New York-based designer Erica Weiner started off making necklaces on her dining room table as an escape from her frustrating job in the fashion world. Soon, girls were clamoring for her understated yet slightly offbeat pieces. Almost overnight Erica Weiner Jewelry was born.
Since the start, Erica has kept the philosophy of pretty materials combined with simple construction, all made locally. EWJ has expanded from its core range of under $200 pieces to include antiques, bridal and a soon-to-be-launched fine jewelry range called 1909. Not too bad for a self-taught woman who never wrote a business plan.
With a store on Elizabeth Street in Nolita and a Brooklyn location in the pipeline, there are few signs of slowing down either. After giving us a tour of her sunny Chrystie Street studio, we sat down for tea with Erica to learn more about how she does it.
Fashionista: What were you doing before you launched your brand?
Erica Weiner: For a while I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I graduated college in 2001, and moved to New York ready to take over the world but then September 11th happened, and suddenly there were no jobs. I got lucky and ended up touring with a Broadway show looking after the costumes. So, I thought that would be my career, but then I got bored after a few years. Then I got into the fashion thing with internships and then an in-house job with a designer.
When did you start making jewelry?
Throughout my time at the fashion house I was making pieces on the side just for fun. I discovered this place in midtown called Metalliferous that would buy up lots of vintage jewelry parts. It was like hitting the jackpot. Then, during fashion week one year we needed something to pay the models with and the designer asked if I could make them some necklaces, which I did. Soon after that phone was ringing. So I started a website and started doing craft fairs. Eventually I got fired. In fact, I’ve gotten fired from almost every job I’ve had. I guess I’m not good at taking direction and not having total control.
Did you always have an interest in jewelry?
To tell you the truth, no! Maybe cause I was so poor back then, but I was more about making my own clothes. Then I learned how easy it was to make necklaces as opposed to dresses. Back when I started, the whole charms and chain thing wasn’t really happening yet. It was either super cheap crap or high-end stuff. I guess I just fell into it.
What were some of your early challenges when you broke off on your own?
I had no money for starters. I had to live on a shoestring, and any money I made I put back into the business. I also felt like I should be looking for another career without realizing it was right in front of me.