Women in Business: Jen Kahn of Jennifer Kahn Jewelry
Jen Kahn is a local Vermont jewelry designer crafting gorgeous pieces from Precious Metal Clay. You can find a selection of her earrings at our South Burlington, Vermont location.
1.) What’s your business’ origin story? How did it all start?
In 2000, during my senior year at UVM I worked at Frog Hollow Gallery in Burlington, VT. They carried Celie Fago’s amazing jewelry. She was the featured artist of the month and they had a wall of photos of her working with Precious Metal Clay and a display showing a lump of PMC and her finished work. “This made that?” was all I could think. I couldn’t believe such a material existed and it was coming along at a time when I was looking for my medium. I loved that you could work it like a clay but that the finished piece was pure silver. I also loved jewelry so the idea of making my own was very exciting. Celie happened to be teaching a few weeks later so I took her class, by the end of it I felt confident about working with this strange stuff. I became her apprentice through 2 semesters of Independent Studies, allowing me the money and time to work with PMC. When I graduated I became her live-in apprentice and I ended up living there for 9 years! She taught me everything she knew, so my learning curve was really small and before long I was coming up with my own techniques, writing articles for magazines and having my work in International exhibits and books. I became a part of the BCA Artist Market (next to the BTV Farmers Market) in 2005 and that’s when things started to take off locally.
2.) What is the most rewarding part of owning your own business?
Oh there are so many rewarding parts! Mostly it’s the flexibility, I love that I make my own hours and that I can take time if I need it. In the end I’m mostly a workaholic though (love the quote “Entrepreneurs will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.”) and I’m always working on some aspect of my business. But having the flexibility of when I work makes all the difference. I also love being my own boss.
3.) What are some of the challenges?
It can be scary working for yourself, you’re in uncharted waters, trying things out, seeing what works. The instability, especially when starting out, can be very daunting. You have to be willing to have less so you don’t need to make as much. You need to get past any fears of rejection and just keep trying things.
4.) Name one company or business owner that you really admire and why.
Oh that would have to be Nicole Carey, owner of Birdfolk Collective. She’s one of my best friends and she’s the savviest business person I know. If she doesn’t know something she takes a class or does the research and becomes quite the expert. It’s been amazing to watch her grow her business and see the steps and challenges along the way and see her just excel at all she takes on.
5.) What advice do you have for other women out there that might be thinking of starting their own endeavor?
If you feel called to it, go for it! Especially here in Vermont, the community is so supportive of artists and entrepreneurs. Finding a mentor in your field is one of the best things you can do. I also believe in growing slowly. I worked retail 3 days a week when I first started my biz, then after a year I transitioned to 2 days a week, then another year and I was down to 1 day. That way you’re not just diving into the deep end without any support. I think a lot of people think you can just open an Etsy shop and assume the sales will take off but in my experience, it’s a matter of having an online presence and a local presence (through markets or crafts shows) and keeping up with social media. Things take time… everything seems so immediate now but often the ones you start hearing about who are successful have gotten there because they’ve been honing their craft or business for 10, 15 or 20 years. There will be mistakes, there will be failures but really they’re all opportunities for learning and for growth. I think that with passion and patience anything is possible. As a woman, especially now, I think its very empowering to work for yourself.