Forging Ahead: CCAD Grad Builds Jewelry Business
Maddie Etter, a 2009 CCAD grad, is building her jewelry design business, Phyllis & Hazel, on the foundation of her education at Columbus College of Art & Design and the business expertise she gleaned from store and gallery owners — and her mom.
Fluorite, bumblebee jasper, hematite, dendritic rhyolite. The materials jewelry designer Maddie Etter chooses sound mysterious, hidden, begging to be excavated. No surprise, then, that Maddie’s curiosity for these ancient objects was first sparked when she was on childhood excursions with her archaeology buff father, who took his kids to cornfields to dig around in the dirt, perhaps to find an old arrowhead or fossil.
“When I meet kids at festivals, all children are fascinated by rocks and gemstones,” says Maddie, who is 28. “My parents did a really good job cultivating that.” What else inspires her? Animal welfare (Phyllis and Hazel — the namesakes for her jewelry design business — were Maddie’s guinea pigs) and nature. Her jewelry feels old and new at the same time, with pendants and rings taking organic shapes, rather than being chiseled and honed to fit an ideal.
She took a job in corporate fashion after graduating from CCAD, but she found herself longing to work with her hands more often. She’d been making and selling jewelry for years — her mom sold fine jewelry, so Maddie grew up around the business. She’d also worked at Substance, a Short North boutique where the owner took Maddie under her wing and gave her some business chops. When the owner decided to close the store, she gave Maddie months of advance notice. And that gave Maddie the opportunity she needed to save money and make a go at making Phyllis & Hazel her full-time job.
“Since I’d worked at the store, I knew how to approach other businesses with my jewelry line,” Maddie says. She also set up shop at as many festivals and fairs as she could. But the grind of constant traveling to fairs took its toll, so now she’s focused on selling her jewelry online and in partnership with retailers.
Experience has also taught her to diversify her jewelry. One-of-a-kind pieces at a high price point are sold at Sherrie Gallerie in the Short North, where customers value exclusivity and the quality of Maddie’s most labor-intensive pieces. She sells other items at lower price points at shops like Wholly Craft in Clintonville and Pure Roots in Westerville.
“When I started making jewelry and getting brand recognition, I was doing more production work. But since I was able to make it my full-time job, I have all day every day to practice metalworking,” she says.
With a few years of growing and shaping Phyllis & Hazel under her belt, Maddie is looking to the future of her brand. For now, it doesn’t include a brick-and-mortar store.
“Having essentially run a store in the Short North … it was a trial for running my own store. You have to be there all day, every day, every day of the week. With jewelry, in order to make products, you’d have to be making it in the store, and it’s not something you can jump up from and help a customer,” Maddie says. “I just want to grow the website. I want to have orders coming in every day, get some national recognition, keep building relationships with shops and opening accounts.”
Get to know her
Maddie Etter, 28, graduated from CCAD with a BFA in Fashion Design in 2009.
Maddie grew up in Marietta, Ohio, about two hours southeast of Columbus. She stayed here after college because it’s both close to home and offers amenities she couldn’t afford in another, bigger city. “There’s a great art community here. The Cultural Arts Center is a huge bonus. There’s nothing comparable to that place. In another major city, you’d pay hundreds of dollars for that kind of space. It’s huge, and I go there about two times a week and use equipment that I’m never going to buy.”
Guinea pigs Phyllis and Hazel are no longer around, but Maddie continues to give her furry friends old-school names, like Agnes. “I think guinea pigs look like little old ladies,” she says with a laugh.