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Handmade is a popular trend, as seen through the success of places like Artfire and Etsy. People can appreciate that handmade touch, and they want it with a professional quality. That is exactly what makes SKM artworks jewelry so special.

Susan Miller prides herself on making quality jewelry with that special touch that only handmade can bring to it. With a variety of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, there is something for everyone within her collection.

Susan recently spoke with us about her business and the inspiration behind it.

Tell us a little about SKM artworks.

SKM artworks’ mission is to create beautiful, accessible jewelry for people looking to connect on a deeper level with what they buy and wear. I call it SKM artworks because our goal is not to make mass-produced items, but to create wearable works of art.

SKM artworks is creating unique hand-woven pieces that fit in while running around town, at a planning meeting or a cocktail party. Our gems are striking yet affordable. I believe in jewelry that doesn’t just look good, but which makes you feel better about yourself and the world. That’s one reason that, aside from gorgeous gemstones, I also incorporate elements from my constant search for interesting antique and reproduction artifacts – from Buddhist symbols to ancient Roman coins and antique gaming chips. This is beautiful jewelry that tells a story you won’t find in a mass produced item.

What inspired you to begin making and selling your jewelry?

As a life long craftswoman, I’ve always been doing some kind of artistic work. Right before SKM artworks was born, my passion was focused on knitting and crochet. I spent countless obsessive hours creating all sorts of things from the usual scarves, wraps and sweaters to felted backpacks… you name it. One night before bed I came across a pattern for a little crocheted choker that I made on the spot – and that was it. I was hooked (excuse the pun) on weaving jewelry. I’ve also had a strong interest in gems and minerals. People don’t realize the amount of gorgeous stones out there! I started experimenting with all kinds of materials and began the journey of figuring out how to join the craft of crochet with the art of jewelry making in a new way. Once I saw the possibilities, I worked tirelessly to develop the techniques and original designs that would become SKM’s signature style. After seeing the response to what I was creating, I knew this was something that I could turn into a successful business that I would be passionate about.

How many styles/designs do you currently offer?

Currently, I offer over 100 styles with retail prices ranging for SKM’s necklaces from $65-$299 earrings, $45-$125 and bracelets $59-$199. When I was shopping for jewelry, I found a gap in the market that I knew I could fill. Every woman wants something that’s unique and speaks to her but that also fits within her budget, especially today. That’s been a primary goal for us – keeping this art form accessible. If you know what you’re buying, great looking gems don’t have to cost a fortune. That’s why almost all of my pieces come in under $300. Where many companies arrive at these prices by using teeny-tiny gems, we get there through our knowledge of gemstones and the people who mine and sell them. Check out the prices of my rubies and sapphires and you’ll see what I mean.

Where do you find the inspiration for your jewelry designs?

Sometimes it’s just sitting on my back porch, watching birds at the feeders or my dogs play. The inspiration for my designs comes first and foremost from my love of nature, which is why my jewelry has such an organic, earthy feel. The hand-woven waxed linens and naturally certified-green leathers add to this feeling in an incredible way. They provide an amazing backdrop for the stunning colors and spark of the gemstones and precious metals I use. My interest in eastern cultures, from exposure to the yoga world, also plays a part. Many of my pieces incorporate antique or reproduction artifacts, like a bronze Buddhist wheel or a sanskrit coin wishing good health. People say these pieces make them feel good as well as look good and the contrast of these differing materials used together makes for very versatile and unique jewelry that can be worn anywhere.

What separates you from the competition?

Aside from the unique designs and fine jewelry quality of my line, what sets SKM artworks apart is my ability to use all of the skills from my varied background to create an exceptional business. I spent several years as a management consultant and business planner before getting my masters in social work. This has given me a variety of skills which have all contributed to my success. Being able to present my product in a professional manner and run an efficient business is something that makes me appreciate my corporate resume. Ultimately, I wasn’t happy working in that world, but the knowledge gained from it is invaluable. My social work background ensured that SKM artworks would have a purpose greater than offering beautiful hand woven jewelry. Philanthropy is a major focus for us which is where my social worker roots come to light. Since we began, aside from supporting many charities in our community, SKM artworks has offered a beautiful hand woven bracelet, the iHug Wristhug, of which 20% of the proceeds benefit the International Help Uganda Grow (iHUG) Foundation (www.ihugfoundation.org) – an amazing grassroots organization helping many of Uganda’s most impoverished children. Most recently I’ve been donating my time to another incredible non-profit organization, Kula for Karma (www.kulaforkarma.org), developing a signature necklace to embody the spirit of their organization which they will use in their fundraising endeavors. It’s a very exciting project that allows me to help others while stretching my own artistic limits.

Do you have any goals you’d like to accomplish in the next year or so? Long term goals?

My business goals are to continue to expand my retail base at a comfortable growth rate. As a jewelry artist, I look forward to my personal growth so that SKM’s line will continue to evolve in a gratifying and interesting way. It is also important to me to continue raising awareness of jewelry as a wearable art form… one that can express individuality while elevating the wearer by providing a meaningful connection – whether it be to the artist, to nature, spirituality or history, or to a sense of social contribution to a wonderful charity.

What are some lessons your business has taught you?

The need for balance. At least once a week I have to remind myself that I am my own boss and I can set my own pace. Not everything has to be done yesterday. Things take time to develop, whether it’s developing new sales material or updating my website or even finding time to keep SKM’s facebook page current all while working on a new collection. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to be okay with that and I’m learning to temper my excitement and ambition with patience since there are only so many hours in the day, especially when you throw being a mom and wife into the mix. Obviously when you are starting your own business the hours are going to be long and if you work from a home studio as I do, the temptation to work all the time is always there. But I am learning to keep a healthier balance so I don’t burn myself out. I can be more present for my family and friends and I can enjoy the SKM ride – which is really what it’s all about.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In order to sustain a business there has to be a deep connection to your product. For me, the hook is my absolute amazement at the process of creation. For example, whenever I completed a knitting project, I was always amazed. I’d say to my husband, this used to be a ball of string and now it is something entirely new, beautiful and useful. Well, he thought I was crazy but it’s the same with the jewelry I create. I take these raw materials, waxed linen, stones, sterling silver and turn them into something that didn’t exist before…new, beautiful and useful – with their own life with whoever wears them. I imagine all the places they’ll go, the memories they will become a part of. That incredible feeling of awe for creation is what keeps me going and what keeps the new designs coming.

Do you have any advice you’d like to offer fellow entrepreneurs and jewelry artists who are just getting started?

If I knew everything this business would entail before I got started, my jewelry might have never transformed from hobby to business. If you do not have strong business skills, find someone who does who can help you. I am fortunate to have a strong foundation in this area as well as people around me who help out. It’s one thing to have a great product but quite another to know how to turn it into a business. Find a business partner if that’s not your area of expertise so you can divide and conquer. Take your time and have patience. Ask a lot of questions to others who have gone before you. I’ve found people genuinely want to be helpful and enjoy sharing their expertise. When you get stuck, seek advice, hire a coach, whatever it takes to get you moving forward again. Take advantage of the many free resources like, e-newsletters for small business and on-line communities of like-minded businesses. You will get there in the end if you keep at it.

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Originally posted by Angela Shupe on October 13, 2011 in Featured / Interviews.

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