Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Green Motive: Luster Metalworks

Here is a copy of the interview from Modernemotive:

February 23rd, 2009 › 12:48 pm

Store Luster Metalworks
Owner: Susan Harbourt
Selling since: Feb 2008

From top to bottom: Fade To Black Set of 3 Stacking Copper Rings, Silver Poinsettia Flower and Swirls Ring, Vertigo Charm Hammered Copper and Silver Circle Necklace, Silver Infinity Ring. Open Your Heart Hammered Copper Necklace

Tell us a little about yourself and your store.

There is something magical about making metal transform from something you would dismiss as a scrap to an amazing work of art. I am in heaven when I am at my bench with all tools in action; saw, torch, hammers, anvil, and the list goes on…

Primarily I work in sterling silver and copper making an array of rings, necklaces, bracelets, and bookmarks. Lately, I have begun to search out old metals with a story that I can reclaim, recycle and reuse to make beautiful items out of. This was inspired by the desire to work with the seemingly miles of copper wire that was removed from my turn of the century house, which was installed in the mid 1930’s during the time of Rural Electrification. Oh the stories I bet that that old copper could tell us!

What inspired you to open up your own business?

One day, a co-worker was bragging about a necklace she just bought for a HUGE sum of money. It was gorgeous, but I knew that I could never spend such an amount on a necklace. So I decided to try to create my own. I was so pleased with the results that I continued to make necklaces. Soon after, people were asking me to design unique necklaces for them. At that point is was just a fun hobby.

Once I gave up the career to become a stay at home mom, I found that I NEEDED something that allowed me to retain a part of my former independent adult life. I looked at jewelry making a bit more seriously, and thus my business was born. It allowed me to have some quite time to think my own thoughts. But more importantly, I could complete a project from start to finish and feel that sense of absolute accomplishment I was lacking as a mother. My jewelry making is my personal form of therapy.

What makes your business green?

…please don’t think I am anywhere on the same scale the guy in Life with Ed. I am human and I live in reality, but I try to make choices that are green that I can implement and not feel as if I am making a martyr of myself.

So what does that mean? Well business related I have done away with most chemicals considered unfriendly in my studio. For instance, my acid bath that is used to clean metals is now a heated mixture of vinegar + salt, before it was a very caustic chemical. I also do not use flux on my metal, which can produce harsh fumes. I just spot solder and let it sit in the vinegar longer. The metals I use come from wither Hoover & Strong’s “Harmony Metals” line of recycled / reclaimed metals. My copper supply is thanks to hours of labor working on my old house. We recently updated the electrical system from the original one that was installed at the time of Illinois’s Rural Electrification in the 1930’s. I saved all of the copper wire and now use it to make jewelry! I also like pretty packaging, but I have selected boxes, paper, and envelops that contain a high amount of recycled post consumer material. And as I mentioned, I now ship all of my items so that they can be picked up by our mail carrier so I am not making unnecessary trips to town to ship packages.

On the personal side, I believe in reviving the old rather than replacing automatically with new. The Edwardian period house I live in was months away from demolition when my husband and I found it. Immediately we bought it and have been bringing it back to life ever since. In most cases, we have tried to repair what was there versus replace with new items and we have also used a lot of items that have been from the local architectural salvage shop. This goes against the grain of our current society to buy a move in ready new construction house. Since we are “new” to the area we have actually made, and continue to make, so many new friends just from people stopping by to see what we have been doing on this old girl and to share stories of her past. Four years later and I am still amazed at all of the new friends we continue to make!

My daily driver is a 1983 diesel Mercedes Wagon purchased from a junk yard for the whopping sum of $100. With a little bit of work, the car was like new! I get great fuel mileage on the car and it has a lot of life left in it. No brand new mini-van in my immediate future! My husband’s car is pretty similar in story. I am lucky to have a husband who is so handy, not all of us can do what he does. I call him my alchemist!

Other things I do, are grow my own veggies and fruit then can or freeze them for use all year long. I also shop local and at the farmers markets when I can. I have significantly cut out pre-packaged and prepared food and drink from our life. Our big treat is to eat out once a month, but never at a chain, it’s always mom and pop restaurants. We also have a deep freeze full of beef that came from an organically grown cow from a farm down the road, which is also where I get my chicken, eggs, and milk. As for desserts and snacks, I now make them from scratch. You’d be surprised how easy it is. All of this means less packaging that is disposed of that is associated with food in a typical kitchen as well. This is really important when your trash / recycling pickup is only once a month! And yes, I did cloth diapers with my son and will again. BUT, as I said I am still very human, and hate to sacrifice too much. When we were going out and about, I did use disposable diapers for the convenience…but they were the eco friendly brand 7th Generation.

Why is it important to you to offer products that are earth friendly? Do you find it easy or have you encountered difficulties (i.e. sourcing materials)?

To be honest, first it was not me trying to be all part of the “green” movement. It was purely because I was pregnant and I wanted to know what options I had for chemicals…then it progressed from there once I began to educate myself. I have surprisingly encountered very few difficulties once I really started looking. There is a lot out there; you just need to sometimes go past the first page in a Google search to find what is right! It is also about looking at what is around you in a different light. You never know what will be the inspiration to open your eyes!

Do you have plans to further your green initiatives?

I am always looking at ways to be greener in not just my business, but my everyday life as well. Currently my husband and I are experimenting with solar and wind power on a small scale to better understand their pros and cons. It is our goal to implement a system that will generate a majority of our own power needs. It has been very interesting watching our power usage and really know what the drains are…# 1 and #2 are the dryer and the hot water heater respectively. So as a result, we have insulated our water heater as well as turned it down and during nice days we dry clothes outside.

Is your store a full-time job? What’s a typical day like for you?

“full-time”. I consider myself a full-time stay-at-home mom, so there is not a 9-5 office job that I go to any more. My son is almost 3 and ironically I am pregnant with another boy who is due to arrive on my son’s 3rd birthday; only weeks away! With the birth of son #2, my definition of “full time mom” will change again, I am sure. As I mentioned, I started my business as a way to reclaim some independent adult time I was lacking in my life. My business is fairly steady, but not enough that I would consider it full time. It is my goal that by the time I am 40 and both kids are finally in school, I will be able to step this up to the next level of being comparable to a full time gig.

I would say right now, I don’t operate on a typical day basis, more of a typical week, and mind you this is all about to change dramatically when there is a tiny baby back in the house…UGH…As I type this, reality is setting in of all the lack of seep that will be!!!!

Okay, daily, I wake up around 5am so I can spend a little time with my hubby. He works out and I sit on my computer and do some “work”. My work entails checking the local and national news and weather first thing. Then I look at my shops to see if I have any sales, emails, or convos to acknowledge or reply to. I also check Etsy treasuries to see if I am in any, look at how many new hearts I got overnight, and take a peek at my Goggle Analytics data, and either relist sold items or renew a few popular items. After all of that I go shower and wake up my son so we can all eat breakfast together. Thru out the day I don’t spend too much time on my shop, but I do repeat the general process again at night after kiddo goes to bed.

Weekly, I have a babysitter come over for a few hours 2 times a week. She plays with my son as I work in my studio. I also have enlisted her help in putting the decals on my boxes and a few other small chores to help make shipping go faster. If I can’t get all of my orders done during that time I will work on the weekend when my husband is home to help keep my “little assistant” from body slamming me as I work with my torch or other not so toddler friendly tools.

To minimize the impact of my business on family time, I generally ship only twice a week. So on Sunday and Wednesday nights I will go to my computer and print out all of the shipping labels and package all of the items. I am now using the shipping service Endicia so that I can ship international packages from home rather than trek to the PO which is like 15 miles away. This saves me a ton of time and money as I now can just put all of my packages in my mail box for the postal carrier to pick up.

I was really good about having at least one new item listed a week…or at the very least refreshing a current item by redoing its photography and description. That has fallen to the wayside lately. My spare creative time is now filled with building inventory for when I am out of commission. I also spend a little bit of time each day experimenting with design concepts that I will implement once I am back up and running again. I figure the more I can do now, the easier it will be to get back into the swing once I settle into my new full time mommy of 2 roll.

What inspires your work? Any favorite sites/resources you’d like to share?

A lot of my work is inspires by organic forms. I may be working in my garden and the way a tendril from a pea vine wraps around the fence may move me. I love texture and just seeing how a piece of metal responds to a hammer and anvil. I also love having a toddler around. He finds the most ordinary things exciting so looking at the world thru his eyes is also refreshing and inspiring.

We all have days when we feel uninspired. What do you do to snap yourself out of it?

This may sound lame, but I have 3 things that snap me out of a creative funk. First I totally remove everything off of my desk and work surface. I then reorganize it and put it all back in place. Once I have a clean organized zone, the cobwebs feel as if they are cleared away. I then will flip thru some of my favorite books or my sketch pads for inspiration or look at shops / sites I love and see what they are doing and how much they are selling. I then get a bit of a competitive streak in me and I get back to work. If this fails…well I will stand in my studio area and just allow myself a day to tinker and experiment with something new. This usually helps my mojo start to flow again.

What are the top 3 lessons you’ve learned since opening your store - both the good and the bad.

    The good
  1. It is okay to set boundaries on what time you are willing to spend on your business and what you can accomplish. Most people accept that my work is custom made per order and may take a week (or more right now) to complete and get shipped. If they don’t, it is not worth fretting over. I have canceled a few sales because I could not make 20 necklaces by the next day. I am only me, and that is okay, learn that mantra fast or you will be in trouble.
  2. You encounter a lot of interesting people from all over the world and get to touch their lives in some small way with your craft.
  3. A little organization goes a long way.
    The bad
  1. No matter how clear you are in a product description or how much info you provide, most people just don’t read what you write. Argh!
  2. You will get your hopes up on scoring a great custom order or boutique spot….just to find out they were out tire kicking!
  3. Don’t procrastinate; it bites you in the end.

What advice would you give others out there that have a store or are looking to open one. Both from an everyday perspective and how to run a greener business.

You don’t need to do it all at once, take baby steps or else you will get bogged down in the detail and attempts to implement a green life. Document what you are doing green, others like to hear it! And finally, don’t beat yourself up if one aspect is not going the way you thought it would…step back and try a new approach. Just remember that ANY effort you make is better than making no effort at all! Like me the more you learn, the more you will find ways to sneak painlessly it into your life!

Bookmark and Share

No comments: