Today, we talked to Jamie Carlson, a 27-year-old jewelry designer and creative entrepreneur. For years, Jamie nurtured a love for design. Now, after parting with a job in the restaurant industry, she runs Scandinazn, a successful jewelry business based out of Vancouver, Canada. Jamie’s experiences are a perfect example of how, sometimes, a side hustle can morph into a full blown career.
What’s your current job description?
I run a small jewelry business, called Scandinazn — Scandinavian x Asian. It’s a creative line of accessories with design inspiration taken from my mixed Scandinavian and Japanese heritage, focusing on using repurposed leather as the main material component.
We sell on Etsy, through stores, and at many markets and craft fairs around Vancouver. As the sole employee of the brand, I act as the product designer, producer, photographer, graphic designer, web designer, marketer, salesperson, and manager of operations.
What did you study in college?
I graduated with Bachelor of Design in Fashion Design and Technology.
What were your career aspirations during and after college?
During Uni, I aspired to start my own line of clothing. I learned everything I needed to pursue this, but after graduating I no longer felt like a career in fashion was right for me. The fickle and wasteful nature of the industry no longer appealed to my values — not to say there aren’t companies doing good things in this industry — so I didn’t feel it was right for me. Upon finishing my degree, I started working in restaurants as a server and thought about pursuing a career in the culinary arts.
How did you find your passion?
I knew from childhood I was passionate about art and wanted to pursue a creative career path and run my own company. I planned to be an apparel designer and was never really interested in jewelry until I started making it. It “fell into my lap” organically through a project I did in fashion school.
One of the things that originally drew me into designing clothing was repurposing. I started sewing by taking my old clothes and giving them makeovers. I was interested in looking fashionable but lacked the funds to buy new clothes. In my second year of design school, I had a project where I was to create a look mimicking an international designer (I choose Gareth Pugh) creating the entire look from used materials. I excelled at this, creating a ruff collar from vinyl records, paneled mesh and leatherette leggings, and a wool and chiffon top, built up with big shoulders, fitted at the waist.
This project re-ignited my passion for using reclaimed materials to create fashionable pieces [and] introduced me to working with repurposed leather, which eventually led me to transition from fashion to jewelry.
How did you decide to leave your old job/plan behind and pursue these passions?
After during school and after graduation, I worked as a server in various different restaurants. Food is another strong passion of mine and an avenue I may pursue in the future. Scandinazn has been a side-hustle for me since 2012. Gradually over the last couple years, I’ve been cutting back on the restaurant hours until November of 2016, when I decided it was time to take the plunge. My business was at the point where it needed my full, undivided attention if I wanted to take it to the next level. So it’s been a side gig for almost 5 years and my full-time job since November.
What was your transition process like?
I’ve quit my restaurant job a few times. The first time, my business wasn’t at the place where it could support me full-time, the second time it was for travel, and the third time (I believe) it was for good. Since I’ve left, the business has kept me far too busy to do anything on the side. The process of getting Scandinazn to the point where it could support me as a full-time employee took years and years of trial and error — I didn’t do anything by the books. It was never my plan for Scandinazn to become my full-time job, it has happened very gradually.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Cash flow — making sure there’s enough in the bank account to pay for market fees and supplies at the beginning of the year to make enough stock for the later part of the year. This is still something I’m terrible at, and I’m constantly trying to improve.
How do you define “confidence”? Have you had it all along or has it developed over time?
Confidence is absolutely something that has developed over time, for me. By naming the company after my heritage, a lot of my personal identity became wrapped up in the brand right from the beginning. At first, I felt reluctant about naming the brand Scandinazn and felt silly explaining to people why I decided to call it this. Because I chose this name, I’ve been approached by many people with mixed ethnic backgrounds and it’s allowed me to participate in cultural dialogues. It’s also shaped my design aesthetic. I am now very proud to explain to customers the story behind my brand, and confident in the aesthetic of my work, although I still feel I have a long way to go.
What’s the best career advice you’ve gotten?
The best comes from a favorite university instructor: Keep the main thing the main thing. What it means, to me, is to focus on what is the most essential to the product, and not to add anything that doesn’t need to be there. This applies to career, design, and business and can be very difficult advice to follow.
What’s been your biggest learning lesson?
Knowing when to ask for help or advice. I’ve only recently learned this. My mantra has always been to do everything by myself, but there comes a point where this is not possible.
What’s your advice to someone who’s scared to follow their dreams?
The hardest part is starting. If you’re worried about everything being perfect before you share your business/project/passion with the world, don’t be. Sometimes just launching something small can give you enough foundation to build upon. There are so many great resources out there — take all the help you can get.