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Conversations with the Inspiring Valerie Morgan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Valerie Morgan.

Valerie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born and raised near Denver, Colorado and was heavily influenced by nature and geography. I have always liked crafting and working with my hands. I started beading as a hobby as a kid and was even interviewed by a local Denver news station when my Girl Scout troop made a trip to the local bead store. While I was in college at UNT majoring in interior design, I started working at a local gift shop and the owners mentored me in expressing myself artistically. I created store displays and they taught me to make mosaics and other pieces of art for the shop. I especially took to making jewelry for the store and it ignited a passion I hadn’t explored since I was a kid.

After college, I began working in the interior design industry but always kept making jewelry as a hobby. I took classes at local colleges and craft guilds to expand my skills in metalsmithing and metal clays. I tried to make things that I wanted but couldn’t find anywhere else. I was frustrated that I couldn’t find unique, quality pieces at an affordable price. I realized that I might be able to start my own business when people started trying to buy the jewelry I made when I wore it out. I recently left my day job and transitioned into my jewelry business fulltime.

Has it been a smooth road?
Starting Valerie Morgan Designs was definitely a winding road. I graduated from college in 2008, right in the middle of the recession. Finding a job was difficult but I ended up managing a vintage furniture consignment store and design studio. It didn’t seem like it was a great time to start a small business as even well-established businesses were going under but I kept making pieces for myself and family. I went into the high-end residential interior design a few years later and the economy started improving. I saw the opportunity and started my business as a side hustle in 2011 but didn’t really dedicate a ton of time and energy to it until I cut back the hours at my day job in 2015. I have since stepped away from interior design and am solely focused on Valerie Morgan Designs. Now, I wake up in the morning with a head full of ideas and I’m excited to get to work.

The financial side has honestly been the biggest struggle. It’s scary to go out on your own with no guaranteed source of income. The tools, equipment and supplies for jewelry making are not inexpensive so I was reluctant to totally leave my day job. People don’t always discuss the fact that growth in a small business can be slow. You notice improvement year-over-year but it’s by no means a way to get rich quick.

Starting a small business is hard. It can be really trying physically and emotionally sometimes. People don’t see the 20+ hour days in the studio or the weekends that are totally devoted to your craft when you want to be spending time with your family and friends. Sometimes, the pieces don’t come out the way you intended them to or you don’t physically have the ability to execute your ideas. Sometimes, you’ll want to give up but you have to decide that the sacrifices are worth it to be your own boss. You just have to keep working and give your best effort every single day; continue to expand your knowledge base and improve.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Valerie Morgan Designs story. Tell us more about the business.
I work mostly with silver, bronze and gemstones. Technique-wise, I make a large portion of my pieces out of precious metal clay and bronze clay. That involves molding the piece out of clay, drying and sanding, kiln firing, polishing, and finally working the made object into a piece of jewelry. I also fabricate all of my settings. I’m a little bit of a pyro, so I enjoy working with the torch. I make beaded jewelry too and try to include my metal clay pieces to keep them unique. I enjoy utilizing various techniques in my work and dabble in enameling and silk knotting as well.

I grew up outdoors so nature has always been a big part of my life. A lot of my popular bronze pieces are twigs and leaves that I’ve found while hiking in various locations. I have a seashell that I found on my honeymoon. They are all unique to my brand and most of my pieces have a personal story behind them. I’m also a big rock-hound so I include semiprecious gemstones in a lot of my work. I try to get out to Tucson every year for the gem show to stock up on stones for my jewelry.

At the end of the day, I am proud of the product I produce. I strive to make quality, unique, truly handmade jewelry at affordable prices. I feel like I see a lot of businesses that claim to be handmade but are really assembling components they bought in bulk. I think that there is a place for that in the marketplace but I don’t know that I would consider that truly handmade.

Ultimately, I’m not re-inventing the wheel, but I try to avoid looking at or comparing my jewelry to other artists work on social media, etc. to stay unique to myself and my sensibilities. I also feel strongly about keeping green business practices. I use all recycled products in my packaging, shipping, and advertising materials. I recycle my metals and do my best to use natural or environmentally friendly chemicals in my studio as much as possible.

Who do you look up to? How have they inspired you?
First and foremost, I was raised surrounded by strong women. My mother and grandmother displayed resilience in overcoming hardships. They taught me that if the world knocks you down, you get back up and keep going.

I credit Beth Klein and Roxanne Clark, the business owners of Sleeping Lizzards gift shop in Denton, for showing me that women could be successful business owners and forge their own path in the business world. They encouraged me artistically and academically and made me feel like part of the family. They are a huge part of why I felt confident in starting my own business.

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