Betsy Cross & Will Cervarich tell us how they got where they are, what makes their designs unique, and how to stay sane while running a business.

Show Notes


The Interview

Ray:
Hi, Betsy and Will.
Will:
Hi, Ray.
Betsy:
Hi.
Hi, thanks for coming down to Needmore.
Will: Our pleasure.
Betsy: Thank you.
Oh, these notifications are on. Okay, that’s fine. We’re going to roll. We’re going to do this.
Betsy: Okay.
You guys start the company in 2008. Was this together?
Betsy: No.
Okay. Tell me that story.
Betsy: Okay.
Will: She had the good idea.
Betsy: Yeah, actually, I was sort of at a crossroads in my life. I had just finished graduate school for theater. Physical and ensemble-based theater is actually what I went to school for.
Wow.
Betsy: I had sort of tried to make my way in that field in Portland and it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I didn’t have any money, and I was like, I’ve got to do something with my life that’s going to … where I could actually make a living.So I decided to start a creative business. It happened, I was in a coffee shop and I wrote down kind of all of the principles of my life, what had to be true for me to continue doing theater and what had to be true for me to be able to make the kind of life that I wanted to make. I wrote down in that book somewhere that I knew how to make jewelry, kind of.
Right.
Betsy: Will and I were dating at that time, and he had a good job-ish. I said, “What do you think about this?” Everybody was pretty skeptical, actually, especially my family back east. Anyways, I kind of went down a road there. I decided to do it. I rented to a studio for a month and I basically, all I did was make stuff and decided to … I made seven collections. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just decided, if I’m going to do this, I have to go full on, full in.I had maybe a thousand dollars in my bank account. I was used to living off of little, so I just … Then I decided an in-date, this is going to be my studio open date. I went around to all kinds of shops that I admired around the city and gave them a little postcard saying I was opening and I wanted to sell my work wholesale.No one came. None of the shops came, but a ton of people came and I made back my very modest start-up costs in the first weekend, so I knew. To me, that was the sign, like, okay, the universe is saying this is going to happen for me right now.

Okay.
Betsy: That’s how it started.
So, very much a bootstrap?
Betsy: Oh, yeah.
Yeah? Okay. How long between then and when you got the … Now you have a storefront and your … How long was it that you were working out of a studio?
Betsy: I worked in the first 125- square-foot studio for two years.
Does that sound right?
Will: That was ‘08 and then we moved into the retail space in …
Betsy: Eleven.
Will: … 2011.
Betsy: Eleven.
Will: There was a studio in between but …
Okay.
Betsy: Just kind of upgraded from 125 to 300 in …
Will: Yeah.
Betsy: But, yeah, that was … Will joined me in 2010.
Okay. What was your background?
Will: We met in college and we were both studying theater there. That was kind of where I started. I came out to the West Coast kind of burnt out on theater and thought maybe the Portland theater scene would rev me up again. It was a lost cause. I was like, you know, I was done.My background then was like, I found a … I got a temp job at a title insurance company and kind of worked my way up there and ended as a business systems analyst on a regional team.
I could go more into that, if you’re interested.
Betsy: He is a spreadsheet wiz.
Okay, which is good because I understand you don’t … you know.
Betsy: Yeah.
Will: Yeah.
Betsy: That’s not my thing.
What was the moment where you decided to do that? Was it frustration with the job you had at some point, just reached a boiling point, or was it just like, this looks so much more interesting and …
Will: To jump on to Betsy & Iya?
Yeah.
Will: We actually had a conversation with a friend of mine, or a friend of ours, who I worked with in Vermont. She had since written a book called The Handmade Marketplace. Her name is Kari Chapin. She had come out to promote the book, and we were hanging out. I was definitely not satisfied or fulfilled with the job, but I wasn’t boiling over. It wasn’t like throwing paper and …
Flipping desks?
Will: Yeah. I told her, “I don’t know if this is what I want to be doing,” and she was like, “Well, why aren’t you working with Betsy?” We’re like, “Well, that’s impossible.”
Betsy: Yeah.
Will: “We can’t afford to do that.” She was like, “Are you sure?” So, it was kind of that challenge. It’s like, “Are you really sure you can’t afford it, because as I look at Betsy’s business …” this is Kari talking, “… it’s growing and there’s a lot of stuff that needs to happen with a growing business.” Then, we kind of had like a …
Betsy: Freak out.
Will: Yeah.
Betsy: Big freak-out but also, yeah, we can … honestly, kind of the feeling of whether it be a huge decision in the business, anywhere from starting the actual business to hiring employees, it felt the same way to me. It’s kind of like that, you can line up everything that you can possibly line up, but in the end you have to just kind of break through and take a chance. We decided we were going to do that.
Will: Yeah.

Now, when you started out, it was more your doing Etsy to kind of sell …
Betsy: Sure, Etsy was a part of it. Etsy has never been a huge part of it. It’s been a great little steady thing that has contributed to the success of the business. When I started, my main focus was selling to shops. That’s really where the bread and butter was coming from.
Do you still have an Etsy shop?
Betsy: We do.
And an online shop on your website?
Betsy: Yes.
Is it weird still having Etsy? Is there like a place for that still going forward? Do you feel like you’re starting to outgrow that?
Betsy: I’ll let Will speak to this one.
I’m assuming Etsy takes a larger share of your sales than the online shop.
Will: Percentage …
Betsy: Actually, not true.
Will: No, it does.
Betsy: Oh, yes it does. Yes, you’re right. Sorry.
Will: This is why … What a great team.
Betsy: It’s all very clear.
Will: You know, Etsy takes a little bit more. There’s marketplaces out there that take even more than Etsy. Amazon’s marketplace, we haven’t tried it, but I think I heard from friends of ours who are on it, it’s, like, 10 or 15%. That’s huge.
Betsy: Ridiculous.
Will: In any marketplace you’re paying for the exposure. I think actually Etsy is still pretty affordable for what the exposure is. That said, anybody can go on to Etsy and take a look at the jewelry category and know pretty quickly that it’s really saturated.
Yeah.
Will: I think the exposure that we get from Etsy is commensurate with what we pay. The only sort of liability for us with Etsy is just the time it takes to maintain two shops. Other than that, once you’ve set up your products, it kind of runs itself, at least because of the other sort of backend stuff that we have in place.Tell me if this is not interesting.
No, go ahead.
Will: We use a software service called Stitch Labs and also another one called ShipStation.
Sure, I’ve used that.
Will: Yeah. They all integrate our other online store with our inventory with Etsy. When something sells on Etsy, the magic of these integrations re-lists it. We really go to one place to kind of fill our orders. It’s been a little bit of an initial time to set the products up on Etsy, but after that it kind of runs itself.The other reason we wouldn’t walk away from Etsy, I don’t think anytime in the near or distant future, is we have a ton of sales. We have a ton of reviews and feedback. That doesn’t come easily. I think it’s important to keep going that way. Some people prefer to order through Etsy, for whatever reason.
Betsy: Yeah.
Will: It’s what they do.
At your brick and mortar store, we’ll call it, because that’s what people call it now, how do you decide what other designs to carry or what other designers?
Betsy: It’s really kind of all over the board. When Will joined me, we went on … It was his idea to go on a road trip across the country to meet shops that we thought might be good fits for our jewelry. Just through that experience and getting to know those shop owners and the kind of products that they sold and what looks nice alongside Betsy & Iya Jewelry, we just started kind of absorbing that information.When we started the shop, which was also not very well thought out … It has worked out for us.
Will: It was spontaneous.
Betsy: It was spontaneous, yeah. I shouldn’t say that, but it really was spontaneous. It happened within just a couple of months, that we had the opportunity and decided to go for it.Really, when we started the shop, we kind of pulled from all that information in the shops that had our stuff. That’s where we got a lot of our ideas, all outside of Portland shops.Then, also we started to have some rules, one of which is, either made in the USA or made at least by the designer or near where the designer designs. As long as we’re sort of sticking by that, those principals and values, that’s sort of where we start. When we follow that, we tend to find the things that fit into our aesthetic, if that makes sense.

Yeah, honestly, online research, blogs. Lots of people reach out us now, now that they know we have a shop. We get a ton of … probably ten a week from … that might be exaggerating … from people who are interested in selling.

You are in the midst of an expansion right now?
Will: We are.
At the current location, just bigger?
Will: Yeah. We were lucky to find landlords who have extra space and wanted us to use it if we ever needed it. They’re photographers, so they have a big studio in our building.
Oh, okay.
Will: Or they had a big studio. Now they have a medium-size studio. We’re expanding production and office into what used to be their space. The store will actually stay the same size.We built our production space right now, or the one that we’re currently operating out of for two fulltime and one part-time person, and we now have four fulltime and three part-time. We built it for kind of two and a half, and now we have five and a half people in that space.
Yeah. Yeah, I can relate to that. Our space was pretty small before this. That’s why this one seems really large, but we’re …
Betsy: Yeah, it does.
… obviously thinking ahead.Tell me what a day in the life of your business is like, and this can include any working from home that you guys do or any driving around town, getting coffee. I’m curious.
Betsy: That’s all we do.
Will: It’s about six hours of driving around town in a car.
Okay.
Will: Yeah. I mean, it can really vary. We now have a team of … gosh, what are we at? Ten or eleven folks working for us?
Betsy: Eleven.
Will: Including us. But that still means there’s a lot of hats that everybody wears, including, of course, us.I’ll say an average day for me would be anything … correspondence. I take up most of the wholesale account maintenance and that kind of stuff. So correspondence, customer service online, driving around town picking up jewelry-making supplies, getting new tanks of oxygen.
Betsy: Fire torches.
Will: For our torches.Going to the hardware store, anything like that. Snuggling with the dogs. Probably running some reports, trying to pull together information or do some spreadsheet magic to get information in the right format that will help us make decisions about what products are doing well or how much we should pay our employees or whether we can … what sort of 401K we can set up for them, that kind of stuff, it would be how I spend a lot of my days.
Betsy: I do the same kind of bits and pieces of kind of the boring stuff. It’s not necessarily boring, but we also do a lot of brainstorming. We have weekly all-staff meetings where we kind of check in on all the things that are happening. That’s been a real important thing for our business and our growth.Then we also have a separate weekly meeting with our people, kind of like the social media strategists, for example, just check in on the project ideas and kind of how we can keep pushing them forward.Then Will and I try to meet on a weekly basis on the real big picture things, anything from things we need to touch on the expansion to big ideas that no one knows about yet. That’s something that is important I think to sort of keep the energy going up.

Then I personally … It’s hard, but I try to find good time and quiet time to design, anything from just reading and kind of flipping through images and getting inspired to actually drawing and then just getting my hands dirty in the studio.

Right now it’s tough, because we have grown ourselves out of having space in the studio for me. I don’t have a bench anymore because we need those benches for everybody to be able to help make the jewelry. With the new space I’ll have a dedicated bench again, where I can just do this more, which is kind of what I’m dreaming about right now.

Then … I had another thought that I wanted to tell you.

Oh. I like to help make, every once in a while … In the beginning I was doing everything on my own. Some things I’m really good at and some things, like we’ve already covered, spreadsheets and things and books, I’m not so good at. But I made it work. It’s important to me to be still part of that process. I try to get in there a little bit every week, even if it’s just a couple of hours, to help it chug along.

The subject of your team meetings, I noticed that you sometimes watch TED Talks. Is that true?
Betsy: Yes.
Will: It is.
I’m guessing an Apple TV.What kind of talks do you usually do and do you guys find them? Is it something you’re looking at at night and thinking, we’ve got to show this to the team on Monday? How do you find those?
Will: We started exactly that way. Yeah, that was how the inspiration behind it … The one we started with was Power Poses. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that.
Betsy: It’s so good.
No, but I will. I’ll put it in the show notes.
Will: Check it out, yeah.I can’t remember the researcher, but the quick thing was she had had a terrible accident actually, where she, I think, was cognitively impaired, but her research took her in this direction of, what is the affect of confidence on people’s behavior.So she had done this study where she just told people, take a big, what she started calling, power poses, your hands up in the hair or your hands on your hips, or taking up space, for two minutes and then do this test, I think, something.

The performance of people who did those poses versus really closed off poses or poses that were not powerful, there were performance differences, so we’re like, we have to share this with our team. This is incredible.

That’s where it started. Then we just sort of do a round-robin now, where alphabetically, a new teammate brings in a … it doesn’t have to be a TED Talk … but a video that’s inspiring to them.

Interesting.
Will: Yeah.
Is there a time limit on that? Is there like a 15-minute time limit or …?
Will: Fortunately, TED doesn’t go … I think it’s 18 ½ minutes or something.
Betsy: Yeah.
Will: Yeah, fortunately, we kind of top it out there.
You mentioned sort of falling in love with this gentleman in Greece.
Betsy: You’re killing me. This is awesome.
Will: This is like acceptable stalking.
Betsy: Yeah, okay, I do say that. All right. I’ve expose myself entirely on our website. This is not weird.
How long ago was that, and do you get to do those kind of trips often?
Betsy: That was in college.
Okay.
Betsy: That was, gosh …
Will: It was, like, 12 years ago.
Betsy: Yeah. Do you mean like inspiring trips?
Yeah.
Betsy: That was a part of school. That’s kind of separate. We tried to, and especially now, with how busy we are and stressful the job can be, as I’m sure you understand, we try to get away once a year.This year we’re going to Peru in May to … My sister’s husband actually is from Peru, so we’re going to visit his family and sort of explore the area there. I certainly know that I will gather so much inspiration for new designs and things there, so I kind of have a plan with that.

It’s not something that we say, okay, this year we have to go here, this year we have to go here. It’s more a matter of release, going somewhere to just get away from it all. Yeah, travel is a huge part of what inspires me at least and the designs that I make.

I notice that you have on the bios of the whole team, they say where they want to go. Do you feel like that’s sort of a part of the whole company culture, the idea of travel or getting inspiration from that kind of thing?
Will: I think it’s important to us that folks are happy. I mean, I hope that’s the case for a lot of employers. I wouldn’t say it’s part of … that travel is specifically part of the company culture, but I do think that as much as we’re able to sort of encouraging and supporting where people’s inspiration comes from is important to us.For instance, we have, one of our employees, one of our makers, is an actor, so he basically has two fulltime jobs. He’s in a lot of work around town, and works for us in the morning fulltime, comes in at seven and leaves at three or four, has a few hours off, and then goes into rehearsals at night and then performances. He gets a lot of inspiration and a lot of energy and fulfillment from that and he tells us from his job with us as well.It’s important to us to make a company that is flexible where it’s able to, to support … This guy’s name is Matthew … to support Matthew to do other things that he gets fulfillment from.

Is that the gentleman in the handsome suit?
Betsy: Yeah. He’s awesome.Yeah, I want to just piggyback on that. I think that it is more of a broader sense of encouraging everybody to find the things in their lives that bring them joy, not just within the business, but how those things sort of relate to each other too.
Will: If they could really just minimize trips to Greece, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re trying to find people who hate traveling.
You have said that you guys … and maybe this is something that I experience too. Sometimes I feel like … and I don’t mean this in a bad sense, but I feel like I’m always working. I feel like it’s quite possible that I’ll get my best ideas at 10 pm or just, you know, at random times.
Betsy: Middle of the night maybe?
It’s probably when my kids are asleep and there’s no screaming.How does that work for you guys? How do you capture those ideas? Do you ever feel like you just can’t ever get away from work and that you’re just overwhelmed?
Will: Well, Betsy gets most of her good ideas in the shower.
Okay.
Betsy: That’s true. There was a time when I would get out of the shower and be, like, “Will, come here. I need to get this off my chest now.” You know.
Will: We do work a lot but we also take … I was going to say we take all weekends off, and that’s not true, but at least that’s what we …
Some of them.
Will: Yeah. But we expect of ourselves to take weekends off. If we find ourselves working on a weekend, we know that we’re breaking the rules.
Betsy: Yeah.
Will: That is a good sort of foundation that we’ve put into place.
Betsy: I would also say baby steps.

There was definitely a time when we were not taking any days off at all, I mean, literally, going into work every day. It wasn’t like three years doing that and then, okay, we’re done, now we get two days off in a row. It took a while to get to that point, and there are times when we have to sacrifice and kind of go backwards a little bit, like holidays, for example. We really try to stick to the rules, like Will said.

We also try to, when we’re done working, say, in the evening, we can kind of have a mutual understanding or decision where we’re going to work later tonight, but when we’re done working, we’re done working. We’re going to play a game or we’re going to watch … I don’t know … What do we like to watch? Breaking Bad or something like that, and just let it go.I think we’ve gotten so much better at that, sort of leaving it when we decided to leave it, you know. Then also accepting it if we’re going to work longer.Yeah, you were asking about ideas, specifically, when we get ideas. Yeah, so the shower for me, I think. It’s random. Also just I try to make sure I write down everything. Sometimes I’ll get, in the most random moment, I’ll get an idea. If I have a notebook with me or just my phone, I just jot it down. That way I don’t have to feel like, ah, I’m going to lose this one. Then I can always access that.

I feel like there’s always sort of a tension. It’s like on one hand, if you’re not always feeling like you want to think about work or you’re inspired by it, then your business is going to kind of atrophy. Maybe that’s a sign that your passion isn’t there, but on the other hand, it’s like if you’re never not thinking about the business, you’re just going to get burned out. I can relate to that too. Over the years we’ve gotten better, Kandace and I, about not doing that.Part of it was, once you have kids you just cannot think about the business at certain times of the day, so it kind of forces your hand. On the other hand, I feel like if I didn’t think about work sometime in the evening, then I wouldn’t be ready for the next day. It’s almost part of my routine is that in the evening I have to have some sort of inspiration come to me.
Will: Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s important to try to curate for yourself, like, the opportunity for inspiration to strike and also the opportunity to not overwork yourself. You can’t force yourself to be inspired, but if you can give yourself the time that you know that inspiration or enjoyment or fulfillment is likely to occur, then I feel like that’s part of the challenge of that. Maybe having kids helps or …
I don’t know.
Betsy: We’re not there yet, but we want to be there.
I don’t know it has.Tell me about the Little Boxes promotion. I’ve read about that and I was fascinated, and I thought, that is a brilliant idea, but I want to hear how it came about and how it worked out.
Will: Do you want me to talk …?
Betsy: I’ll talk about how it came about and then you take it from there.
Will: Okay.
Betsy: It was our first year in the shop, so just a couple months after we had officially opened the shop in August. November rolled around, and this was one of those times to go back where we did not take any days off from the month of June, when we decided to sign the lease, to here we are in the holiday season.I got sick. It wasn’t anything major, but it was enough to keep me at home, and that was the first days I had off in months.I just kind of let myself veg out, and I watched TV. A commercial came on that … “For the first time ever, we’re going to be open all through the night.” I noticed that and instead of thinking, wow, that’s cool, I thought, this is insane. Who wants to shop really in the middle of the night?

At least it made me really appreciate the differences between our kinds of shops and the bigger ones. I started thinking, before Will came home that day, what can we do to sort of celebrate those shops and that difference. So I said to Will, I have this idea.

Was the raffle my idea?

Will: No, I don’t think so.
Betsy: Okay. Ha, ha, ha, you know.An idea to come together, all of our shops, and see if we could pool our money and somehow get the same kind of attention about what we could do for Black Friday out there.Anyways, he came home, and I said, what do you think? Really, I thought I was sick and that it was just crazy. This is the first week of November. Black Friday is, as you know …

Weeks after that.
Betsy: So he came home and thought it was a great idea, and then he got on the computer and started writing all of our colleagues and peers in the business just to see if they’d be onboard, and they were.
You can talk more about it now.
Will: Yeah. That’s the inspiration. That’s what started it.
What else were you curious about?
How did it turn out? You did it in 2012, was it?
Will: Yeah, we started in 2012 …
Betsy: No, 2011.
Will: Oh, yeah, 2011, 2012. Then, yeah, 2013. So yeah, we’ve done it three years in a row. We’re planning on even more to happen this year.From a numbers standpoint, it grew from 90 shops the first year to 170 shops the second year to almost, I think we’re at 199 shops, the third year. It’s growing. We hear things in our shop, customers will come in and say, this is our new Thanksgiving tradition. So that I feel like is probably the best way to speak to how it turned out.There are Portlanders out there now who maybe did shop big box stores or maybe always kind of stayed at home and played cards or something, that are now making a tradition of exploring the shopping, the local independent specialty retailers that Portland offers.

We should also maybe back up and say what the promotion is, because …

That’s a good point.
Will: It’s an event that takes place on Black Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. Then it incentivizes just exploration of Portland shops. The way we do that is through a prize raffle that you can enter just by going into the shops. There’s 200 shops. We this year had an iPhone app that would help you kind of navigate and claim your raffle entries, but you can enter to win prizes like a $2,000 trip, an iPad, then just tons of gift certificates and goodies from the shops that participate and Portland restaurants and stuff like that.You enter just by going in. We thought, we just want people to come in. Once they walk through the door, it’s our job to make them feel welcome and help them find something that they’re looking for.The promotion is structured to get people in the door. Thereafter we thought, well, it’s also kind of great if they want to spend money. The second year we incentivized it where if you made a purchase you could earn bonus entries into the raffle. So that’s kind of the thrust of it.

It seems like the genius of it is just counteracting the publicity blitz, you know, it’s like … Otherwise, it’s hard to picture a news outlet even in Portland covering a small business on Black Friday, because they want the big story. “They’re staying open for 72 hours.” It’s like, well, you know what? A little mom and pop shop can’t do that.
Betsy: Exactly.
It does give something to write about, a story.
Will: It does. It also gives … Our thought was, we, as shoppers, we don’t want to go to a shop that’s open at 2 a.m.
Betsy: That sounds horrible.
Yeah, it does.
Will: We’d rather be sleeping, partying, anything other than shopping at that hour. I feel like the other thing it does, it helps give people that are like us, our customers, people that would kind of prioritize a good walk around a neighborhood with their friends and family as opposed to a crazy rush hour waiting in line. It gives them a way to a new tradition, something to do. I think that’s another important thing about it.
Betsy: Yeah.
Have you guys ever heard of Cards Against Humanity?
Betsy: Yes.
Will: Yeah.
Have you heard about their Black Friday promotion where they actually raise the price?
Will: No.
Betsy: Really?
Will: That’s hilarious.
It’s done pretty well.
Betsy: That’s awesome.
Will: That’s really cool.
Betsy: So funny.
Tell me about the Bridge Collection.
Betsy: Okay. As I had mentioned, when Will came on, he had this awesome idea.
Will: You should say what it is first.
Yeah. Sorry. I never …
Betsy: He keeps me in line.
Will: I know that you’ll start talking about the inspiration and what did it and all of that. Then you’ll end with what it is.
Betsy: We are a team.
Will: You shouldn’t say …
Betsy:He needs to have flash cards ready and just flash them to me.The Bridge Collection is probably one of our most popular collections, based on bridges, not just in Portland, but around the country, inspired by travel.For example, we have the Fremont Bridge cuff, Brooklyn Bridge cuff, St. John’s Bridge cuff and Golden Gate Bridge cuff, and they’re all not so overtly designed from the bridges but they have bits that people can recognize as part of that particular bridge.

I wanted a way to make something that felt personal to people, that they could have a connection with but that wasn’t too … I don’t know … cheesy.

Will: We always say, not a Lidstrom bracelet, where it’s you’re advertising exactly what your identity is when you wear it, but you are, but it’s just a little more subtle and to yourself.
Betsy: Exactly. Or like a piece of … There are lots of things out there, like a plate that says, “I Love You,” or, you know, things like that. Something that kind of can give you that same sort of feeling but felt a little bit more interesting.To us, this is what I was going to start with, Will’s idea to go across the country and actually meet … go to these shops and meet these shop owners, was an awesome experience for us, and I think just the traveling. I’ve always, as mentioned already, travel is a huge part of what inspires me to design. We live over the St. John’s Bridge so every day we get to see that bridge.Just the movement, in general, like, connecting communities, that all of that, those sort of ideas, were in my head.

Will: And also that people just love bridges.

Betsy and Iya bridges
From their Bridge Collection the Fremont Bridge cuff bracelet, Golden Gate cuff bracelet and Brooklyn Bridge cuff bracelet

Betsy: Well, yeah. That’s what I was about to say, that that is a connection, that people can immediately have, and I have it, we have it.Yeah, just kind of started drawing and then Will and I bumped heads on how to execute. It became huge, and it’s still huge for us.
You found out a while back that the Fremont cuff was being ripped off?
Betsy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Will: Blaire tells us to say, “We believe that it may have been ripped off.”
Okay, we’ll use that wording. That’s very diplomatic.The suspect in this case … that aside, how should people in a similar situation, in your mind, treat that sort of thing? Because that can happen to anyone. I’ve certainly known other artists who’ve seen the exact same thing with other suspected big corporations, you know. How do you handle that sort of thing? What’s the right reaction?
Will: Well, I think our reaction was the right reaction.
Betsy: For us.
Will: I’m saying that jokingly, but we really struggled with that. I know that’s kind of the gist of your question is, what do you do? For us, in this situation, we kind of went down a bunch of different paths. Should we copyright it because it wasn’t copyrighted, and then if we do that, how do we protect it? How do you even copyright something? Can you copyright a design of this nature?We had those meetings and we got a ballpark of how much time and energy and money that would cost, and then what, even if you did all of those things, what sort of recourse you would have at the end of that day.For us, that cost benefit didn’t add up. It was months and thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Then you could collect damages from the point at which your copyright was filed if you could prove that they had damaged it; right? Then you have to subpoena their books. I mean, it’s crazy, right, to actually prove that.

For us, we realized the negative effect of this on us is that it felt like a violation. It was more emotional. We couldn’t even prove that there was a financial damage. For us, the decision, the calculus was, well, how do we take back that feeling of feeling violated? How do we flip the equation? That’s how we tackled it, was with that goal in mind.

Betsy: I would also just say, without losing time, I think … You mentioned the money and just the time it would take to wait.What I started seeing was, okay, here’s my life, here are my days, my 24 hours. We got some amazing quote out there, “We all have the same 24 hours, so what are we going to do with those?” I can’t replace that. The time that I’m going to spend on worrying about that and seeking action against it is taking away from time I need desperately to be inspired and design and to run our own business and continue to grow that.That was a huge part of it for us too. You said it really well, to flip that and turn it into something good.

Will: So we just celebrated what we feel like what our product means, which is creating jobs, providing pieces that people feel good about wearing. There’s a whole blog-fest on it, but just kind of celebrate the virtues of what it means when you buy our cuff as opposed to this other cuff.To do that, we stamped three of them with the word, “Original,” on the inside and then numbered them, so they were a limited edition run of three that we gold-plated in heavy gold plate, and we raffled those off, so we sold raffle tickets.The raffle ticket got you a discount to our shop even if you didn’t win, so we felt like it was a way to say thank you. What it ended up being was a way for people … It was a way that we could understand that we aren’t crazy, that people do have our backs. Our customers really do believe in us. It was a way that we were able to hear that back from them in their comments and the number of times it was shared and liked and re-tweeted and all of that.

Betsy: There was a massive outpouring.
Will: Yeah. That was, once we started seeing those comments and seeing that people were buying raffle tickets, like, five at a time, just to say, I support what you guys are doing. That flipped it. All of the worry and the anxiety and all of that went away.
Betsy: It was gone.
Will: That, for us, that was the victory.
Sometimes it feels like that stuff that’s going to happen in life, and your reaction, you want it to be a positive one that moves things forward and is … It’s like you don’t want to focus on the negative aspects too much or it kind of just brings you down. Yeah, you really do have only so many hours in the day.Okay. Maybe on a lighter subject here, because I think probably a lot of that outpouring has to do with a lot of people can relate to that. A lot of people have been in that situation in their life, whether they’re designers or artists …
Betsy: Absolutely.
So much of what we do is creative, and people will steal.
Will: Yeah.
Of the wrong kind of stealing. There’s the good kind, like …
Will: Right.
Betsy, how would you describe your design style?
Betsy: Oh, gosh. Okay. I named the business after how I feel about my designs, which is, there’s a real perpendicularity there. There’s a simple classic-ness that is butted up against a crazy kind of wild abandon. That’s the best way I’ve ever felt I can describe what I do. I really …Do you have something to add to that?
Will: I’m sure I do, yeah.
Betsy: Honestly, I try not to decide that I am a minimalist designer, I am just classic or whatever. I try to just actually follow the work and see where it wants to take me. I always like for the work to surprise me. It’s hard for me to actually pin an umbrella over what my design style is, but it’s … Yeah, it’s out there.
Will: I think also related to that perpendicularity, Betsy is simultaneously, like, a perfectionist and a real … “sloppy” is not the right word. I’m trying to think of the kind way.
Betsy: You can call me sloppy. I know what you mean.
Will: For instance, one of the rings you’re wearing, I saw a sketch of that and if I had … This is the Pueblo ring.
Betsy: This one in the middle.
Will: I saw a sketch of that, and if I was tasked with creating the three-dimensional prototype of it, it would be … I would throw every one of them out until it was perfectly symmetrical and had no pits or divots or scratches.Where I think Betsy’s genius lies is that she … sometimes it will be exactly what I described and this perfect symmetrical thing, and sometimes it is, she’s, like, great, it’s done now. And you can look at it, it’s not perfectly symmetrical. It has these imperfections. I think to speak to that, sort of that, it is that abandon with that perfectionism.

Even this necklace that you have on, it’s like you can see that there are hands that touch there. You can also see it was really deliberate and specific. If you look at the fact that now we produce these on a medium scale, every one turns out more or less the same too. So it’s about replicating that sort of abandon precisely.

Betsy: Yeah. It’s weird.
Yeah. It’s like perfectly serendipitous.
Betsy:Yes, that’s it.
Okay. What’s next? Are you guys opening a shop in Brooklyn or something? Any reveals on the pod cast today?
Will: Oh, man. We’re not opening a shop in Brooklyn.
Oh, shit, that’s exactly what I was …
Will: Not anymore, Ray.
My lawyer said not to talk about it.
Will: We have plans to … Well, one thing that we are working on is a fine jewelry collection.
Betsy: That is something no one knows yet, so there you go.
Hey, a big scoop.
Betsy: One of the angles that we’ve always taken is wanting to put real value into the design in the way that we think about things and the way that we produce them and put them out onto the world, but to keep them as affordable as we possibly can with those things in mind.One thing recently that we’ve gotten excited about is offering more of a fine collection that still has the edge of design that we offer but it gives an opportunity for people to buy engagement rings and just the fancier things, if you have the money to spend and you want to go there and you like our style.The reason why it’s come up is we’ve gotten more and more requests for custom jewelry design in that higher price range.
It won’t be a diversion from what you expect from Betsy & Iya. It’s going to be an add-on, another type of collection.

Excellent. Cool.
Will: You heard it hear first.
Right, right, right.
Okay, well, Betsy and Will, thanks so much for talking to me today.
Betsy: Thank you so much.
Will: It was our pleasure. Thanks for having us.