I got into jewelry making because I was really bored in school.
I was in college and I couldn’t afford to purchase the pieces I really liked. Instead, I got curious about the process of making it myself. So I walked into local jewelry stores in San Luis Obispo—where I went to school—and asked and asked if there was anyone I could learn from or just observe.
Those early days of physically making every piece were formative. In retrospect, it was also a form of sustainability.
I was referred to a retired jeweler who taught metalsmithing. The class was all women in their 50s and 60s and then me. I was a junior in college at the time, living in a house with roommates. I spent all of my spare time watching stone setting videos on YouTube, and eventually set up a jeweler’s bench in my bedroom. My dad gave me a torch for Hanukkah that year.
I was just obsessed with how detail oriented it was, and loved doing things with my hands. I also loved the space it occupied between fashion and industrial design, like a way to create tiny wearable sculptures. The jewelry I was making at the time gravitated toward more dainty and minimalist, but those early days of physically making every piece were formative. In retrospect, it was also a form of sustainability.
I’ve always been a creative person, which I owe to my parents. My mom studied fine art in college and was always painting. It wasn’t her career, but was very much a part of her life. Art and creativity were things that were really important to my parents, and they imbued them into everything we did. My mom affectionately takes credit for what I do now and says it’s because she allowed me to play with my food as a kid.
I have memories of making jewelry at summer camp, like embroidered friendship bracelets. Now that I think back on it, they were pretty detailed. In high school, I made wire-wrapped jewelry and bottle cap earrings and had an ebay store where I sold clothing that I thrifted and photographed on my friends. I was oddly entrepreneurial at a young age.
School wasn’t very fun for me. There are certain things about myself I know now that I wish I knew when I was in high school and college. There are different types of ADHD. I have Inattentive type ADHD, but it’s not so severe that I couldn’t function in class. I did pretty well, but have always had difficulty focusing on the task at hand and retaining information. As a kid I remember getting permission to draw during class to help keep me focused and to keep my hands busy.
A lot of people think if you’re not hyperactive, you don’t have ADHD, or that adult ADHD isn’t real and is something to be muscled through. But I think an awareness of these variables of neurodivergence can be a strength when treated with proper structure and acknowledgement of what one’s specific brain needs to thrive. Working with myself rather than against—and appreciating how I think—allows me to ask questions, to be creative, and to hyper-focus in ways that those around me might not be able to.
That doesn’t mean that taking medication gives you an edge over people who don’t. It means you’re taking something that balances out your brain so that it works the way that it should work. If there’s something that helps you make your brain work a little bit more harmoniously instead of in conflict with itself, why wouldn’t you want that? I think weed consumption is similar.
After I graduated college, I stayed in San Luis Obispo for a year and got an apprenticeship making jewelry. At that point, I was just making jewelry on my own, selling pieces to friends. Having a career in jewelry felt far outside the realm of possibility at the time, so I started experimenting with other forms of creation and playing around on Instagram.
Instagram was a very “right place, right time” thing for me. I was just documenting what I was doing—posting process photos of my jewelry, outfits I was wearing, candid shots of hanging out with friends. I started gaining followers via hashtags, which worked very differently at the time. Essentially, the more I posted, the more my images would end up on the ‘explore page’ or reposted and featured on other accounts. Before I knew it, I had several thousand followers. When I moved to LA, I grew from 40,000 followers to over 200,000. I don’t even know the exact number. It was a freak thing.
If you’re too stuck in one idea of what you should be, there’s no space to evolve.
I was getting paid more than I had ever made before, but it felt deeply unnatural for me to constantly be sharing my life in that way and it began to make me really self-conscious. Anything I post about is a reflection of my values, and I was trying to be quite particular about the brands I was supporting, whether it was paid or not. But it got harder and harder to do that. It was also taking up more of my time, but wasn’t what made me happy. The more immersed I got, the less I liked doing it. At a certain point I decided to entirely move away from myself as ‘brand” and changed my handle to just be J. Hannah and let the focus be on my design work.
People who know me well are often surprised when they find out about that part of my career path. Mostly because I kind of hate being in photos. It’s jarring even for me personally. But I wouldn’t change my path. I learned so much from that experience. It also gave me the financial freedom to focus on and invest in my own business. I’m completely self-funded to this day. The experience also made me realize that there’s no set path to success. I can control things like hard work and intention, but there’s no clear cut formula. The only thing that is certain is that things will keep changing, and that if you’re too stuck in one idea of what you should be, there’s no space to evolve.
The way I run things is very lean. I focus on efficiency and productivity. There’s no manual for companies that have 3-10 people. I’ve been lucky to find a close, supportive network of friends who aren’t coming from business school backgrounds but are forging their own paths and deliberately growing small businesses in their own ways.
Early on, I had insight into everything at J. Hannah and enjoyed strategizing the best way to do things. But there was a certain point where I had to be okay with losing a little bit of control and trusting other people to keep things together for me.
At one point things were growing a bit beyond my reach. I didn’t control every detail, which in some ways was a good thing. But when it comes to intentional growth, things can slip beyond what you want really quickly. I was on this path of, This is how you do business and how you grow. And then, on that path, I stopped and asked, Why the fuck do I want this? Is this even what I want if it means prioritizing the wrong things for me and my team?
Sometimes we hit our growth goals just because someone rich had a fucking birthday. And sometimes we don’t.
I realized I had let the reason why I do this get away from me. I want to be rich in quality and time, and have J. Hannah be something I’m proud of—a business that supports myself and the people I work with monetarily and also as a fulfilling design practice. I don’t want to overwork my team with mythical goals that aren’t really motivating anyway. Especially with the type of product that we sell. Sometimes we hit our revenue goals for the month just because someone rich had a fucking birthday. And sometimes we don’t. So, I shifted our business goals to be centered around net profit goals, not gross revenue or growth.
I don’t want to make a $200 bracelet because a customer needs it—they don’t. Nobody needs gold jewelry and I would rather not compromise my ethics around quality just to fabricate a larger line of cheaper pieces. I want to focus on the design and artistry of the work, and keep things intentionally small. I don’t want to grow my business to sell it and cash out. I would like for it to continue to sustain me and my small team—which is another facet of the word ‘sustainability’ that’s often overlooked.
Jewelry is sentimental. It can be a marker of identity, events, personal milestones, or love.
Since my days of metalsmithing, my focus has shifted to more dialed-in design—we mostly use CAD now— but I really value what I learned by being so versed in the craft itself. It instilled a clear understanding of what goes into every piece, from the sourcing and supply chain to the production and intricacies of crafting something by hand.
Jewelry is such an emotional purchase, and that’s something I love about being in this business. Both with J. Hannah and Ceremony, the line of “commitment” rings I founded with my business partner Chelsea Nicholson, we focus on relationships and the deeply personal connections people have with their jewelry. Jewelry is sentimental. It can be a marker of identity, events, personal milestones, or love. The fact that it is something you’re meant to keep forever, to me, feels so different than fashion.
This approach has really informed the ways that I think about sustainability in design, which is such a complex and layered topic, especially in the jewelry industry where there is often prevalent exploitation and cloudy information surrounding the supply chain. We treat all of this really seriously, both in our pieces that by design eschew disposability or trend, and in using the word ‘sustainability’ with a really intentional meaning attached. For us, that looks like keeping production local, minimizing waste, using 100% recycled metals, and all post-consumer recycled or entirely traceable stones. It’s so important to understand that accountability is an ongoing work in progress and not a one-time check box.
Weed really helps me not have so many wheels turning extremely fast and all at the same time.
I just like being involved in the deep end of things. No one’s ever really described me as a “chill” person. While so much of what I do I keep organized on my Notion and iCal, I have a constant reel of what’s going on running in my brain at all times. Being a high-strung person in general, it’s hard to turn that off, especially at night. If I don’t have a sleep aid, I can just lie there for hours. That’s why I take a 5 mg edible most nights. Weed really helps me not have so many wheels turning extremely fast and all at the same time. It’s the only thing that is effective, and I’ve tried a lot. I ran out of edibles the other day and then couldn’t sleep at all. Perhaps it’s psychosomatic, but it works for me.
Sometimes I get so caught up with the fast pace of my work and life that it can be hard to make time to focus on just being still and observing the world around me. And that, I think, is how a creative person finds inspiration and feeds their ability to come up with new ideas and riff off of existing ones. You need that solo time and stillness and space away from your normal day-to-day. Otherwise, if you’re stuck in your daily routine, you don’t have new perspectives, you don’t have new ideas, and you don’t notice the things around you. I try to always look for inspiration both in and outside of the jewelry world, whether it’s scrolling through furniture on Craigslist, visiting museum collections, or just being in conversation around ideas that challenge and evolve my ways of thinking.
Sometimes weed also helps me stop constantly overthinking things and instead pay attention to what is physically going on around me. It can also make the visual connection between things so much stronger. There are probably other avenues to get the same effect, but every now and then weed can be an accelerator to making that connection. I won’t say it’s necessary, but it’s a fun shortcut.