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For Katherine Hayes, Designing Ethically Made Jewelry Is a Dream Career Come True

Martha Stewart Living 8/2/2022 Nashia Baker

Courtesy of Dreambox © Provided by Martha Stewart Living Courtesy of Dreambox

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

Jewelry is a personal form of expression whenever a piece is worn. That's how Katherine Hayes felt every time she tried on a trinket from her mother's jewelry box in her young years—and her connection to jewelry only got stronger with time. "As a teen, I babysat for our neighbor, and when I walked into the house, my attention was immediately drawn to this magical little corner, illuminated with several different lights and tools," the Dreambox Jewelry founder and CEO says. "As I walked up to the desk, I saw so many beautiful pieces of jewelry, and some designs mid-process."

This moment introduced the Nashville, Tenn.-based designer to a jewelry studio for the first time, long before the days of sites like Etsy and other platforms that amplify makers' voices and work. "I'll never forget that magical little in-house studio," Hayes adds. "That's when I realized this was possible for me, and that I wanted to create my own pieces one day."

Related: How to Set Up an Art Studio at Home

Courtesy of Dreambox © Provided by Martha Stewart Living Courtesy of Dreambox

Seeking Out Mentorship

Hayes founded Dreambox in July 2019, but her business journey started nearly one decade earlier. "I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit, whether it be through selling vintage clothing, mid-century furniture, or modeling on the side," the CEO says, adding that she always knew she wanted to work for herself. She started teaching herself design techniques around 2010 and participating in small-scale art shows around Nashville. "Eventually I started working for Judith Bright, a local designer here in town," Hayes says. "It was wonderful to be surrounded with a creative team, and having her encouragement and mentorship along the way."

The creative has continued to seek out mentors throughout her journey, even now working for herself. Her mindset is that entrepreneurship shouldn't have to be a solo journey. "Sometimes all you need is just one person to believe in you," she says. "When you dream about doing something, and keep chipping away at it, one day you'll look up and realize you've arrived."  

A Dream Turned Reality

When creating Dreambox, Hayes' outlook centered solely on making pieces that reflected slow fashion and ethically made jewelry. "I started testing designs within my community; friends, family, and locals," she says. "I took note of what they connected with and responded to." She also used social media to market her jewelry, allowing her to connect with a close-knit community of creatives in her hometown.

Her own life experience also helped create the overall vision for the designs themselves. "As a middle child, I've always been a bit of a dreamer; I like to describe it as having multiple tabs open in the mind," the entrepreneur says. "I am always thinking about new designs, and sometimes those designs can be slightly out of reach. I respond to those ideas by learning the skills and sourcing the tools I need to make them happen."

The Creative Process

As for Hayes' design inspiration? She draws from what she's feeling and then thinks about how it can be captured and designed for the wearer. She also looks to her own wardrobe to finish off the creative process. "I design around what I'm wearing, and what season I'm in," Hayes says. "For example, in 2020, the wardrobe consisted of athleisure, sweats, and robes, so I made several earring sets that were comfortable enough to fall asleep in." These designs are now the foundation to her brand, which will help springboard her next collection, set to debut in spring 2023. 

She works with two suppliers to help bring her jewelry to life: one for metals and another for gemstones. Both of these businesses meld with her mission to create a certified fair trade and ethically sourced brand. The metals (gold-fill and sterling silver) are recycled, and the scrap material is also sent back to her supplier for recycling.

"When it comes to naming the pieces, I usually go with what feeling it evokes first, then highlight and narrow those keywords down, sometimes into a name or phrase, and create a poll, asking my community to vote and help choose the final name," she says. "It's a fun way to participate with my audience, and have them be a part of the design." Some of the founder's favorite pieces right now are her Dreambox Essential Hoops (from $20, dreamboxjewelry.com) and Dreambox Confetti Necklace (from $68, dreamboxjewelry.com), as they are easy-to-style pieces that transcend trends.

Inspiring Other Makers

Hayes' biggest purpose is to influence other aspiring business owners through her journey. "If you truly love what you do, the authenticity will show, and it's something that we all need to see more of," she says, adding that she hopes to meaningfully impact her customers' lives in the same way she feels her jewelry impacts her: "My pieces are made to inspire confidence, self-love, and empowerment."

She does have a few pieces of advice for entrepreneurs going along their own paths. Aside from staying authentic to your vision, she says to tap into your audience and allow them to help you grow your business (think: feedback on new products). Plus, she recommends taking breaks from social media since it can get draining. "Quieting the mind is conducive to creativity," she says. "Find someone you trust with your vision to manage that aspect of the business while you take breaks."

Brand growth happens at its own pace, Hayes explains, so also try to stress less about the speed of getting to your business-related destination—as you are likely steadily flourishing without even realizing. "When I started Dreambox, a big goal of mine was to have my designs in shops that I love and would frequent myself. That has now become a reality for me," she says. "Dreambox is currently carried in two shops, one local and one based in California. Most recently, Dreambox was featured in a pop-up market for Free People. Sometimes, I have to take myself back to the moment when these things were just a distant goal to put my journey into perspective."

Next up, Hayes is aiming to learn new skills, such as metalsmithing, fabricating, and casting carved waxed designs in her studio. "I'm planning to take things to the next level, designing ultimately unique pieces where no two are alike; creating pieces as unique as each and everyone of us on this planet," the CEO says. "I am so excited for this next chapter of Dreambox. Follow along with me @dreamboxjewelry."

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