We have an inspiring interview post for you today! Tara Klingenstein-Meyer is the owner and designer of Ouroboros Designs. She began experimenting with jewelry design in college and now sells her jewelry through fashion retailers and boutique stores as well as through her own studio in the United States.
We had several questions for Tara about how she started out as a jewelry designer, what it’s like running her own business and how she’s grown her business to where it is today. Check out our questions and Tara’s answers below.
1. What first led you in the direction of making jewelry?
I worked at an import bead shop in college and one of our tasks was to string beads that customers bought if they wanted them made into jewelry on the spot. I learned some simple wire wrapping working there too.
Fast forward to YEARS later I started picking my beading up again when my husband travelled for long periods of time to keep me from focusing on missing him. As people around me started complimenting my pieces it made me want to be able to do more, specifically I wanted to learn how to solder so I could REALLY complete my jewelry.
Soon after this realization, I met a girl in the cabana next to us in Cabo that was a metalsmith in Northern California. She allowed me to pick her brain for about two hours and after that talk, I knew for sure I wanted to go to jewelry school.
I signed up for the school she suggested in San Francisco (because I lived in Los Angeles) and completed the intensive program at Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts a few months later.
2. How did you actually start making and selling jewelry for a living?
I knew going into jewelry school, because it was a big commitment, that I was going to jump in both feet first after I was done and give it a go as a career. As soon as I got home from San Francisco I came up with a name (well actually my husband did), applied for my business license, and then started making pieces to sell.
At first it was just to friends, family, neighbors etc. After a few months I started doing local flea markets and shows. I think the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena was the very first one I sold at. Eventually my sister-in-law told me about Etsy and I opened a shop there.
These things went on for a few years until I decided I wanted to apply to showrooms. I get really shy in a weird way sometimes when trying to sell my own stuff, so I figured I’d be better off with someone selling for me.
That was the BEST decision I made! It really took my business to another level and I started getting accounts like Free People, Nasty Gal, & SWELL.com along with boutiques all over the U.S. I still sell on Etsy too and love it! Etsy customers are fantastic as far as I’m concerned.
3. What has been the single most important jewelry-making skill you've learned and why?
Soldering. It’s the base skill that allows you to make pieces you can’t otherwise. Once you learn how to solder and use the different types of solder properly you can really take off with your creativity.
4. What does a typical day look like for you as a jewelry designer?
OH GEEZ, my days are crazy because I’m a little bit of a control freak and want to do everything myself when I can. I’m not much of one for monotony so it’s good that each day unfolds differently… and lots of times not really how I expected or planned.
I start the day with COFFEE… ALWAYS!!! I look at and answer emails first while I enjoy cup #1. I work from home so I’m lucky enough to do this on my couch. Then (with cup #2), if I need to order any supplies online I do that next early in the day so they’ll ship out that same evening. I often need my supplies quickly.
Then I move on to the real work. Most days it’s physically making pieces for store orders or samples for large retailers and/or my showroom. Other days it’s packing and shipping, invoicing, designing, making linesheets, photoshoots, and whatnot.
Things pop up in between all that (ex. prepping for a last minute request to be part of a photoshoot for a magazine) and I fit in extra work in between the planned tasks for the day. I’m pretty good at multi-tasking and that’s an important skill when running your own small business.
5. What are your favorite materials to use?
Silver and gemstone cabochons. Right now I’m into turquoise, moonstone, labradorite and opal. My gemstone preferences change with time and seasons. I’m not super girly in general but like most girls I just really like pretty things, so if I see it and it catches my eye just because it’s PRETTY, I’ll buy it and hold onto it until I have a good use for the stone.
I like working with silver the most but I often mix other metals with silver to make pieces more affordable to the end customer. For instance, when I make bezels, the bezel itself will be sterling or fine silver but I’ve been using a lot of brass or bronze back plates because it’s not seen when worn and is much more affordable than if I made the entire piece out of sterling silver.
I’m also really into white copper metal clay. It’s silver tone in color so it can be mixed with sterling but again, more affordable than silver.
6. Your jewelry designs feature the Ouroboros symbol - can you explain what this is and the meaning behind the Ouroboros in your designs?
My husband introduced the Ouroboros symbol to me. He’s very philosophical and spiritual and does everything in life with meaning. The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of either a snake or dragon eating its own tail. It stands for cyclicality, renewal, and things beginning anew as soon as they end.
This speaks to me because as a creative person and artist I’m constantly changing my mind and reinventing my ways and style. SO, naming my brand Ouroboros Designs gives me permission in my head to change as often as I want to.
More people than I ever realized are attached to the Ouroboros symbol and I love it. I feel a sort of kinship with customers that purchase my Ouroboros pieces. My favorite is when the Ouroboros wedding rings are purchased. I think it’s such a cool way to wear a symbol of starting a new life with the person you want to spend “forever” with.
I also like to give the Ouroboros pieces to people in my life when they go through changes like a new job, moving to a new place, or starting a new relationship.
7. What inspires your creativity when making a new piece of jewelry?
OH WOW, I’m inspired by everything around me like most artists. I can be in an old building in downtown LA or NY and the architecture will inspire a new shape to use in my jewelry. Vacations are super inspiring for me. My brain is relaxed and so I see things differently and will think of new ways to use and mix materials.
Other artists I follow on social media majorly inspire me too. I don’t mean that in an I COPY THEM way, but the ability to see other techniques and uses of materials daily gets my wheels turning and creative juices flowing really well.
8. What's your favorite piece of jewelry that you've made before and why?
Hmmm, I’m not sure I can choose just one. I’ve realized about myself from being in the fashion industry for so long that I love a lot of things all the time all at once for different reasons. I’ll have a favorite for a while, but then shortly after I’ll make something else new that replaces my “favorite”.
My favorites are cyclical, making the name Ouroboros Designs even more apropos. Right now, I’m favoring all the pieces I’m making with cowrie shells. I never really thought I’d use sea shells in my jewelry but I ended up trying them out after being inspired by some designers I look up to and I surprisingly came up with some pieces that not only do I like, but that my customers must really dig, because they’ve become my recent best sellers.
9. What challenges do you face in your work?
My biggest challenge right now is training myself to find a balance between work and rest. Because my studio is in my house, I have trouble walking away and not overworking. I actually feel guilty if I am home on a Saturday or Sunday and not making jewelry or doing admin work.
I’m grateful that my business has grown to the point where there’s always work to be done but I’ve found it’s truly unhealthy to not give myself adequate time off. Getting burnt out doesn’t help anything… quite the opposite really.
10. What advice would you have for aspiring jewelry designers?
Don’t expect things to happen or blow up for you overnight. Everything worth having in life is a lot of work and takes time. There are a few rare people in this world that things happen very quickly for but they are the exception, not the rule.
I’ve been working hard at this for over 5 years now and I’m just recently starting to “make it” and get attention and I still have many, many goals to reach and much further to go. If you can, find a mentor that has a lot of experience and will answer your questions and direct you well.
Work for them and under them purely to learn. Knowledge passed down from those that have succeeded before you is more valuable than I can ever explain!
We’d like to thank Tara (pictured directly above) for taking the time to answer our questions for this interview. It’s been fascinating to find out more Tara and not only how she runs her business now, but also how she got to where she is today.
You might also want to check out other interviews we’ve conducted here. If you enjoyed this post, please take a moment to share this post online with your social media followers!