigating many beaches to build up their secret handful of beaches to visit. Once I had the supplies to build up an inventory of jewelry, I turned my attention to really getting my name out there.
Encouragement from friends at the gym I was attending convinced me to hold my first jewelry showcase at the gym. I was so excited to have my very own jewelry show and sell my work to my friends at the gym and family who attended. It was not until after the show that I realized, I might have started more than just a hobby. I began to take the idea of a real business more seriously. Jon, who was now my husband, was fully behind me and supported me from the very beginning. It was very helpful that he was a web designer and could provide Made By Meg with a website, the next step to making a real business. Soon the website was up and running. Of course, my first and second sales were to friends, but around the fifth sale was a stranger from another state. I was beyond excited that someone out in the internet world found my jewelry and bought a piece.
To further my business even more I started approaching stores to sell my jewelry locally. To my surprise, most of the stores I asked said, “Yes!” Quickly I learned that exposure was the most important factor in expanding my business. I entered many craft and art shows. These shows gave me the opportunity to see what customers liked and introduce myself as the artist, which always has given me a sense of pride. Artists always love showing their work and personally sharing it with their customers. I am no exception. I expanded further by showcasing my work at house parties. Through house parties I met so many wonderful women and was able to teach them about sea glass and share my jewelry. I continued doing art shows and met many wonderful people. One of these people introduced me to the world of networking.
I was invited to join a local networking group called Coastal Power Women. It was through this group that things really started to take off. Through connections I made with networking, articles were written about me, opportunities were found with more stores and friendships were built. After being a part of the group for a few months, I was nominated and elected as president of the group for the next year. Not only did this group further my business, it took things to the next level for me.
After a year of working both full time for the fire alarm company and working for Made By Meg every other available moment, things became overwhelming. While relaxing one day at the pool Jon and I had a long talk and decided that it would be best for me to concentrate on my business. We got together a plan and within a few months, in September of 2009 I was giving my two week notice to my boss. Although scary, making the plunge into working for myself full time was a big step, but I never looked back because of the support I had from Jon and the rest of my family and friends.
Adjusting to working full time by myself was an eye opening experience. It took a lot of dedication and discipline to be my own boss. It took time for me to get into a rhythm of working from home. Having more time to accomplish the goals I had set, made it possible to look into the future for other possibilities of expanding the business.
My next goal was to further my line of sea glass jewelry by learning to bezel set. This type of setting is built by hand and made by soldering with a jewelers’ torch. It involves much more equipment and skill than wire wrapping. At first it was intimidating to try and learn such a skill. I had no clue where to start other than getting the proper equipment. I reached out for help again from Jim Huntley. I approached Jim about purchasing any equipment he might have that he was no longer using. Jim was so gracious to help me. He ended up selling me the equipment I had used when I was working for him. I was so excited to get started, but it had been over three years since I had used a jewelers’ torch.
I have never been a planner and prefer to dive into things and see how it goes. The next part of my story is no exception. I purchased the proper equipment, tools, materials and silver to give bezel setting a try. It was a learning process for sure. I burned silver, melted silver, burned and melted some more silver, tried different materials and silver, and eventually, figured it out! Then things were just a matter of practice makes perfect. It took a while for me to get the hang of the process. Once I became comfortable, I received, with the most perfect timing ever, an interesting email from someone in California.
While searching the internet someone had come across my website and blog and wanted to commission ME to make her a sea glass engagement ring! I was blown away that someone was asking me to make such an important piece of jewelry. I was ready to take on the challenge. After spending time talking with the customer and making plans for the ring, the construction began. It was when this ring was finished that I had an “ah ha” moment and my dreams of being a “jeweler” became a reality. To my surprise, after I finished this ring and shared it on my blog, more engagement ring commissions were made. Sea glass engagement rings are now my specialty and what I spend most of my studio time working on. I have now made over 50 engagement rings and designed 30+ ring designs.
As time went on and my business expanded locally and online, I began to build a base of customers and followers. With more articles and even a television debut I felt as though things were really taking shape, but I still had goals I had not met.
A goal that seemed far away, when I started, was to be a vendor at the North American Sea Glass Festival. The festival held every year by the North American Sea Glass Association is in a different location every year and showcases the best sea glass collectors and jewelers in the world. In October of 2010 I attended the festival as a spectator just for the experience of going. It was so impressive to see all the vendors and all the sea glass creations. When leaving that year’s show, I set my goal to be a vendor at the following year’s festival. After being accepted into the festival for 2011, I was thrilled and immediately Jon and I started planning.
Jon and I redesigned and built my entire booth display. It was a huge undertaking, but was well worth it. In October we packed up the display and all my jewelry and made the trip from South Carolina to New Jersey for the festival. This show was unlike any other show I had attended with my jewelry. It was a very proud moment for me to display and sell my jewelry at that show. I also had the opportunity to meet many customers whom I had only known from speaking with online. Meeting all of the other vendors was also a wonderful experience. I have enjoyed being a vendor every year since then with the exception of 2012, when I was on a maternity break.
In 2012 our lives changed drastically with the birth of our first daughter, Clara. Now also being a stay-at-home Mom, I needed to adjust my business plan. I decided that participating in less art shows and concentrating more on wholesale opportunities would be best for our family. I made the decision to participate in my first wholesale trade show. So again, Jon and I made an entirely new display and in February of 2013 I was a vendor at Buyers Market of American Craft in Philadelphia. Although I was in a very small booth and all the way in the back of the huge convention center with thousands of vendors, I was able to exceed my initial goal of 6 and received orders from 10 new retail locations.
With a lot of hard work Made By Meg has evolved and changed to fit the customers’ needs, while also fitting our family’s needs. We had a second daughter, Autumn, in May of 2014. Now with two little ones at home, it works out perfectly that my major focus is now on engagement rings and wholesale orders which gives me more time to be at home with them.
I have made the “If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?” dream actually happen. However, I didn’t do it alone. I am very thankful for my customers and fans and realize that without them this would not have been possible. Every day I am also thankful for the people that guided and helped me to make it all a reality. Some of those people deserve to be mentioned. Jim Huntley’s guidance has meant the world to me, even for the times you let me show my thanks in cookies. My sister, Kelly, whose help along the way has been essential in keeping me calm in those moments of stress. Mom and Dad, AKA The Official Sea Glass Hunting Team, I can’t thank you enough for your support. It means more to me than all the sea glass in the world. Thank you for introducing me to the world of collecting, Mom. You were the one that started my love of treasure hunting. Above all, Jon has been the driving force behind this business from the very beginning. I can’t thank you enough for your love and support over these years. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us, our family and Made By Meg.