Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’re checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt to glean shareable tips and tricks for doing business—and living as well as possible—during the COVID-19 crisis.
Today we hear from independent jewelry designer Emilie Shapiro, founder of Emilie Shapiro Contemporary Metals.
JCK: Where are you based exactly, and how is the atmosphere of your neighborhood right now?
Emilie Shapiro: I’m based in Astoria, Queens, in New York City! It’s a great, eclectic neighborhood right across the East River. We’ve been through the ringer in NYC, so I feel like most people are taking safety precautions seriously while trying to get some normalcy back in their lives. We have a lot more space than many parts of the city, like a huge park, which I’m so grateful for.
Who do you live with (if anyone)? Pets?
I live with my husband, Ben, our two-and-a-half-year-old son, Wes, and our two extremely tired cats. I never realized how much they slept until quarantine. I don’t even think they realize we’re home more!
What is your work environment/office like?
We actually just moved the studio a few weeks ago to a new space that is right across the street from where we live, and it has been a total game changer. There were a lot of factors that went into why we moved, but not wanting to commute on the subway in the foreseeable future was one. Having a young kid (and another on the way) were my main reasons.
At the beginning of quarantine, I created a home “studio” in our bedroom, and it just wasn’t working anymore. I worked between the desk in my room, my kitchen table, and we cleared our closet out to store inventory and materials. My bedroom floor became our shipping department, and it was insane. I never knew where anything was, and I just felt so disorganized and out of control. We’re so fortunate to have a backyard, so we would do our work back there, six feet apart!
I’m really lucky we had other options and could make something work, but I am ecstatic about our new space. It feels so good to be able to start fresh in a new space, and you really can’t beat my new commute!
How has the pandemic changed your business plans for 2020 and beyond?
One of the biggest shifts has been pivoting to not mainly rely on our wholesale accounts in the ways that we used to. There are no in-person wholesale trade shows for the foreseeable future, and it’s devastating that many of our retail partners are not doing well, or have already closed their doors.
In contrast, a lot of our partners are doing really well right now. We’ve been holding Zoom appointments and connecting with our retail partners in new ways. We’ve taken this opportunity to really shift our focus to our website and strengthen our direct-to-consumer sales.
How have things changed at retail?
We saw our retail sales on our website spike a lot during quarantine and we’ve been working really hard to keep up with it. Our entire production chain (like everyone and everything else) was completely shut down. We had to find new vendors and new ways of doing everything. It’s definitely been a learning curve—a really stressful and frustrating learning curve.
What has your design output been? Have you been designing new pieces? Making a lot?
I feel really grateful to have been able to maintain my creativity during all of this, for the most part. I’ve been designing lots of new pieces and am extremely grateful that my business is busy and we are making a lot of pieces. It’s definitely a challenging time to produce things logistically, and everything moves so much slower, but we’ve been figuring it out!
How has your heart and mind been reacting to this very tense moment in American society?
There are so many divisive things in our world right now—racially, politically, economically, and the general craziness that is COVID-19 and 2020. I’ve been really overwhelmed by all of it, consuming myself in news and content to a point where sometimes it feels debilitating.
I’ve been trying really hard to focus on the small things that I can do personally, otherwise I feel completely out of control. Some of the things I’ve been doing are reading books and listening to podcasts about racial inequality, anti-racism, and Black history—something that I probably would have never done before. Not because I was disinterested or didn’t believe in these things, it just wasn’t in the forefront of my mind and never felt like my place to talk about.
I’ve had so many conversations with family and friends that I honestly would have never had before, and I truly think [that creates] a ripple effect for change.
You teach jewelry fabrication—I’ve taken one of your online classes and loved it! Are you still teaching? How’s that going?
In the second week of quarantine, I moved my classes online. Like so many others at the end of March, I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. One day I put Wes down for a nap, grabbed a bunch of tools, and decided to record a class on my computer at my kitchen table. I recorded a video of how to wax carve a basic ring to be cast into metal and quickly put it up online. I wanted to make the classes super affordable and accessible to all.
The response was incredible, and it was so fun to connect with people and watch them get creative and learn new, or strengthen, skills during these strange times. Teaching online classes was something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time. I’m really excited to continue putting out online classes and building this community!
How have you been relaxing or mentally escaping during the pandemic?
It’s hard to relax with everything going on politically and globally, all while running a business and raising a toddler! I did get into making (or stress-baking) sourdough bread during quarantine, like so many others. I love to cook, and it’s so fun and actually pretty easy! Now that I’m back in the studio more and not working from home as much it’s been hard to find the time to bake bread, but I sure do love to eat it!
Do you have any good book/TV/movie/podcast recommendations?
Oh, yes! I listen to a ton of podcasts while I work. Some recent entertaining/escapist favorites: Even the Rich, Armchair Expert, Racket. Every morning I start my day with What a Day and The Daily. My most recent TV binge was Emily in Paris, which was pretty cheesy and pretty cute, and the outfits are incredible!
The only time I have to read is before bed, which I do every night and fall asleep after one page. It took me like four years to read The Tiffany Touch by Joseph Purtell because it’s pretty long, and I passed out after one paragraph. My husband and I used to joke and call it my “good-night book” because it put me right to sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, I highly recommend a semi-interesting book that won’t keep you up!
Top: Emilie Shapiro, husband Ben Birnbaum, and son (all photos courtesy of Emilie Shapiro)
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