Lisa Nguyen specializes in handcrafted polymer clay jewelry. She is the founder of Of Clay Jewelry, based in Portland, Oregon, and makes all of the earrings she sells by hand. Lisa’s statement earrings are meant to brighten up your day. We are so happy to bring Lisa and her brand into the Daughters Market circle. When Lisa isn’t creating, you can often find her exploring and immersing herself in the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest with her dogs.
Tell us a little about your personal story and how you got to where you are now? Did you have a creative upbringing?
Yes, I did have a creative upbringing. My Mom was really supportive in me trying anything that I wanted. So, if I wanted to take music lesson or dance lessons, I could do that. So, I think that helped me become a person with a lot of hobbies. As I grew up and was in high school and was going to college I didn’t really have as much of a creative outlet and with being half Vietnamese my Dad was the sort of the stereotypical,” Oh, you need to be a doctor. You need to be a lawyer.” I felt a lot of pressure from that and wasn’t so successful in trying for those things. And so, through a lot of trial and error, I finally decided I wanted to do something creative and fun just for me because it was really lacking in my life. And that’s sort of how Of Clay started. I just needed a creative outlet and something to do. It ended up working out!
It did! Also, I’m half Chinese and very much am familiar with some of the stereotypical Asian parenting goals that nudge you towards being a doctor or lawyer.
It can be a very real thing and it can be a lot of pressure. Stereotypes don’t necessarily come out of nowhere. I remember telling my Dad when I was switching from biochemistry to business. He was so mad, even though I was still in school at that point!
For those not familiar with your work, tell us a bit about Of Clay Jewelry?
Yeah, Of Clay is a one-woman band. It’s all made from polymer clay. I use findings and hardware that are wearable for people with sensitive ears. That’s really important to me. It’s also very accessible jewelry. I try to make sure that all of my price points are at a spot that almost everybody can afford them. Whether they can save money for a couple weeks to purchase them or it’s an easy purchase. I like to have a range of products where everyone can enjoy my jewelry. It’s an inclusive line.
How did you acquire your skills? Are you self-taught, or did you attend a jewelry making class?
I am totally self-taught. Clay jewelry was a trend I was seeing a lot of and I thought the jewelry looked really cute and so I thought to buy some clay and play around with it. I wasn’t good at all at first but then researching and watching YouTube tutorials, following other makers that are really open and supportive in the community. I learned from their tips and so that’s how I got started and perfected things as I went along.
Who or what influences you?
I would say definitely other artists and designers. I try to look at people outside of the clay earring scene. As well as just being outside in nature. Different color palettes or textures or how I can incorporate other elements into clay. I’m just constantly inspired by everything! But yes, definitely other artists and the PNW.
What do you love about being a business owner? Proudest moment so far?
I definitely love running my own business. It has its very own unique positive and negative experiences compared to other types of work. Ultimately, what I love most about it is that you reap what you sow. It’s all the work that you put into your business. You will see that on the other side and how it affects other people. My proudest moment is just going for it and not giving up. I never thought that when I started making earrings as a hobby that it would turn into a business. But when I felt that little feeling of passion about it and that I could make something out of it I just went for it. Having that confidence in yourself, I’m very proud that I had that and that I’ve been carrying it through.
What three traits define you?
The three things I thought of for myself are optimism, persistence and integrity. I think to be a business owner, especially right now, optimism is really key. You have to be someone that can see the silver linings and positive solutions. That kind of ties into persistence because things aren’t always going to go according to plan, so you have to hold onto that optimism and help that drive you through the hard times. As a business owner, if you give up every time there a hardship, there’s going to be no business. Integrity is huge for me. Working in customer service pretty much my whole life and small businesses as well. Being honest and having integrity with your work and customers. Being open and communicative I just think is key with building rapport and relationships. I think all good business owners know that. You want to treat all your customers with respect. I think right now too people are hurting and there are a lot of good businesses just being open about it. The people that love and care about them are supporting and showing up for them.
“I think to be a business owner, especially right now, optimism is really key. You have to be someone that can see the silver linings and positive solutions.”
How would you spend your perfect day? Specifically, with everything going on right now, what’s an ideal day like lounging at home?
Lots of lounging happening! I love waking up to a sunny day and cuddle my dogs and make myself some tea. Usually after that I answer emails and reach out the people. I talk with my followers and makers. It’s really important spending time connecting to your community and also right now, making sure everybody’s ok. If there’s anything to do to help. So, I’ll spend my mornings shouting out to other artists and answering any questions. After that, I’ll focus on orders and then design a little bit. After that, I’ll get outside to enjoy the day. It shifts around. But if I can get all those things down where I have me time, work on the business, connect and design. That’s perfect.
How do you want individuals to feel when wearing your jewelry?
For me I want them to be comfortable. Like I said, it’s a big thing that my jewelry is hypoallergenic, so nobody feels as if their ears are itchy or in pain. I experienced that a lot with other jewelry. It’s also super super lightweight. The biggest sized earring is feather light and it feels like you are wearing nothing. I think that it’s an amazing thing when you are wearing a statement earring that your ears aren’t getting sore. And also, just confidence. I get so many messages about how many compliments people get when wearing my earrings. It’s the pair that people compliment them the most on. When I wear them, people kind of see it as a symbol for gay rights. There are little subtleties that make people feel really empowered and inspired. I love that and it wasn’t something I ever intended but if people feel confidence and their best selves. I love that.
If you had to make a piece of jewelry for a notable figure, who would it be?
A little cheesy but Oprah Winfrey. She’s just a major influencer and she’s done such incredible work throughout her life. She just continues to create a platform for other people that are truth-seekers. She just always is promoting self-care and connecting with yourself and compassion for other. Doing the best, you can while doing the best for others. Her podcasts get me through the day. I’d love to see her in a pair of Of Clay earrings! I don’t know if they are her style but...
What's your favorite piece you've created, or the one you're most proud of?
I think my favorite is my first pair that I ever put out to the public to sell, which were the nude rainbows. Those were the first pair of earrings that I felt like I actually got just right. It didn’t have fingerprints of them, it didn’t have bubbles, it didn’t get smashed in the oven. Which was happening prior to that piece. Everything was even. I just remembered the feeling of when those came out of the oven. I was just so proud. Those were the ones! The ones I was going to try sell!
What's the one piece of advice you find yourself repeating over and over again to fellow entrepreneurs?
My biggest word of advice. There’s never a right time so just go for it. You are never going to feel ready. But if it’s something you love, and it makes you happy. That’s going to get you through. Just go for it!
Anything else you would like to share?
Right now, more than ever, support your local makers, businesses and friends. Check in on everybody. A lot of people are really hurting right now. Even if you don’t have the financial means. Word of mouth is everything for a small business. So, if you can commit, share with your friends, anything to shout out to your local makers and movers. Definitely do it because that’s how they keep the lights on, that’s how they give back to the community. I know so many makers right now that are using the few sales, they are getting to pump that money back in. They are sending money to people’s Venmos. It’s really important to just support each other and check in.