Small Business Profile: Merl Kinzie, Owner of The Shudio

How did you start designing jewelry?
I was working at a photography company in Madison, Wisconsin. It kind of drove me a little bit nuts, and I was actually seeing a lot of bloggers doing deconstructed vintage costume jewelry and reimagining it in fun ways. I kind of took a stab at it more as a side endeavor, but got a really great response, so I kind of jumped in. The rest, as they say, is history. I had never wanted to have a retail store. I had talked to other people about it, but the idea of being tethered to one spot and having retail hours wasn’t something I wanted to get back into. Because it is hard, it is a lot of work and time. I got this space with my sister, who is a filmmaker and web designer. For the first eight months we would do workshops and pop-ups on the second Friday of the month. I think it confused a lot more people than it intrigued them, plus my sister does more on location work, so she left last June, and I turned the pop-up vendors into full time vendors.

What’s your background?
I have a degree in communication technology, which is kind of loose graphic design. I know a little about a lot of different things--which is really nice. It allows me to do a lot of my own graphic design work and photography now, which, as any entrepreneur knows, is valuable to have these skills since starting a business is expensive and really hard. So as much as you can do for your own business by yourself is just really valuable for your company.

What inspires your work?
I feel like this is such a hard question to answer because you can literally be inspired by anything and everything. Recently, I have been really intrigued and inspired by woodworkers, and it is a different tactile skill manipulating wood instead of metal. But the unique joints that they use for a lot of stuff, and just how they take a raw piece of wood and shape it into something really beautiful and sculptural really intrigues and inspires me. I actually really love looking at typography, just in terms of the shapes and how things are connected. Sometimes I’ll be looking at something and it will spark a jewelry idea. I just love experimenting with things.

What brought you to Chicago? 
I have a fair amount of family here. The community of artists in the Midwest is so much more supportive and encouraging. Everybody just sort of helps each other, it’s like it's intrinsic to our nature. It's not as cutthroat. My best friend from high school suggested I move to Chicago for six months, and as soon as I moved, I knew I was stuck here. I love the city, I love the people, I love the Summer, Spring, and Fall.

If you weren’t here, where would you be?
If I had unlimited travel credit, Australia. I studied abroad there, and their mentality about life as a whole is more relaxed. There is more of an emphasis on life rather than the rat race of getting ahead in your career. I absolutely loved it down there. Or possibly Holland or the Pacific Northwest.

How do you spend your free time/how do you take time for yourself?
A lot of solo creatives struggle with that a lot. You spend so much time and effort and money into your business. Monday is my day off, and sometimes I’ll be out vintage hunting or working online, but lately I’ve been really trying to carve out that day to just do nothing. I’ve really gotten into baths lately, so that is my new things. I’ll pour myself a bath, and I have these epsom salts that I’ll put in and then I’ll pour myself a glass of whiskey. Then I’m in there for, like, an hour and a half. I’m trying to get better at taking care of myself. It’s hard. When you think about how you are your business, logically, it makes sense to invest in yourself so your well-being is sustainable. Because if you get sick or run down, your business is really going to suffer.

Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
I feel so strongly about this, especially because of how prominent the internet and Instagram is. One of my favorite quote is “her success is not you failure,” because I think that for so many people it is so easy to look at what other people are achieving or doing and then look negatively upon yourself. I think when you don’t have this supportive, open collaborative community, you get very insecure and combative and competitive with people which breeds so much negativity and despair in your life. Women as a gender are so nurturing and loving for the most part, so to redirect that towards each other and then back at ourselves is so important. We’re not competitors, we’re not combatants. Even if you’re doing the same thing, or if you’re doing something totally different, inspiring and helping each other just comes back into your own life tenfold. I think we can do really cool stuff when we collaborate and not have this secret competitive war behind the scenes.

What is your advice for young creatives?
I love the Ira Glass “The Gap” talk. He says you have to do the work. You have to fuck up a lot and make mistakes--that is the only way you’re going to learn. So I think for so many people, especially with the internet and Instagram, you see other people’s finished work, but you have to know that people went through that same super awkward, really shitty period. Do the work and experiment. Try everything. You may be really great at illustration or have a good eye for photography, but just try. Even if that is not where your main strengths lie, you can still be inspired. Also collaborate. There is so much to be gained by working with other people.

How would you describe your style/aesthetic?
Black on black on black on black. Black minimalism with an eclectic flair. So I like wearing a very minimalistic base layer and then being more creative with accessories.

How do you stay inspired?
I’m always inspired by other jewelry designers, but will kind of try to push myself to be doing something different. A lot of people will come in looking for a simple stud, but I didn’t want to make something you can get anywhere else, so I try to push myself to do something different--I’m not trying to reinvent the earrings or the necklace or anything, but still trying to do something that I haven’t seen before. There has been a strong trend of elegant, minimal jewelry lately, and don’t get me wrong, I love that, but just because it is so overrun by so many others, I’m inspired to do something a little different. For my next collection, I’m going to do more statement-making stuff, and really experiment with more sculptural and voluminous pendants. This place is a lot of work, and it might make more sense sell this work online, because that’s where things are headed, but you can’t place a value on physical interactions with other people. That is literally what keeps me going and keeps me inspired and invigorates me to collaborate + reach out. I love being able to meet new artists + creatives and being able to give them a space to show and connect with new customers.

Morning routine?
I get woken up by [my cat] Clyde jumping on my head. I’m on my phone for the first half hour; I’ll open up Instagram and scroll and reply to comments or direct messages on both accounts. I get up and feed the cats, and start the day. I find that I am incapable of functioning without lists, like my brain doesn’t know what to do, so I sit down and write what I need to get done. It’s also different day by day. Mondays are my days off, Tuesdays + Wednesdays are typically my production days here, Thursday-Sunday I’m typically here in the shop.

Favorite indulgence?
Any kind of fried potato. I wish that I didn’t love every variety of fried potato, but I do. Everything from chips to fries. And really good whiskey.

Favorite woman run brands/businesses?
Elizabeth Suzann. I am obsessed.

Your star sign?
Gemini. I have a tattoo of it on my foot that I got when I was 19. I don’t know why I got it.

Favorite flower/plant?
Peony, Clematis, Pothos. I have a slightly black thumb, which is frustrating because my parents are flower farmers.

Savory or sweet?
Savory.

Pizza or taco?
Day old cold pizza, or a really great veggie taco.

Coffee or tea or coffee?
Neither? I wish that I liked tea, because it is a lot better for you than the toxic Diet Pepsi that I drink. I hate coffee, but tea doesn’t have enough substance, it just tastes like slightly flavored water.

Saturday or Sunday?
Saturday. I hate Sundays, I get like the super Sunday sads.

Movie or book?
Book. Just because I feel like your imagination can be so much more than a movie.

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