Jewelry Designer Sandy Baker Creates Wearable Art For Michelle Obama & Julia Roberts
When I started to write this column, RESET, a year ago, I wanted to tell our story of courage, determination, challenges, love and moxie. Real talk: We all need weekly motivation to stay committed, forgive self and allow the universe to work. This week’s RESET is about staying encouraged, creating a new road map, and walking into your destiny.
Meet this week’s resetter, Sandy Baker. Her name might not be familiar to you (yet), but her jewelry has adorned the likes of Julia Roberts, Natalie Cole, the late Dr. Maya Angelou and FLOTUS, Michelle Obama.
Baker has been an artist and tinkerer as far back as she can remember. Beginning in childhood with pencils and crayons, she soon moved on to Popsicle sticks, aluminum foil, colored tape, paint and clay, then to steel dapping tools, hammers, a jewelers bench block, a soldering torch and a flexible shaft. Being a Black woman in the jewelry industry has not always been easy for her, but she never gave up the vision to have her jewelry sold in stores, shown in galleries, museums, and magazines and celebrated by both famous and everyday people.
Recently, I interviewed Sandy Baker about finding one’s voice, inspiration and pressing #RESET.
MadameNoire: How did you discover your passion?
Sandy Baker: As a teenager I felt the need to express myself creatively and I could not find jewelry that outwardly reflected my sensibilities, so I decided to start making my own.
… When I started there were few women in the fine jewelry industry, and no women of color, which meant I had to fight to secure my position. As I progressed to being a manufacturing jeweler selling to stores, I knew it meant that I could show women that the distribution of our creative products can go beyond friends, family and the neighborhood.
MN: When you entered the jewelry industry and no one looked liked you, what became your mindset/mantra?
SB: My mindset was picturing my bold, unique, wearable art on bold and unique women of all walks of life. I saw the vision and believed it. Giving up was not an option.
MN: What classes, workshops and conferences helped you to develop/hone your craft?
SB: I took jewelry classes in college and in graduate school. I attended various fashion shows, jewelry shows, so I could see what was out there. Also, I registered for classes and workshops in the summer to learn and fine-tune specific skills-stone setting, bezel making and silversmithing. It was then that I made the decision, to sell my creations to stores and not individuals.
MN: What was the initial investment for launching Sandy Baker Art?
SB: It was around $7,000 to invest in supplies, manufacturing, traveling to find precious gems, marketing and networking.
MN: How important was marketing/branding in getting the message out there about your art?
SB: Marketing and branding was exceedingly important. My early slogan was “Sandy Baker does ears like nobody else.” The first 10 years of my business, I did only earrings. I focused on getting stores to look at my collection if they wanted something besides hoops and love knots. My goal was to be the “Queen of earring design.” I had T-shirts, tote bags, gift cards that went with each purchase that told the purchaser about me. The gift cards with my picture and bio were free to the stores. Also, my logo has evolved over the years because I’ve also evolved.
MN: Why do you call your work art, not jewelry?
SB: My art is unique and artfully created and produced in limited editions. Many pieces are more sculpture than just jewelry. I love designing forms that work in three-dimensional space. My earrings in particular come to life when someone is wearing them. My designs play with positive and negative space-the face, the jaw line, the space below the ear and light.
MN: Biggest challenge to date?
SB: How much time do you have? Ha. I would say infringement of my intellectual property has been the biggest challenge. Technology has made it easier for people to replicate, and in some cases steal my designs. Sometimes I see modified versions of designs that I did 20 and 30 years ago being sold in stores today made out of cheaper materials.
MN: How did you press RESET?
SB: Throughout my career I have had to continually press RESET. From keeping up with current fashion trends, to adjusting to the rising costs of raw materials, and modifying my price points accordingly. I started out working in 18K gold, 14K gold and sterling silver. I then moved to sterling silver exclusively. Later, I moved to designing my own color inlays in place of standard commercial semi-precious stones. I use more organic materials these days like South Sea blue-green abalone.
MN: Biggest accomplishment to date?
SB: I feel my biggest accomplishment has been the opportunity to reach so many women with my work, and create pieces that they cherish. Currently my work is included in a traveling jewelry exhibition by the American Jewelry Design Council. The show originally opened at the Forbes Galleries in New York. Selections from my work are included in the Design Archives of the Smithsonian. [And] my work has been published.
MN: What would you tell the person reading this article that feels like it will never happen for them?
SB: They must know that life and their dreams and aspirations do not necessarily travel in a straight line. Stay focused, reach far and believe. Never allow minor obstacles to derail your destiny.
RESET: Stay true to your vision, and never settle for anything less than walking into your purpose.
Karen Taylor Bass, an award winning PR Expert, best-selling author and Brand Mom, empowers entrepreneurs, small-business owners, corporations and mompreneurs with essential marketing, public relations and strategic coaching. Follow Karen @thebrandnewmom.