Today we hear from veteran fine jewelry designer Judi Powers, who’s based in Hudson, N.Y.
JCK: When did you move to Hudson?
Judi Powers: I moved here from Brooklyn, N.Y., just over four years ago. Famed Hudson River School artist Frederic Church lived and painted in Hudson, and we have some of the most beautiful sunsets here.
How has the COVID pandemic changed your life, and how are you managing life in the pandemic?
Prior to the pandemic, I was traveling for trunk shows, wholesale trade shows, buying trips, and fine craft fairs—in all, approximately 20 shows in 2019. All those events were canceled (rightfully so!) from March on and I’ve stayed pretty close to home, so that’s a big change. In the spring, my fiancé, Russell Jones, and I did a lot of homey projects, and I spent a good amount of time working in my kitchen garden—I’d never had one before, and it was really satisfying to grow and eat my own food, especially heirloom tomatoes.
We also volunteered with a local organization for girls called Perfect Ten, and the girls, ages 12–18, made beautiful, colorful bracelets for their first project. We’re now working on wax-carving charms with the girls. So I’m one of the very lucky ones who can say that I’m managing pretty well, all things being equal. Everyone I care about is safe and well, and I’m beyond grateful for that.
How has COVID changed or altered your business?
Without shows, I’ve had lots of time to work at my bench, and that’s been a huge treat! Custom jewelry has historically been a consistent yet small part of my business, and this year it has been quite significant with both my retail and wholesale customers. I created a custom charity piece for Robert Goodman Jewelers [see below] to raise funds for ICAN, and that was deeply rewarding.
Have there been any silver linings for you in this tricky time?
Yes, there have been, and I know how lucky I am to be able to say that. For me, the silver lining behind the horrible cloud that is COVID has been the time that we spent making jewelry with the girls at Perfect Ten. I learn so much from these girls about patience, kindness, and passion. And if I’d been doing shows, I wouldn’t have been in town to create projects together with them. It was also a huge honor to be a part of the Decade of a Thousand Facets show at Meeka Fine Jewelry and to have a cause to celebrate.
How is business now?
Business right now is solid. My direct-to-consumer sales volume is down because retail shows have been canceled (and with that, my expenses are also down, so there’s an upside). My custom business is way up in both volume and dollars. For my clients who stayed employed and didn’t have financial setbacks, we created pieces they’d wanted for a while. Because their own expenses were down, this proved to be a good time for my clients to buy their dream piece.
Other customers wanted custom jewelry for sentimental reasons. And I’m having my best wholesale year to date with new orders still coming in. I’m very fortunate to have retail partners who are all so dedicated, smart, and connected with their communities and their clients. They pivoted from the moment mandatory shutdowns started, and they’ve pivoted with every change this pandemic’s presented.
Has the pandemic changed how you’ll be moving forward in your business?
Until the recent announcement of a COVID vaccine, I hadn’t really been able to concentrate on planning ahead. In fact, my concentration has been pretty much nonexistent for the past few months. But I’m thinking about shows again and how to safely move forward in a setting that is historically crowded. I did 15 shows in 2019 and it took its toll on me: I was exhausted, my creativity suffered, and I knew at the end of last year that I had to cut back. So I’m going to be doing fewer shows in the future, and I’m doing that by choice.
The new 620 Local pop-up [read about that here] you’re a part of is amazing—how are you finding brick-and-mortar retailing to be right now?
Thank you! Cora and Helen, the cofounders of 620 Local, brought together and curated a wonderful group of artists, and I feel lucky to be a part of it. We’ve been open just over a week and it’s been great. I love seeing customers, and seeing them healthy and well!
What have you been doing to relax and have fun during this time?
During the early months of COVID, Russell’s son was living with us and we played lots of board games (Risk, Sushi Dice, Jaipur, and Suspicion). In the spring and summer, gardening was my great distraction. We’ve got a lot of places in and around Hudson where it was possible to see friends and connect while being socially distant, and that was really helpful, emotionally speaking. We enjoyed many walks at [local art center] Art Omi and Olana [State Historic Site] with our dogs, who have been the greatest source of love and entertainment during this crazy time. And staying connected with my friends has been a huge source of fun and joy for me—I don’t know what I’d do without them.
Have any book/podcast/TV/movie recommendations?
Oh, sooooooo many! Books: Arundhati Roy, Azadi; Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye; Ronan Farrow, Catch and Kill. Podcasts: Bag Man, Let’s Talk About Sects, TED Radio Hour, Pod Save America, Revisionist History. TV: The Queen’s Gambit, Tehran, The Boys, The Great British Baking Show, The Umbrella Academy, The Crown, Schitt’s Creek. Movies: Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb, Uncut Gems (which nearly gave me a heart attack!), Isle of Dogs, and pretty much anything by Wes Anderson.
Top: Judi Powers in her backyard with one of her dogs (photo by Russell Jones, courtesy of Judi Powers Jewelry)
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