We’ve always been big fans of Zelma Rose. Artist and designer, Lisa Anderson Shaffer has truly crafted a one of a kind jewelry and accessory line that has us drooling. Zelma Rose will be showcasing at our San Francisco Holiday Fair and we just cannot wait!
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind?
I named my business after my two grandmothers, Zelma and Rose Marie. Both taught me needlework when I was around 9 and I instantly fell in love with the attention to detail and slow nature of the process. Most of the women in my family created needlework and I am lucky enough to have a beautiful collection of heirlooms dating back to my great great grandmothers.
Have you always been passionate about design?
Always! I was the kid in school who everyone knew was going to be an artist long before I did. I love the process. Going from something as abstract and vague as inspiration to creating a prototype is wonderful, frustrating, tedious and exciting. I love the surprises that happen along with way. I am a firm believer in listening to the materials once I start a design instead of holding fast to an original design idea. I think design can suffer when it is a one way street. I like the evolution that happens from an original design idea once you add materials, color and the artistic process. In this conversation I find the greatest changes take place and ones that really define my style and vision and make a Zelma Rose design, a Zelma Rose design.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft/field?
I have always been an artist, but I started working as a jewelry designer in 2010. The road of my business has been somewhat unconventional compared to those of my peers. I was a working artist for about 6 years, mostly as artist-in-residence at UCSF Mt. Zion Cancer Center. While there I became interested in psychology and decided to pursue a Masters in Clinical Psychology. I was working as a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in 2009 when life for my family got really chaotic. My father-in-law was tremendously ill with pancreatic cancer and we had experienced a year of incredible grief as a family with one loss after another. It was an extremely intense time but looking back I am grateful for all the grief. It gave me the courage to jump into the unknown and try something new. I came home from my practice one day and said to my husband, “I’m done. I can’t do this right now.” To my surprise he said, “okay, what’s next.” I began the process of taking a leave from my practice and went back to teaching art. It was then that I started to play around with product design. My art previously had all been visual and I wanted to see what it was like to make something that becomes a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s style. I started making like crazy and before I knew it I had my first collection, and Zelma Rose was born.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I don’t believe in minimal when it comes to jewelry. It is my mission to create designs that are distinctive and memorable and reflect the unique personalities and style of those who wear them. Nature is a wonderful muse for creating memorable pieces. I love the delicate balance between the bold colors and refined details found in nature. There is so much that can be seen in a single leaf and that is what I aim to do with my designs. I keep both a wide and narrow focus in mind so that each piece makes an impact from far away and up close. I love the excitement and surprise that occurs when a design has elements that can continue to be discovered.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Oh the life of an artist is ripe with failure! It happens daily. As an artist by the day, as a parent by the minute! I’ve gotten really good at it. My biggest failure has less to do with my business and more to do with my own fear of fully being an artist. When I went back to school to pursue my Masters and psychotherapy license I did not make a single piece of art for an entire 6 year period. I felt like what I was doing was very creative, but failed to see the difference between intellectual stimulation and creativity and just being someone at my core who needs to be making with my hands to be happy. I thought I was happy, but deep down I wasn’t. Once I started creating art again, I vowed to never ever convince myself that I did not need to be doing this. I am an artist, plain and simple. Fear got in the way for me and looking back I think that’s why I went back to school. I was so afraid of being an artist that I thought I would just go ahead and do something else. I still love psychology and truth be told, I was s a really great therapist, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I don’t regret that time, it continues to be very meaningful to me, but I know now that scared or not, I’m an artist.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
When running your own business there are always sacrifices. I remind myself often that I chose this and I chose all the ways that Zelma Rose has grown and hasn’t. When my daughter was born I had no idea that I would feel so connected as a mother. Holding her for the first time in my arms at the hospital I knew I did not want to leave her side. Being the kind of parent I want to be has been the biggest gift of my job. I run all aspects of my business around being at home to care for my bean full time. While this is amazing and everything I have wanted, it also means that I run at a slower pace. Things take time to get off the ground as there is only so much I can accomplish in an effective and sane way while running a business full time and being a full time stay at home mom. My hours are super odd, people will often get emails from me at 4 am., but it works for us! It is essential to me to, as my friend Emily McDowell says, “to not compare myself to strangers on the internet.” I remind myself of this every single day. My pace is my own and growing slowly and staying smaller has enabled me to have SO much in life and not just business.
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
Last year I was invited by Etsy to be a part of a partnership with The American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I grew up in New York and visited the museum monthly as a young kid. It remains one of my favorite places on the planet. Having my designs for sale in the museum shop and sharing the space with the Hall of Gems and dinosaur bones still makes me speechless. It was a total thrill to be able to bring my husband and daughter along to the partnership launch. Being able to show my little one the museum and my work as part of it still brings tears to my eyes. It is something I am incredibly proud of and grateful for.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
Fairfax is a magical place. We are 18 miles from downtown San Francisco and simultaneously in the middle of nowhere. My home sits on a mountain top and my studio windows overlook an expansive view of the eastern sky. I am surrounded by trees and mountains and watch the sun rise each morning from the windows of our home. Being so intimate with nature has been life changing. Just the other day we had a buck come up the winding driveway and take a seat about 20 feet from our front door for the afternoon. It was exciting, a little scary, and totally magical. Moments like these deeply inspire my work in ways that it sometimes takes months to discover. I just love that!
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
Being creative will save your ass every single time. Going to art school and pursuing a BFA not only taught me how to be an artist but how to be a person of integrity. I didn’t know it at the time, but art school while notorious for being a kick in the shins, also taught me so much about following my instinct, self confidence, and countless characteristics that have been invaluable in running a business. I will always be grateful to the San Francisco Art Institute for the pat on the back and the toss into the shark tank.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
Grief is something I never thought I would be grateful for, but without it I would not have taken the leap to start my business or be an artist. I definitely felt like I had nothing to lose and that was exactly what I needed to leave a profitable career, set out on my own without a plan, be a new mom and try to make it all work. This is not a business plan I would suggest! Sometimes things happen all at once and you can either go with it, or waste time wishing the good and bad arrived on a schedule.
What are some inspirations for your work?
Nature is my biggest inspiration. I am constantly in awe of all the beauty that surrounds us in Northern California. I often wonder if my daughter will ever actually understand how phenomenally beautiful the Golden Gate Bridge is and what it means to walk 5 minutes from our home and be totally lost in nature. We live in a unique place. The colors that surround us here, the golden mountains, green trees, and incredibly blue sky is beyond brilliant and the perfect muse.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Know thyself. Know fully what you want to share with your customers and how you want to make them feel. Having a clear vision and artistic perspective is invaluable. There will be times when you will be asked to do wonderful and exciting things with your brand and designs and some of them will be a good match and some of them won’t. Knowing yourself and your vision makes it a lot easier to know what to say yes to and when to say no. Sometimes it makes more sense to say yes to the smaller idea because it stays true to your vision than the larger one which might immediately yield greater results but drift your designs and ideas away from your original intent. Know thyself.