Interview: Jewellery Designer - Leah Yard
In our third instalment of our business owner interview series, we connected with Leah Yard, owner of Vancouver-based jewellery company Leah Yard Designs. Leah's designs are dainty, classic and feminine. Pieces are 100% handmade in Vancouver. Leah and her beautiful designs will be at our Summer Pop-Up Market on July 22 at the Heritage Hall (3102 Main St) in Vancouver.
My jewellery is meant to be mixed and matched to allow each wearer to express their personal style.
Leah Yard, Owner
Tell us about yourself, your business and your core mission and vision for your business?
My name is Leah Yard, I am the owner, designer, and maker behind Leah Yard Designs; a line of jewellery 100% handmade in Vancouver with semi-precious gemstones and metals. My jewellery is meant to be mixed and matched to allow each wearer to express their personal style. The filigree detailing throughout the collection has become my signature element, I love the vintage touch it adds! I have been making jewellery for over 10 years, and have had my business for the last 5. I've always loved working with my hands and creating. I work mostly with 14 Karat Gold Fill, Rose Gold and Sterling Silver. My favourite gemstones (if I had to choose!) are Clear and Smokey Quartz, Pink and Green Amethyst, Topaz, and Citrine.
I was born in Calgary, but not really raised in one place! I have adventurous parents who moved often between Alberta and BC. We even spent 4 years living on lighthouses where food, mail, and supplies arrived monthly by helicopter. Though living in isolation had its challenges, I would say it was this experience that developed my creativity early. Without TV, the internet, or other kids around, my brothers and I relied on each other and our imaginations to play and be entertained. I am grateful to have had this experience to nurture my creativity. We would make forts in the woods, climb trees, make potions out of flower petals, dig for clams, watch sea lions and whales-- it was a very unusual lifestyle and one that few get to experience!
What were you doing before you were doing this?
I was working for another jewellery designer. It was one of the most inspirational jobs I had, as I was able to watch a creative company blossom. This experience allowed me to believe it was possible!
What made you take the leap into entrepreneurship?
Honestly, my body forced the decision. Between my day job and working on my own side hustle I started to get quite ill. I ended up with a lung infection, severe tendonitis, and a back injury. I was a mess! I think this was my body's way of telling me to make a decision. I knew that I couldn't continue to work on both at the same time and I wasn't ready to give up on my business yet, so I took the leap. It was terrifying-- but the decision was very clear.
What is the best part of owning your business?
I've always loved working. I thought this meant I was best suited to work for someone else. I am passionate and driven, and these are wonderful qualities as an employee, but I've never been able to separate myself from my work, so I would end up burning out. It didn't make sense to invest so much of myself into something I didn't own, and that I had no long term future in. Knowing that all my efforts are pouring into something I built is the best part of owning my own business.
What is the toughest?
I am extremely introverted, it's a huge stumbling block for me in business. I am sensitive and creative, which are superpowers for customer service, design, and problem solving - but not always helpful for events, networking, and being the face and name of a company. It's something I'm really working on. I think when you own a business it forces you to adapt and grow. I am slowly learning to balance my strengths and weaknesses.
How do you go about creating/designing your product line?
I am inspired mostly by colour! I just love it. In the beginning I would start with a gemstone that I loved, and then design around that colour palate. The shapes naturally evolved and corresponded with the tones I was working with. My process has changed a bit since taking part in more local markets. I still start with colour, but to have immediate feedback allows me to design more with my customer in mind. Some of my favourite designs have come from trying to solve a problem, whether it's introducing more size variants, or creating something that can be worn more than one way. Honest feedback is the best way to get the wheels turning!
On average how many hours do you work on this company per week?
This is the fullest, full-time job I've ever had! I can't say specifically how many hours, but I am always "on" for my business. I go to bed and wake up thinking about it. Most days I work straight through without knowing any time has passed. If you can work for 10-12 hours without even realizing that's how you know you are doing what you love!
What do you wish someone told you before starting your business?
That I could do it! I dropped out of junior high, moved out on my own, and started working minimum wage jobs when I was 16, so my experience of work was that I was always going to be at the bottom, and it was probably going to be unpleasant. I wish I had found some role models at that time to help set my sights higher. When I think back I can see that I knew it all along. Designing and creating is in my bones, so it would be crazy for me to do anything with my life but that! If anyone is considering turning their passion into a business, but they are unsure, I think you will know if it's right if you feel "child-like" excitement, giddiness or goosebumps when you are doing what you love. It won't be easy, but it will be simple. I really believe that you can't fight what feeds your soul.
What’s your definition of success for your business?
I am really proud of what I have built, but it's still at the beginning stages. Success for me will be when I feel more solid in my business. It's not a financial goal, it's knowing that I have built something sustainable that has it's own traction. My best example would be: if I can take one day off a week and not worry or feel guilty for doing so, or feeling like everything might crumble! That would be a successful business for me.
How much of it did you do yourself and how much of it did you get others to help you with?
I have done most of it myself. It's been hard! Before starting my business I didn't even know how to crop a photo in photoshop! I've slowly learned photography, photo editing, writing copy, bookkeeping, branding & marketing. I've always known what I like and had a clear brand identity, so having a starting vision made that area easier. But honestly, it's mostly all been a series of trails and errors. It's a long and expensive way to grow, but the lessons stick! Once you get stuck with 500 unusable business cards because you don't know the appropriate print settings in photoshop, you (hopefully) never make that mistake again!
How do you connect with the local business community?
I have done a couple of collaborations, which can be a great way to connect, but my favourite way to build community is through local markets. It's a wonderful way to meet other entrepreneurs in their element and be inspired. Surrounding yourself with thriving artists is humbling and motivating. Vancouver is full of very impressive people! I often feel way out of my league, but it pushes me to rise up and be my best! I think this passion builds a rich community.
Whats next for you/your brand/your business?
This year is exciting! We've got 25+ markets booked. I want to really focus on exposure and building more brand awareness. Last year was focused on building a good foundation, we launched a new website and got more organized with our accounting/legal systems. I feel I was really prepping for 2018 to be more about building connections and community. Though it's not my strongest asset, I do love taking part in markets. I am always so impressed by the local talent and each show I am inspired by the other vendors. I love the maker community in Vancouver, its so vibrant and supportive.