In this week’s edition of our career-advice column, we learn about how to turn your passion for jewellery into an all-encompassing work/life experience.
Name: Desiree Girlato
Job: Jewellery designer and owner of Armed
In 30 seconds or less, tell me what you do all day at work.
My job never really starts or ends; I’m always thinking up new ideas and working away at new pieces. I’m in the store Wednesday through Sunday, and I get to meet really cool people and talk with them, which I love. I can design anywhere, either in the store or upstairs where I live, but the amount I do varies—I try to have a few new pieces done each week. I’m also responsible for the whole business side of things, which includes managing the store and sending emails, and scheduling the pop-up designers that we have in the store.
How did you first become interested in working with jewellery?
I started by studying fashion, but I became frustrated with the whole sewing process. After forcing it for a long time, I kind of just let that be. I got into jewellery when my Mom was cleaning out the basement a few years ago, and she brought out all the beads and stuff from when I had made friendship bracelets as a kid. I asked her not to get rid of it, and it just kind of happened that I started making this whole jewellery collection. I didn’t really think much of it, but some friends came over and saw the stuff, and were like, “When did you start making jewellery?” So then I started going to shows and becoming more serious about it. I studied fashion management at Humber, where I learned a lot about the business side of things. I also started taking courses on the side—I took a few at the community centre, and I did a silver-making course at Organic Metals. During that time, whenever I came home I would just make jewellery—especially because I didn’t have a TV then! I love making jewellery, so it’s not a forced activity for me; it’s something I do to relax. I’ve always been into the idea of design in general; I was really into shoes when I was young, and was always sketching them and making shoes out of random stuff like yogurt containers. Jewellery is just the right creative outlet for me.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs?
I read a lot of magazines and follow a ton of blogs. Currently, I’m really into this amazing jewellery company called Dannijo. But generally, it’s a lot of trial and error for me. I’ll see something in a magazine and be inspired by that, and then adjust it or make it more along the lines of something I’m into. And then I’ll come back to it in the morning and if I really hate it I’ll take it apart—that happens all the time! I also love collaborating with people and working on ideas; sometimes friends will ask me to make something specific for them. When you have two minds working on one thing, something good always comes out of that.
The name of the store, Armed, comes from this merge of apparel and accessories, kind of like armour. One of my favourite pieces is actually out of a shoot right now, it’s this very editorial piece with leather shoulders and chandelier crystals in the back. I love making large pieces—I like the idea of making jewellery that’s less of an accessory and more of a wearable piece of apparel. Sometimes people come in and look at the bigger pieces and say, “Oh, where would I wear that?” And I’m like, “Wear it to the park! Wear it anywhere you like!” I make jewellery for special occasions to be worn everyday, and I want the person who is buying it to be as into it as I was making it.
When did you start thinking that you wanted to open a physical storefront?
The store was also a random happening—none of this was planned! After I started renting an apartment upstairs, I realized that there was this vacant storefront, so I asked the landlord about it. He mentioned that they were planning on fixing it up and renting it out, and I have always wanted to open a store. Because Dundas is still kind of up-and-coming, I was able to get it for a good price, and I knew if I didn’t jump on it I would regret it. I have supportive parents and had some money saved up, so I opened the store last August. I was really surprised by how well it’s been received. I just love making jewellery and I don’t take what I do that seriously; I’m just in it because I’m passionate about it.
Can you explain the pop-up part of the store?
The store has constantly evolved: it started out just being jewellery, and then we brought in some vintage clothing, and now we’re doing this pop-up designer thing. We have a new designer in every month. It’s all been people that have either come by the store or I’ve met through other connections. This guy who does Handsome Clothing walked into the store back in September, and we got to talking and he told me about his stuff. We stayed in touch, and we brought him and his collaborator in for the month of May. Next month we’re getting this girl in whose company, MICHI, does a lot of work in New York—she does this cool mix of streetwear and athletic wear. I meet so many talented people who all have something to offer, and it’s great to help cultivate that. The fashion industry in this city is tiny; everyone knows everyone.
How do you find some of your unique materials, like special stones?
When I first started making jewellery, I met this lady at my very first show, and she told me about this gem show in Tucson. When February rolled around, I checked out the listing—this thing runs for two months, and it’s this huge exhibition. All these people from all over the world come to Tucson to look at really beautiful rocks and chains and stuff. I made a whole shopping list before I got there, and by the time I finished with the first vendor I had already spent most of my savings! It’s hard to buy supplies online, because when you’re making jewellery you’re looking for a specific texture and weight and shine, and it helps to be able to hold it and feel it in your hand. You get there and you’re inspired by the landscape, and you meet really cool people. I wound up bringing back a couple of grand in materials, and the jewellery I was making when I returned to Toronto had this Navajo kind of quality.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of what you do?
I’m not really good at the business side of things; I’m slowly learning it. You have to cover your costs, and that’s more than just materials—you have to think of the time it took, and if you had to drive there, and stuff like that. At the end of the day, you need to keep your bottom line in mind. I sometimes need to remind myself that this is a business, and if I want to keep doing what I love—making jewellery—I have to make money. The best part—other than getting to make jewellery, of course—is meeting awesome people. When cool people come in and we have a connection, it’s great. Everyone has a cool story, and it’s interesting to get to hear a bit of it.