Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’re checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt to glean shareable tips for doing business—and reentering our “normal” lives, both professionally and personally—during the COVID-19 pandemic.
JCK: Hi, Elise! Where are you based, and who do you live with?
Elise Thompson: I’m based in Long Island, N.Y., and I live with my husband, 8-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son, two Bengal kittens, and a multitude of fish.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your life professionally?
When COVID-19 hit I, like everyone else, was forced to find an alternative way to do our day-to-day tasks. Although I always “worked from home” and made my own hours, I was now faced with working from home with the kids home and dealing with Zoom school for two small children.
I was lucky enough to find a professional support group with the Stay Gold Collective run by Liz Kantner. Her group is made up of small emerging designers who I found to be extremely helpful in making my COVID game plan and keeping me focused on how to move Space 85 and my own brand, Mejia Jewelry, forward.
How did the pandemic change things for the Space 85 collective?
Since Space 85 is an online-only business [rooted in real life—the designers all work out of a lost wax studio in downtown New York City], our website was already set up for e-commerce and ready to go last March. We were a new concept and only launched in the late fall of 2019, so we were only at the beginning of our journey when COVID-19 hit. Since we were brand-new, the only option was to grow and move forward.
We focused a lot on Instagram and building our own insider list. I created a two-part blog series at the beginning of the pandemic called “Staying Home and Staying Sane” where I asked each designer how they were coping with quarantine and what they did at home to “stay sane.” It was very well-received and is one of our best-performing email blasts. People appreciated the realness and liked to see a behind-the-scenes look into the life of a creative designer.
There was more isolation because the studio space most of us use was closed and remained closed until this past fall. Fred de Vos owns the physical studio and is our mentor and the reason we all met. He has every tool and/or machine imaginable, and if he doesn’t have it, he can make it.
We missed him and the studio very much, and there was a creative void by not being in that studio. Some designers have at-home studios but some do not, so I think the pandemic stalled or even halted production for quite some time.
Are all the Space 85 designers back to working in the manner they did pre-pandemic?
Right now, we just launched our new summer collection called Summer in the City! It’s a collection of 37 pieces from 13 designers from Space 85 and full of happy, light, and luxurious jewelry.
What I love most about this collection is that although the pieces are made by different hands, the pieces can be worn together and look fabulous together. I just started a new IGTV series where I create [styled] looks with the pieces from this collection and it’s really fun to see them working with each other.
We are also donating 10% of proceeds from this collection to International Association for Human Values and the Art of Living in India to provide oxygen concentrators to hospitals in India to help people in the dire COVID-19 outbreak there.
Most designers are back at the studio, but some are not and production is definitely still slower. Since production in New York City was stalled during lockdown, there is a surge now and a backlog of work in general, so it takes longer to get a project finished. The pandemic also mentally challenged us, so it’s been a work in progress getting back into a pre-pandemic headspace.
You created this amazing collective—how does working alone but for a larger group change the way you work as a jeweler?
I actually created the collective before I honed in on my own brand. It was easier for me to conceptualize Space 85 than focus on the details of Mejia Jewelry. I have always been active with commissioned work, so I never had a real cohesive collection. As a jeweler who’s a part of Space 85, creating the collective allowed me to see my work in a different way, and from an outsider’s perspective.
Creating Space 85 is part collective, curation, and a direct-to-consumer retail site. I’m really proud of our blog. It’s a comprehensive look at what Space 85 is all about: designer interviews, a diamond guide, themed collections, behind-the-scenes looks, and so much more. It’s an exciting way to communicate with our consumers or those browsing the website. I’m finally ready to release a collection within my own website this summer, so it’s interesting to see it play out this way.
What are you laser-focused on now in your business?
I’m focused on promoting the summer collection right now. We only release one or two collections per year as a collective so it’s important to make sure as many eyes see it as possible and hopefully purchase a piece of handcrafted heirloom jewelry from an emerging designer.
Our pieces are special because they are either one-of-a-kind or limited-edition and you can’t find them anywhere else.
How did you manage to relax and unwind during the height of the pandemic? Any TV/movie/podcast recs?
I would say having a community of strong supportive women a phone call or Zoom session away was extremely important in helping me through lockdown. And obviously, happy hour and Netflix were essential as well.
I like to unwind at night watching Netflix in bed. Some series and movies I really enjoyed watching were Outlander (amazing!), New Girl (so funny I laughed out loud and woke up my daughter multiple times), The Crown (fascinating), My Octopus Teacher (so inspiring), Seaspiracy (you will never eat fish again), Dead to Me (very entertaining), The Queen’s Gambit (nail-biter), Virgin River (another nail-biter), Bling Empire (can’t stop watching), and of course Bridgerton. I also read a lot of books about organizing but never got around to the actual organizing part!
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