Love is everywhere around us. In the air, in our hearts and if you’re on your way down the aisle, a symbol of your love will soon be wrapped around your finger. This is where Seattle based Etsy jewelry designer Valerie Nethery comes in.
Driven by a passion for the environment, the eco-friendly jewelry designer—specializing primarily in wedding jewelry—took her first metalsmithing class at a local arts center and got hooked! After graduating from college she landed a job as a marine insurance underwriter before eventually transitioning full-time to running her business LilyEmme Jewelry. She recently spoke with ESSENCE to share her background, her passion for creating something brides and grooms will cherish forever and what it’s really like to quit your day job and to start your own successful business.
Name: Valerie Nethery
Title and company: Owner & Designer, LilyEmme Jewelry
Location: Seattle, WA
Hometown: Seattle, WA
The gig: I’m a fine jewelry designer specializing in eco friendly bridal jewelry. What I love the most about my job is that I get to design and make really beautiful objects that the wearer gets to admire for the rest of their life. Bridal jewelry is especially fun because it represents love, unity, and a very special time in the wearer’s life. It’s incredible to think that I get to create something that they will look at and associate with their love and their partner. I never overlook that, it’s a really good feeling.
The journey: I never considered myself “artsy” or “crafty” growing up, but when I look back on my childhood, there were clues about where I’d end up, like how I used to collect rocks everywhere I went, studying the different characteristics of them or my interest in beaded jewelry when I was really young. When I was in college studying environmental science, I visited a bead store and was instantly hooked. I spent a few years making simple jewelry just for fun, selling a few pieces here and there, but one day I decided to take a metalsmithing class at the local arts center and I felt like I had awakened my creative side by using a flame to create jewelry. The possibilities became endless when I learned my skill and my passion for jewelry was born. There was a “voice,” for lack of a better term, that told me to do something fun for myself and I’m really glad I listened because now I can support myself with my talent.
Her starter jobs: I’ve worked as a hostess at Red Robin, office assistant, retail sales for a bead shop, marine insurance claims handling, and now I’m a jewelry designer.
Day-to-day duties: Every day is a little bit different but I usually try to start my day a cup of tea while I read and respond to emails. Emails make up a large part of my day as well as sourcing materials and researching custom orders and planning my social media. When I first became self-employed, I learned about how I like to work and that I don’t become very productive until the late afternoon or early evening so I’ve learned to save any work that requires concentration (making jewelry) for those hours. After making and polishing jewelry with my production assistant, I prepare orders for shipping and this usually consumes the rest of my workday. I head home around 6 or 7pm and join my husband for dinner and relaxation. In the late evenings I sketch new designs in my jewelry journal.
Brand building 101: It all started with the name LilyEmme which was created in honor of my muse, Lilyana Mireya. Lily is my youngest sister and she was born when I was 20 years old and right about the time I started my jewelry hobby. I wanted to name the business after something important to my heart.
My jewelry style has evolved so much and continues to change as I find myself and my voice. Above all, I try to apply principles of simplicity and elegance. Less is more. And with today’s saturated jewelry market, it’s important to stand out from the crowd. I keep my brand simple, understated, and durable so that the jewelry I create can stand the test of time and not feel like it’s from a trendy period that has passed.
Confessions of a black woman in the jewelry world: One of my biggest challenges is simply meeting other Black women in my industry. Fine jewelry is a luxury niche that not all racial demographics has easy access to. To get around these barriers, I started from the bottom and taught myself how to make the most of what I had and I’m continually working hard to make connections and get my jewelry in front of my ideal audience. When I go to the big jewelry tradeshows or networking events, I’m often the only Black woman in the room. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more minorities in this industry but I use it an opportunity to proudly introduce my line and the quality products that this Black woman creates. An amazing benefit to being the rare Black woman in this industry is being able to connect with customers who want to support black designers because they know that what we’re doing is important. I hope I’m helping pave the way for more women of color to enter this industry.
Her biggest lesson learned: My very first commission in solid gold came before I had even learned or practiced working with gold. Gold is a rarer metal and significantly more expensive than the silver I was used to working with and just as in any other industry, different materials can behave differently under the same conditions. I excitedly purchased my first bit of gold but when I start working on it, I quickly and accidentally melted all of the gold that I had painstaking formed into a beautiful pendant. I burst into tears. This was my first chance to work with gold and it had gone horribly so what if I could never be good at goldsmithing? I had put a lot of pressure on myself because I knew I wanted to venture into fine jewelry but inexperienced and impatient. My husband saw me crying, wiped away my tears and told me I had to keep trying and I mustn’t give up. What I learned that day was that I had to stop being so hard on myself and that I have to practice to be good at things, just like anyone else.
Her biggest accomplishment: I’ve always wanted to break into the wholesaling sector and I think a part of me has been nervous to do it plus I have had limited time (excuses, excuses). But this year I secured my first wholesale account, which is with the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. You can find my items in their gift shop along with other items from talented Black artists and designers.
Her advice to aspiring jewelry designers: Believe in yourself and bring something unique to the table when it comes to your jewelry designs so that your work can stand out from the rest. You’re going to have to work mostly independently to find your materials sources and no one is going to hold your hand but it makes all of your hard work more worthwhile if you are more connected to your sources and can stand behind your products.
Her best time-saving tip: The busier I get, the more forgetful I become so I try to automate and schedule as many tasks as I can. When I automate tasks, like paying bills for example, I don’t have to try to remember if I did it or not. When I schedule things (I use the Google Calendar app on my iPhone, iPad, and work PC) my day is planned in advance and it helps me keep my working hours efficient if I know I’m limited to a specific block of time.
The smartest advice she ever received: Many years ago I was talking to a friend about how lost I felt and the struggles of becoming a successful business owner and established brand in a saturated marketplace as well as getting the support of those around me.“Fake it ‘til you make it” is what she told me. It took a while for me to understand it but I soon began to see that if you begin to carry yourself more confidently, others will view you and your work more confidently.
The advice she’d give her 18-year-old self: Believe in yourself. I know it sounds cliche but the only reason I didn’t get to start my jewelry career sooner was because I had self doubts. I would also tell my 18-year-old self to block out anyone who isn’t supportive of you and your dreams. That negative energy only slows you down.
In her downtime: A hot shower, food delivery, and terrible reality TV shows are my guilty pleasures after a long day or week at work.
Her tech fixes: My Fitbit has changed my life! It’s easy to zone in at work and forget to walk around. I try to get my 10,000 steps a day and my Fitbit helps keep me active and healthy.
In her beauty bag: A good leave-in conditioner and twist-out cream have helped me make my morning routine so much quicker since I rely on flat twists to help me as I transition to natural hair (best decision I’ve ever made!). I also love my Urban Decay Finishing Powder and use it as my only cover-up instead of a heavier foundation. I love Urban Decay products because of their commitment to cruelty-free products.
Her power accessory: Small diamond studs. I wear them all the time and even sleep in them. Nothing too fancy or expensive, just enough sparkle to help me create a soft, feminine look.
Her theme song: “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey
If I could have lunch with any woman it would be_____: I would love to have a casual lunch with Simone Biles over pizza! Her performances this summer were out of this world and really inspiring. I obsessed over gymnastics as a little girl and only got to watch it on TV but I still loved the sport. I would love to be around someone who clearly dominates a field I really respect and admire.