We are proud Midwesterners through and through, and love supporting local girl bosses from our part of the country. That’s why we were so excited to meet Owner and Designer, Sierra Winter-Otto. She’s a Midwest native who launched Sierra Winter Jewelry in 2016, after designing in-house for a large jewelry brand for almost a decade. Though she had been traveling around the world, trending and forecasting, Sierra loves everything about her home state, and so launched her business to work from home with her family, and show off the natural beauty of the Midwest. She still loves to travel, but before her next trip or line launch, she gave us an insight into her busy life…
HOW DID YOU START IN THE ACCESSORY BUSINESS?
I went to college at the University of Kansas with a plan of majoring in Art History through the Fine Arts School. I had been taking studio art classes and signed up for Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design. I fell in love. From that point on, I knew that jewelry was going to be a part of my life forever. I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design with an emphasis in Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design. After graduation, I moved to Kansas City and was lucky enough to get a job at Silpada Designs on their jewelry design team. Silpada was the country’s largest direct sales sterling silver jewelry company at the time and their headquarters was in Kansas City. I’m still not sure how it all worked out, but I was very blessed to get that job after college and the recession.
WHAT LED YOU TO BRANCH OUT ON YOUR OWN?
Even though I was doing a job that most might dream about, (traveling around the world, constantly designing, having a bead library at my fingertips) I wasn’t happy. I needed to work towards something bigger and working for myself was the challenge I needed. I kept thinking about what my life would look like in the next five to 10 years and I didn’t see myself in the corporate world.
WHAT WAS THE TOUGHEST PART OF STARTING YOUR BUSINESS?
All of the alone time! I left my corporate job in September 2015 to start Sierra Winter Jewelry. It was terrifying. I spent a lot of that winter in my studio with my two cats, a gangster rap playlist, and a very big task of starting a jewelry business with the deadline of May. I was designing, developing product, finding suppliers to work with, and fighting off the ‘what the heck have I done’ mentality.
WHERE DO YOU GET INSPIRATION?
I look at a lot of motifs found on vintage rugs and in jewelry, global textiles, as well as high fashion prints and patterns. I also have a thing for old National Geographic Magazines. There’s something about those grainy pictures that inspires my designs.
Every February, I go to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show in Arizona. Kansas City is usually frozen and it is so nice to be in the sunny desert. People from all over the world exhibit and attend. There is an awesome African Market that pops up during the show and I love looking at the home ware, trade beads, and baskets.
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
I don’t. I am constantly working and always busy. I love it! Even when I’m not ‘working’ I am thinking about work, mentally planning the next steps for Sierra Winter Jewelry, and making lists. Crossing things off my lists is abnormally pleasing to me.
I’m not the stereotypical working mother. For the most part, I have my baby girl with me all the time.
WHAT’S THE BEST PROFESSIONAL ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
My mom has always told me, “You’ll never know if you don’t ask.” I say this to myself daily. In a small business, you have to open doors for yourself and not be afraid to ask.
WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO GET INTO A CREATIVE PROFESSION?
Be true to yourself. You and five other designers may all be inspired by the same thing, but you need to take the inspiration and modify it to fit you.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU AND THE LINE?
Along with making lists, I really enjoy setting goals. Some of my goals for Sierra Winter Jewelry are to grow the brand by selling to retailers. I also plan on launching a new line later this year. It will have opals in it (a small tribute to my baby girl, Opal).