Small Business Profile: Lauren Valenzuela, Owner of Sigfus Designs - Tucson
Hi Lauren! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Lauren! I am 36 years old and I reside in Tucson, AZ with my husband Hector. Hector and I work from a shared studio space where I make my jewels, and he is a tattoo artist. Many people think it would be hard to work with your partner but we have an amazing friendship and work dynamic. I am the owner and operator at Sigfus which is primarily a statement jewelry brand, though we have recently expanded into home goods.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
My background has always been in the food industry. As someone who never really went to school, (high school drop-out that did alternative school later) restaurants were always an easy an accessible fit. Ive worked in many roles from serving, to bartending, to managing, but over the last 7 years before Sigfus, I worked in marketing and social media. I credit working as a waitress for so long as one of the biggest assets I’ve had in understanding people and learning about customer service. I’ve grown a keen sense for reading people and figuring out what exactly they need to be happy :)
My marketing and social media background are all self taughT. I have always been creative, but when you apply that to marketing, you can come up with some really amazing things. At the last restaurant I worked at, some of my ideas and creations were picked up by such things as The Food Network and Cosmopolitan Magazine. It’s really assuring as someone with little formal education to see your creations going far past the scope you would have ever thought possible.
What led you to start Sigfus? What was the turning point that drew you to starting your own business?
I started Sigfus after the company I worked for sold one of their restaurants. It opened up more free time in my schedule and I longed for something as a creative outlet. I have always used the arts to express myself, and at that time I was feeling depressed and empty. When I began playing with clay, my whole world lit up again. I’ve dabbled in drawing or painting here and there, but more kinetic things I can make with my hands are my true joy. As soon as I made some jewelry and my friends and family started freaking out about it, I knew I was on to something. I have always been an entrepreneur and ideas person at my core, but to open a business, I would need to be 100% passionate about it, and with polymer clay I was.
What are the values that shape your business?
Right after I started Sigfus I felt a strong pull to create my core values. I knew that life and people can pull you in many ways, so I wanted to have a foundation to always rest on. My core values help me decide how or if I will do something. In life there are a lot of opportunities, and many are great, but if they don’t line up with my core values I will pass on them. My main core values are; Inclusion, Abundance, Connection, Community, and Creativity. I could expound on all of these but an example would be for Abundance, we don’t make decisions based on lack. We believe there is enough for all, and focus on building others up, and sharing knowledge and resources. For something like Inclusion, an idea may be how we make decisions on models for a photo shoot by focusing on representation and diversity. A huge focus is to have a safe space where every type of women from whatever background feels she can be a part of Sigfus and it feels inclusive.
What inspires your designs and brand identity?
I am the queen of eclectic. I used to feel like I had to fit in this mold of what was popular and made sense aesthetic wise, and that’s what every marketing person would tell you, “pick your colors and stay there”. I feel like so many brands sort of have a look. They are bright and colorful, dark and moody, or soft and desert boho, for me I feel like all of those things just depending on the day. I never want to limit myself or fit in a “color box” so I feel safe with the term “ eclectic”. Haha! I love a lot of things and feel deeply inspired by upbringing to which my mom was a watercolor artist and my dad a musician. I also feel inspired by my desert surroundings, as well as the music I grew up listening to and movies I watched as a teen like True Romance and Pulp Fiction. I try to lock into one idea for a collection and right now Im moving into the movies of my youth and all the goth and punk rock I was listening to.
Could you tell us more about The Clayhive?
Absolutely! The Clay Hive is a new venture I’ve started with two other clay artists I’ve met online. We have become close friends and confidants, and these girls have helped me so much when I’ve doubted myself, or have simply just had an issue I’ve needed to troubleshoot. We’ve become each others support system. We wanted to make a community where clay makers can come and have resources and support and the same sort of affirmation we have created with each other. The Clay Hive is a shared business with Emily of Shop 31 Suns and Elyse of Tidy Clutterings. With polymer clay being so new in the states, we want to give this community some of the resources and information we didn’t have and create a space for connection. We are also going to be teaching clay workshops together with our first being in Tucson this October! The Clay Hive is very much in its infant stages, but the growth and response from people has been tremendous. To see more and keep up with The Clay Hive check out www.theclayhive.com.
How has your community played a role in the growth of your business?
My community here in Tucson has been SO supportive. I am a die hard Tucson lover and believer in Tucson and all of its potential and capabilities. The maker community has been so supportive as well as the local shops I sell at. Another amazing thing our community has twice a year is the Cultivate Market. We’ve done Cuitvate a few times and each time it has helped us with exposure and growth! The team that runs Cultivate supports and spearheads “supporting local” more than anything else I see here. Tucson has been wonderful in showing up and being excited fro my success with me.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face?
For me, definitely managing my time and working from home. For the last year and a half I’ve worked from home so there aren’t a lot of healthy boundaries and work/home life separation. I’ve just recently moved to a shared studio space and already I’m seeing a lot of healthy changes.
The next hard thing is doing all of it. It’s not just making, but also creating new products, assembling, photographing, shipping, responding to emails, managing my ambassador program, planning photo shoots, collaborations, charity work, etc. The list can go on and on and I want to do so much, but also can only do so much. Our team has expanded and that has been helping, but I’m also not at the place to hire someone full-time, though I really need it.
What are some of your short/long term goals?
Short term would be to get through this holiday season without spiraling. lol. Long term, to own a bigger space with a full production team and grow the brand even more! With the Clay Hive I’d love to see that grow and dream of traveling nationally and internationally to teach people and connect!
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
I think it’s important because it is crucial to humanity succeeding! That can sound so intense but if we can’t champion each other, how can we really love well? I don’t think you have to necessarily like or even get along with everyone, but I do believe there is a basic dignity and honor we can place on each other, the truth that each of us matters and is deserving of love. Supporting each other is not only something I feel called to, but something I want to see invade creative spaces with a force so loving that it melts the hardest person and calls them to greater love for one other.
We have a series called Purchase from Women - what women-owned businesses are you encouraging with your dollars?
I do all of my gift shopping at the craft markets! I think it may be a little easy for me since I’m already there, but I love some of the local art here in Tucson. To name a few- Ursula Basinger for ceramics, Sophie Mctear Design, Fatema of Cosmic Weavers, Batea Botique for all my local vintage clothing needs, and my favorite self-care spot which is Beauty Republic for the days I need a refreshing facial.
What have you learned from creating your own business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor
Just do it. Everyone I talk to is scared of failing and that holds them back. I fail all the time and the more you do it the easier it gets. Failure is not that big a deal. It helps us grow and hone in on our craft, humility in failure is the key. I’m not perfect but I try to be teachable and open to feedback. I want people to feel that when they buy from me they are getting an amazing product and it is with the cost. I didn’t get there overnight, I had to figure a lot of stuff out on the way, but my advice is to lean in and face those struggles with tenacity and passion to not give up. Nothing worth anything comes easy and owning a business is the hardest thing, but the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Do you have any creative, business, or female-centered resources that have been helpful to you that we should know of?
I listened to a lot of business podcasts in the beginning and watched polymer clay tutorials on youtube, but now I try and trust my gut with ideas and vision.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I’m getting into working with resin. I know the basics but would love to expand that medium even more!
What are some of your favorite places in Tucson?
I love food so any good restaurants or wine bar! I have been going to Buffalo Exchange since I was a child so that’s a great Tucson place. Our downtown has grown so much over the last 5 years so that’s been fun to see and can be fun to hang out in every once in a while when I can get away from my work! I love to host dinner and back porch hangs with friends so that’s something I do a lot of.