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Lemonade

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I wouldn’t have asked for it.

But here it was: an unwelcome design redirect. For over a year I had been making and selling bracelet six-stacks of leather and silver bracelets: simple bangle bracelets featuring a round leather cord and long curved silver beads. The design was simple, elegant (and slightly bohemian) and each single bracelet looked even better en masse. I made my first sets with dark espresso brown cord, which was a cool, crisp complement to the silver beads. They were so pretty!

After these original little six-stacks became popular, I expanded on the design concept. I started selling “double stacks” of twelve bracelets so customers could buy an armful at a bulk discount. Then I started offering more leather colors: red and magenta and mint green and gray. Metallic leather. Pearly leather. Next I added charm dangles. I was like a leather bangle bracelet super-store!

After not too long, these bracelet sets became my bread and butter. I was always filling a new order (or two. or eight.) of these bracelets and I shipped them all over the world.

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And then something happened. One day, when I was making a set of bracelets for a return customer, I noticed that the epoxy that I use wasn’t setting. Flummoxed, I tried it again, and again, no luck. After trying again several more times, each with increasing panic, it still wouldn’t work. So I turned into a baby scientist and approached the problem empirically. After making, literally, thousands of these bracelets, I had the process down and I knew there were several variables at play. So I started isolating each variable in an attempt to solve the No-Set Epoxy Problem. I tried new brands of epoxy. No. New types of epoxy. Nu-uh. Different leather. Nope. Different room temperatures. No! Different room humidity! Nooo!

I went from Ready, set go! to Ready, set? no.

I finally realized that the long silver beads were the culprit. (Which led to a near spiritual journey to find the origins of my beloved silver beads. I found that there is apparently one source for these beads and unless I plan to hoof it to the over-seas factory and explain to them that their new silver alloy isn’t working for me, I was SOL. ) This was a serious problem indeed because the long silver beads were a non-negotiable element. It’s a little hard to make your best-selling “leather and silver bracelets” without the “silver,” wouldn’t you agree?

So I did what anyone would do. I pouted. And I kicked things. Then I pulled all of my silver bracelets from my etsy shop.

Sales immediately dipped. I was frustrated, wanting to talk to someone about my problem. (“It’s not fair! I didn’t do anything wrong – I’m a victim! Why did you do this to me?”) I spent a good chunk of my day trying to problem-solve so I could somehow put these bracelets back in my shop.

But it didn’t happen. I had to submit to the fact that I couldn’t carry these bracelets anymore.

For awhile I flat-out avoided the thought of those bracelets. I was sick of the whole thing and I just stayed away. But after a few weeks, I realized that I needed to take these lemons and make lemonade. Thanks to the slowed sales, I had a little time on my hands for designing. And after thinking about these darned bracelets so long, I started to see them a little differently. Yes, they were beautiful and trendy and cute. But they were also very basic. And they didn’t bear my stamp of style.

So I looked at my leather bangle bracelets with fresh eyes. I reevaluated this basic bracelet and made them more “me.” And I made them even better.

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The silver beads had to go; I could not use them. That seems like a tiny restriction, but I had to broaden my focus to realize that there were millions of leather bracelets I could design and who cares if I can’t use the silver beads anymore? So I made some with glass beads. And ceramic beads. And polymer beads. And African brass beads. Then I realized that using the same old leather was holding back my new bracelets. So I tried braided bolo leather. And thick, heavy leather. And then many strands of skinny leather cord.

And why was I leaving my leather bracelets naked? I realized that I was wasting inches of design potential. So I took strips of vintage silk and wrapped them around around the thick leather bangles. I criss-crossed cotton thread around the leather. I decoupaged it. I bedazzled it (joke. no I didn’t). And I added wrapped beads and dangles and bric a brac. And when I was all done I had a collection of bracelets that look like something I would make. Much better!

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In high school we had to take a class of Chicago History and Literature. Big shoulders and big bosses. While studying the Chicago Fire of 1871 we learned how the city was completely destroyed. Wooden sidewalks and paint factories by the lake, and urban/agrarian barns (with hay) were engulfed in one of the worst fires in modern history. The city burned for three days. But when the fires finally burnt out and the rubble was cleared away, Chicago had the opportunity to rebuild itself as a modern city. Wide concrete streets replaced dirt roads and rickety wooden sidewalks. A city grid with city parks replaced slipshod lanes with wagon ruts. A picture-perfect lakefront replaced pollution-spewing factories. It is ironic, but the Great Chicago Fire birthed an even greater city.

An unwelcome problem that leads to a happy new direction. It’s funny how potential must be loosed. (Now: how to loose it without dealing with the suck of unwelcome epoxy issues.)