EP 150: Juggling A Jeweler’s Business Model with Designer Christy Natsumi

Sep 18, 2018 | Business Models, Operations, Podcast

Tara McMullin is a writer, podcaster, and producer who explores what it takes to navigate the 21st-century economy with your humanity intact. Click here to support this work.

The Nitty Gritty

  • How Christy’s sustainability values inform her minimalist and unique jewelry designs — and where she sources diamonds and gemstones from
  • What her weekly schedule looks like — from meeting with clients, working in the studio, sketching, and tending to longer-term projects
  • Who she hires to create a sustainable business model from accountants to lawyers to web designers to marketers
  • How Christy infuses her multicultural background into her work

The jewelry trade isn’t always known for its sustainability — especially when it comes to sourcing diamonds. Today, that’s changing because jewelry designers like Christy Natsumi are making conscious choices to source diamonds and gemstones from vendors with honest supply chains.

Through that thoughtful choice — and oh so many more — Christy creates change through her business: from where she sources raw materials from to the local artisans she hires in San Francisco to the unique and timeless designs she produces.

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The importance of having help and hiring experts

“I’ve made my choices mostly on intuition and trust. It’s invaluable to have people who have your best interests in mind. It’s a foundational point that you need to be able to grow and thrive.” — Christy Natsumi

While Christy doesn’t have any employees (yet!), she outsources specific parts of the jewelry manufacturing “to people who specialize in those particular techniques to accelerate the production and delivery time.”

This includes local-to-her contract artisans in San Francisco. “It’s a very conscious choice to work with local makers and trade workers,” Christy adds. But it’s not just artisans she’s working with: she also works with an accountant that she meets with monthly as well as a lawyer that she consults from time to time on web copy. Her lawyer also drafted the contracts for her custom work. “Sometimes I’m taking in grandma’s diamonds so there needs to be protections in place for that,” Christy says.

Beyond the legal work, Christy’s hired business coaches, videographers, and marketing and PR contractors. And lucky for her: her husband is a web designer and photographed all pieces since she opened her jewelry design studio.

Making time for yourself keeps you engaged in your business

“I bring attentiveness to my personal needs at the end of the week to make sure that I’m staying engaged and focused and to avoid burnout.” — Christy Natsumi

Being your own boss can sometimes feel like you’re operating in a vacuum. That’s why Christy’s created specific workweek flows to keep her vision front and center. At the end of every week, she prints out photos from clients as well as kind words they send in an email.

This ritual is part of Christy’s work week — and it’s something she intentionally does to stay inspired. “It honors the craft and it also honors the people you’re serving,” she says. “It’s really important to take a moment at least once a week to be reminded of that — and center back into why you’re doing something.”

Is there a way that you can build in time to reflect on the value you’re creating for your customers and clients every week?

Including custom pieces in a product-based business model

“The custom process allowed me to be a little bit more environmentally mindful. I struggled in the beginning with the thought of making things for sake of producing a ton of things. I loved that the bridal pieces allowed me to not only merge value and client needs but it served my business in terms of having healthy profit margins — and my yearning to have and create pieces that had some type of permanence and importance in my clients’ life.” — Christy Natsumi

When you operate a product-based business, so much of the day-to-day work is creating the same product again and again. For passionate small business owners, the daily production work is sometimes at odds with the desire to connect with clients on a deeper level or create bespoke pieces.

That’s why Christy now offers custom design work. “I started to notice people were asking me for wedding rings and custom engagement rings,” she says. “I would do a couple here and there. After awhile, I started to notice there was a real gap between what people were asking me for and what I actually had for sale. It was an aha moment.”

To start, she created a men’s wedding ring collection. “It was fairly straightforward for me, production wise,” she says. Now, custom design work is part of her business model and she works alongside clients to create unique — yet timeless — designs that will stand the test of time.

Listen to this episode to hear how Christy runs her jewelry design business day-to-day, what it means to run an environmentally conscious company, and what she’s working on next.

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