Our conversation with Naperville, IL jewelry designer Sophia Forero
Sarlas Music: Your pieces are so unique and beautiful. How do you stay on top of current trends in jewelry design?
Sophia Forero: I don’t really follow trends because I’m trying to create my own niche in jewelry. My mosaics are really different….Not that I’m some kind of trailblazer. But I’m trying to create something that anybody would want to wear and that it’s my own, and it’s beautiful, and that it might go along trends because they happen to be the trend of the season, but it’s really not about that. My typical client is not so much about trends. She just likes the beauty of the pieces, and the idea, and the art.
SM: You have almost a cult-like following of clients!
SF: Well…I do! It’s growing too!
SM: Unlike someone who commissions a piece from you directly, you don’t really get to meet the people who buy your pieces from stores like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s
SF: No, and honestly, sometimes that bothers me. I really love to witness how my pieces make a woman feel beautiful. It’s so empowering to see a woman put on a piece and see her face light up!
SM: Talk to me about bridal jewelry.
SF: I see it as a total honor to be a part of that day, because I hold marriage in very high regard. I’ve been married for 17 years to my best friend, and I know that it’s a lot of work, and I know how important it is to start that adventure off with a solid celebration and gathering of like minded people who want to bless the people that are in front of them that decided to get married.
I sit down and talk to my brides for a good long time, and listen to them about what their style is. Do they want simple or bling? Traditional or out of the box? It’s important for me to listen to what their needs are, and for me to meet their budget. Weddings are expensive, and I know that I can meet any budget. For orthodox weddings, I’m starting to make orthodox crowns out of hand hammered silver and different stones.
SF: I don’t just design for orthodox weddings though. There are as many different kinds of weddings as there are personalities. So, it’s super important that I listen to what the bride wants.
SM: What are your favorite materials to work with when you make bridal jewelry?
SF: I use white pearls a lot, Swarovski crystal, and mosaic designs. I’ve had brides that didn’t want white at all. They will have their “something blue” be in their jewelry. One of the things I see that brides really love is that I create for them. And I create with materials that they would like to see. I want them to feel taken care of by me, because they have so many other details to take care of.
SM: I wish I had known you when I was getting married. I wanted a custom piece and didn’t know where to turn. I knew in my mind what I wanted, but I couldn’t find it anywhere!
SF: That’s the thing, it’s really hard. You’ll be restricted either by budget, or by design, and it’s hard to find someone who can just sit and listen, and help you make what’s in your head into a reality.
SM: When did you start making jewelry?
SF: This is the book that changed my life: Africa Adorned. I was at the University of Chicago, studying modernity in Africa. Specifically, South Africa under Apartheid. U of C didn’t have the most sources, because there was no internet then…we had to use the card catalog. It was very painful.
SM: And the microfiche!
SF: And the microfiche! That stupid machine…you would always whizz by what you wanted to see….so I would look at pictures of people in their indigenous jewelry. I was supposed to be studying, and I would be looking at people wearing the jewelry of Africa. In many cultures, jewelry is a symbol of a family’s wealth, or their status in society. So, I started studying jewelry from that perspective. And then I started going around to different bead stores, and I would buy elements from African jewelry. A friend showed me how to wire wrap one day. I just started collecting beads and making stuff.
While I was in the Peace Corps, I would travel around and buy beads. I would make stuff for my Peace Corps buddies, and I would give it to them. It really just went on from there.
When I came back to the states, I decided I wanted to teach, and I ended up being a classroom teacher for 12 years. Then one day, the school librarian told me to enter the Marshall Field’s design contest. I took a day off of school, 5 mos pregnant with my second child. I stood in line for 4 hours. I took two rolls of jewelry with me, showed it to them, and then I left. There were 400 people there. And then I won.
That was my sign. I had to do it! I used to do art shows on the weekends. I quit teaching, had my second child, and started my business in the same month.
SM: That’s not stressful.
SF: You know, I didn’t even think about the stress. I was like, I’m meant to do this. It’s gonna work out.
SM: Because it’s what you love. It’s your obsession.
SF: It’s what I loved. And you know what’s so strange? I never took any art classes in high school or college. I didn’t think it was practical. I’m Greek.
I can’t say that I had had this real drive or interest in taking art classes. I never really got into the notion of making stuff for a living. I didn’t know I had it in me. I can’t believe how much I love sitting down and making stuff. The business side is really the challenge. People ask me “what are you going to do when you run out of ideas?” Ideas are infinite. The ideas just keep coming when I least expect them.
SM: So, the mosaics….how did you get the idea?
SF: The idea came to me as I was standing next to a Byzantine icon. It’s like pointillism. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to make a pendant that would be bits that make a whole? You can see their robes in the icons; they look like they have folds in them. You appreciate how hard it was to put together. At first I thought of taking tiny little stones and literally putting them in like tiles. But it’s a very tedious process and almost impossible to do. So then I thought, what if we took beads and sewed them onto fabric? When I first started making these, I had them made in India. I would sit with the artisans and we finally figured it out. I think about that moment when the first one was completed. It just clicked. I had the idea, I made the drawing, and I made the design. Now, we’ve been doing the sewing here in my studio for about three years. I want to create a business that grows here. Most jewelry is made in China, India, Bali, Indonesia, Philippines….I can’t even name a line that’s made in the United States. Patricia Locke. That’s it.
SM: So, you’ve got a lot quicker turn around time, now that you’re based here.
SF: I do, I have a quicker turnaround time, but the most important thing is that I want to grow my business and grow jobs here.
SM: So, if a bride were to approach you about making jewelry for her wedding, ideally how much time would you want?
SF: I can do stuff within two weeks. Ideally, 5-6 is great, but I’ve done very quick turnarounds. Especially if I have the materials on hand, I can move quickly. I always make sure to send plenty of pictures as we progress, so a bride can change anything. It has to be perfect for her. I want it to be exactly what she wants. Your wedding day is so important.
SM: And stressful!
SF: It is, it’s very stressful. You know, the more a bride can delegate, the better. It’s a good feeling to know you’re in good hands.
SM: I think most brides don’t know that something like this is an option. Thank you Sophia!