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I was born in a crazy blizzard in NH in March of 1977. After about a year, I moved to Westchester County outside of New York City, where I grew up in North Salem.
When I was in nursery school, there was concern that I was anti-social as I preferred to play by myself, quietly building things with tinker toys in a quiet corner. My favorite activities seemed to be drawing, reading, making embroidery bracelets, and learning how to make things.
I attended Millbrook School, a co-ed preparatory boarding school in the Hudson Valley for all four years of High School. In case you had been concerned for quiet, tiny Sierra, I made up for not talking much in nursery school when I was in high school.
Besides talking, I also dove into service and art while in high school. As this was the early 90s, I still was in the era of well-rounded students. I loved trying all the things. I was an AP Honors student, I had a column in the paper, played varsity soccer, was the head light tech for the theatre, was the business manager for the yearbook and newspaper. I was the vice president of the student council and built a strong portfolio in drawing and painting.
I applied early decision to the School of Architecture at Syracuse University and was accepted with a full ride based on merit. At the time it was in the top three best architecture schools in the country and when I arrived, I was told that because of this elite standing, we had a dress code and were expected to be examples in the community. After four years of boarding school, I'll admit that I bristled at the rules and lost a bit of love for the school.
After one year, I was over the strictness of the program and bitter that we were not encouraged to be creative until our 5th year. I had become intrigued by the computer graphics program over at the School of Visual and Performing Arts (a different school at Syracuse University) so I updated my portfolio and applied for an intra collage transfer.
Due to the differences in the foundation programs, I had to start over, and much to my mom's chagrin, lost my full ride when I changed schools. I loved the new program though. I absorbed the "new" medium like a sponge. I loved that were required to take so many classes in the engineering school but were coding to create color and light.
I declared a minor in painting to access the higher level of studio arts courses. Thanks to my strong foundation in painting in high school, I quickly took to pushing the boundaries with scale, medium and color. The painting studio was where I could leave behind the computer screens, work in rooms with high celings filled with light and avoid at all costs the tech bros of my major.
I was one of two women in my year and learned that although I loved the work of computer graphics, I did not want to work in a windowless computer lab surrounded by the type of men drawn to this work.
The question became: what was I to do then with a BFA in 2d/3d animation with a minor in painting?
Upon graduation, I did freelance photo editing for a wedding photographer, worked in a gallery, and managed a studio for a painter. The last was a job that required having a BFA. Look at that, I was using my degree! In all seriousness though, I was ordering paint, cleaning brushes, stretching canvases, and creating catalogs of their finished paintings. These three jobs were excellent intros into life as a creative and I couldn't wait to get my work out there.
I started my first business doing what seemed to be the most practical in 2002. I designed websites for small businesses. The problem became that I quickly saw that everyone needed to be able to create and maintain their sites to make the most sense for their future business financially. I had a bad habit of encouraging all of my potential clients to learn how to do it themselves and talking them out of hiring me.
Although not a great financial decision for me, it all worked out as I had more time to focus on making art and building my own eCommerce site. This was rare in 2002. Having such a strong website three years before Etsy began, ended up giving me a huge leg up as I transitioned to maker life.
In 2003, I officially stopped designing websites and started Manic Trout - Fine Art & Beautiful Things. I sold my paintings, originally, but everyone kept trying to buy the jewelry I wearing instead. I had been making it on the side since high school and although I sold pieces to stores in college, I had no idea how to make it a business.
However, due to so much interest, I decided to add jewelry as one of the "beautiful things", alongside the custom embroidered handkerchiefs for weddings, colorful "everything" drawstring bags, and a bit of graphic design and photoshop work.
As I was already familiar with eCommerce, when Etsy came along, I was one of the first sellers to upload their work. I started with paintings and of course, all of the colorful statement jewelry that was becoming more and more the focus of the business. My Etsy shop attracted the attention of the local newspaper and they featured me in a big article showcasing mostly my jewelry.
This press caught the eye of an NYC PR company that reached out in late 2006. I signed with them in 2007, after it was explained that I had to move away from one-of-a-kind art jewelry and into pieces I could reproduce so magazines would feature me. I started by making earrings out of vintage lucite cabochons and the press really took off. My first press was in Women's Wear Daily, which at the time was the biggest fashion trade magazine, and immediately got my name out there.
Within a year of being with he PR company, in November of 2008, I had three pairs of $10 earrings featured in the Real Simple Gift Guide, just as the economy crashed. The magainze told me to be prepared to sell 2,000-3,000 pairs and to have them in stock and ready for the season. That was a LOT of earrings for my business and I was so nervous that I would end up sitting on all of the materials and packing supplies I had bought in preparation.
It was a weird time though and pretty $10 earrings featured in a magazine sounded like a great gift idea to people who were trying to cut back on spending. I sold over 10,000 pairs in six weeks. Mind you, I had to MAKE all of the earrings, so it was an insane six weeks of no sleep, lots of tears, hiring all my friends, and understanding how the press can put you out of business if you can't keep up.
After that season, I realized I needed to focus on jewelry and let the art go. I removed paintings from my website and grew and grew until 2016.
By this time, I had been married, divorced, and had moved from NY to Austin, TX in 2011. I was remarried and my husband, Adam, knew before I did that I was burning out. I'm not going to go into details here as I talk more about it in the book I wrote, Smarter Starting. Here, I will leave it at this: I was distraught that the thriving business I built as my dream job was now making me miserable.
It was incredibly hard to make the decision, but I had tried to pivot within the business a few times at this point, including developing a live TV show as a DIY expert on a home shopping channel where I designed jewelry kits and taught the viewers how to make jewelry. It didn't help. Nothing did.
I had achieved all of my goals, I had been in over 60 national magazines, all of the local newspapers and magazine in NY and Austin, had been featured on hundreds of blogs, had deals with big retailers, visited the tiny boutiques where I sold and met wonderful fans of my work, and had jewelry on TV shows, music videos, and celebs. I had been on news shows, in multiple fashion weeks and done more than I dreamed I ever would. And then one day I finally decided to shut it all down.
I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I started consulting with business owners while I figured it all out. I however, quickly felt like I was repeating myself every time I had a meeting, so I began developing an online destination with courses, videos, and articles.
When Covid hit, I moved it all to Zoom and started training on technology for business owners so they could quickly pivot their businesses.
During all of this, I finally achieved one of the goals I had kept pushing away over the previous six years. I wrote a book. It's full of all the things I felt that I was repeating to my people, the Tiny Business Owners. A how-to manual and cheerleader book all in one. Throughout the book, I told my journey of owning businesses. When it was done, I knew I missed creating. I ached for it. I thought I would happily write books for the rest of my life, that that was all of the creating I needed todo and dove into researching the next book.
Then I went through a season of incredible loss. My mother in law died unexpectedly, two of my friends lost battles with cancer, and my grandmother, who had been my lifelong maker inspiration died. Two dogs died as the book ends to this loss. It was a dark time. It was also exhausting.
But it opened something up in me that had been dormant. It awoke the need to make with my hands. To create something that people could hold in their hands. To produce things that would bring joy and the most surprising of all...I missed eCommerce.
It began with candy. It tickled at vintage home goods. It tiptoed up to painting. It made me realize that I had only painted one painting in the last six years. I wondered if that was what had been missing. I bought a new easel and dug out all of my supplies. I stretched a few canvases. I stood in front of a fresh expanse of white, and I began.
Immediatly, I knew it was where I needed to be.
In April of 2022, I had a soft launch of Yellow Table Goods. It began with candy. I had not had sugar for 6 years and after so much loss, decided I was brining it back. Basically, I was so excited to eat sugar again, that I started a candy company. I however have never had an intention of going into the consumer package goods space. Admitadly, in the early years of jewelry making, said that if I ever made anything else, it would be candy. Until I researched what that looks like. And then I quickly stopped saying that when I learned that it was near impossible to be a newcomer to the industry and have mass market success.
So I started making candy knowing that I would only make artisan small batch candies. With the Texas cottage law, that's doable but I am super restricted by this law. I'm ok with that. I can only sell candy in Texas, but I don't want to the candy side to get too big. Why? Well, I learned a lot about myself when I wrote the book. I learned that I like to mix it up. I don't want to mass produce anything, I like to work in multiple mediums and I like to be able to pivot.
For now, I love all of the possibilities. The return to the maker life. I am working on a new painting series and have some block printed textiles in the works. I'm experimenting, letting my curiosity run wild and seeing where it takes me.
I don't have all of the answers, but for now, I'm enjoying where I am.
Honing my embroidery skills with the help of Ga.
Posing for the 1st official "Makers of Etsy" calendar.
Jewelry in WWD, the biggest fashion trade publication.
Jewelry on Gossip Girl, THE show for fashion that year.
Exhibiting at MAGIC in Las Vegas with Manic Trout.
Jewelry on Criminal Minds. Thanks to Twitter.
DIY Jewelry Hosting on a LIVE TV Shopping Channel.
On Studio512 to talk about Tiny Business Owners.