Artist of the Week - bel monili
Edited for content and clarity by Shannon Parris
Welcome to a new I Made It! Market blog series, Artist of the Week, where, as the name implies, we’ll be interviewing a different I Made It! Market artist each week. Follow along on Facebook and Instagram!
First up is Lucy Kelly of bel monili from North Huntingdon, PA. Lucy is awesome, and you should buy all of her jewelry.
Shannon Parris: Hi, Lucy! I’m excited to learn more about your business, but first, please introduce yourself - feel free to share any background about your personal life, family, work outside of making, etc.
Lucy Kelly: I am the owner/artist at bel monili. Outside of bel monili, I have quite a few things on my plate. I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration (Marketing) from Duquesne University in 2002 and earned my master’s degree in Communication Disorders/Speech Language Pathology in 2007 (also from Duquesne University). In April 2015, I married my high school sweetheart Erik, and in January 2016, we welcomed our daughter Evelyn. When I am not in my studio, I am a full-time mom and part-time speech-language pathologist specializing in early childhood language development.
SP: Where does the name bel monili come from? And is it "bel monili" or "Bel Monili?" I'm always second guessing!
LK: It's bel monili, all lowercase. bel monili means "beautiful jewelry" in Italian.
SP: Where did you get the idea or inspiration for your business?
LK: I officially started my journey as an artist entrepreneur in 2010, however, I have been creating as long as I can remember. As a child, I would sew tiny purses for my dolls, glue buttons and glitter to shoeboxes to make "memory boxes," add flowers and trim to my clothes, string beads, knot friendship bracelets, and on and on, as most other children of the '80s and '90s did. I was extremely lucky to have my grandmother's little antique shop 4-5 houses down from me when I was growing up, and just about every day after school, I'd run down the street and spend time with her in her shop. When my brother and I were young, she would take us along with her to some of her antique shows (which, it turns out, were very much like the shows I do now!). We learned to appreciate the value in things that have a history, and it was that interest that stayed with me as I started my own business in 2010. The vast majority of my bel monili jewelry designs are created using upcycled and repurposed mid-century costume jewelry pieces.
SP: What does the art you make now mean to you?
LK: I love being able to look at an object that has reached the end of its "usable life" and see it as something new and wonderful. One of the best compliments I get (and I am lucky to hear it often) is "oh, this reminds me of my ___ (mother, grandmother, aunt, etc)." I take a lot of pride in being able to combine old and new to create something that no one else in the world will have.
SP: Have you ever made a piece of jewelry that you couldn't part with?
LK: I have a very small group of what I call my "personal collection.” I can't get too attached to these because I'd quickly fall into debt! There are a couple of collage necklaces, 2-3 bracelets, and a pearl and rhinestone necklace that I wore for my wedding.
SP: Wow, you have great self control!!
LK: Well, I wear everything (necklaces) for at least a few minutes when I make them, so I get my go at it. I always wear them to make sure they don't poke or catch.
SP: That's a good selling point.
LK: I don't really tell people that part! I do make sure not to wear things from the personal collection at shows, because I almost always sell what I'm wearing. I usually sell 2-3 things per show that way - once one sells, I can move on to the next one!
SP: How long have you been vending with I Made It! Market (IMI)?
LK: Since 2010 - my very first show ever was Rock the Block at WYEP.
SP: Was that the first IMI show you applied to?
LK: Yes, and I've been a shopper since the beginning, so when I started making jewelry and then getting requests from friends to buy it, it made sense to apply for some shows. I knew about IMI, so it was a great place to start. I think somewhere I have a picture of my first setup there.
SP: Do you sell on any other platforms or at other shows?
LK: I sell on Etsy and I am currently looking for a web designer to make me a standalone site. I also sell at other shows - in addition to I Made It! Market in Pittsburgh, I am planning (hopefully) on joining in the Neighborhood Flea, and I have done Handmade Arcade at the holidays. Regionally, I do the Bedford Fall Foliage Festival in Bedford, PA in October. I do the Country Living Fairs in Rhinebeck, NY and Columbus, OH. I also do the Cleveland Flea and Vintage Market Days. Oh, and The Summer Market in Avon Lake, OH!
SP: That's impressive! How do you decide which shows to participate in?
LK: I have gone through many, many shows in the past, so now I have pretty much a set "schedule" of shows that I go to where I have an established customer base. Every year, I try to add in and try new shows as time allows. I have found that indie markets such as I Made It! and vintage shows seem to do best for me.
SP: If you could go back in time and give maker or craft show advice to yourself, when and what would it be?
LK: Well, everyone who is new and starting out kind of has to test out the market and see what works for them. There are some people who could kill at a church craft show, while I couldn't GIVE my stuff away there. Likewise, people who are making very traditional folksy crafts may find that the customer at an indie market is not their customer. Don't get down on yourself if you don't sell at every show. Also, don't get down on yourself if you apply for a "big" show and get declined. Ask for feedback and use that information to make your business better.
SP: That's great advice! I've found that so many people beat themselves or get upset but never ask for feedback.
LK: Yes, hardly anyone asks. Some shows will give it, some won't, but it never hurts to ask. I cannot stress enough the importance of always keeping a professional tone even when you are most disappointed. As in, don't go posting nasty, grumpy things if you are rejected for a show. It gets around, and you will never get into anything that's worth it if you sabotage your business before it even gets started. Show promoters talk to each other just as much as artists do.
SP: What is your favorite thing about being a part of the I Made It! Market community?
LK: My favorite thing about being part of the IMI community is that we are, in fact, a community. It has been so supportive and consistent over the years. I feel like many of my fellow artists are truly my personal friends. I look forward to IMI shows not only for sales, but because I know that it's a day (or days) when I will see friends and people that I truly enjoy spending time with.
There is a group of us who have been around "since the beginning," and over the years, that group has grown and grown, and now it's a great place for veterans to stay relevant and new artists to feel welcome and grow.
SP: I think my favorite thing is how the community is so open and receptive. Yes, it's tight-knit, and you feel a part of something special and exclusive, but it's not exclusionary.
LK: Absolutely yes!
SP: Okay, one last question, just for fun - what’s the funniest thing you’ve ever overheard or had said to you at craft show?
LK: I don't know how succinct I can be, but here it is:
Years ago, maybe a year after I started, I made these clothespin magnets. It was a set of 3, decoupaged with french book pages with a magnet glued to the back of each one. The set was $5. A woman came up to me holding the magnet set and asked "what is this for?,” and I said "it's a magnet.” She just stared blankly. I said, "You can stick it on the fridge or on your range hood and it will hold a paper or picture.” More blank stare. I took the packet out of her hand and stuck it to my tent pole. I said, "They are magnets." Still the blank stare, so I started to wonder if she was having some kind of episode. Finally I said "you know, you really don't need them" and I took them away.
Now, my friend Jeanne will say that I threw the magnet over my shoulder to stick it to my tent and then snatched them back from the lady when she still didn't understand. I think my version is the correct one.
Overall, the most common ridiculous thing I am asked is "what do you do with this?" I make jewelry that is pretty obviously jewelry.
If you’re interested in buying Lucy’s “pretty obviously jewelry” jewelry, join her Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/belmonili - you’ll get a coupon code for 20% off when you join!