A couple months ago we sat down to chat with Zoe Cope, one of the creators behind Birds N Bones. We learned much about her and the genesis of the brand. Today we'll turn to the other half of Birds and Bones and talk with San Francisco based Ashley Lagasse about her path to becoming a jeweler and business owner.
Elizabeth Mikutowicz: I understand that you and Zoe met at Academy of Art while pursuing a specialized education in jewelry. How did you come to know jewelry was what you wanted to pursue?
Ashley Lagasse: I actually started out as a ceramics sculpture major at Academy of Art and turned my nose up at the idea of making tiny jewelry. My education required me to take a small metals class where I met my teacher, Patty Nelson, who changed my view and world by introducing me to the metal arts. The very first piece I made in the class was a hand forged sculpture of an armadillo. Patty made me deconstruct the piece and turn it into something wearable. I end up making a piece that went shoulder to shoulder and had necklaces running down the front and back. After that I was hooked. I fell in love with the durability of metal, and any opportunity to show off my work by having others wear it.
EM: It's so interesting that you and Zoe both found and connected with jewelry unexpectedly. It's also really cool that you both have different backgrounds in art--Zoe in advertising and you in sculpture. I'm sure that influences your jewelry and Birds N Bones in different ways. Has your history--your upbringing, family, and origins--influenced your work as well; and if so how?
AL: I grew up in southern Louisiana where nature always surrounded me. I had this fascination with both large and small creatures throughout my life . As a child, during recess, instead of picking up a ball to play, I would go off into the corner of the soccer field and dig for rollie pollies, grasshoppers, and any other bugs I could catch. Before I knew it, I had other girls in my class following me around doing the same. I clearly remember getting in trouble once for bringing a dragonfly back into the library and accidentally setting it loose.
Another huge influence in my life is my father. He is a self made man, and created a very successful business of his own. Witnessing his hard work and entrepreneurship throughout my life definitely impacted me to be my own woman and accomplish anything I set my sights on.
EM: Wow, that's really powerful and I'm sure such a special thing for your father to hear as well! Now you'll never get in trouble for bringing bugs inside again!
It seems like you and Zoe are the perfect business partners-each focusing on different areas of the brand and company. Can you tell me a little about how you guys work together and what facets of the business you each generally focus on?
AL: Zoe originally came from a background in advertising and I knew right away that chick had a vision. We instantly clicked over our love of the same specimens, but our bond grew stronger once our strengths and weaknesses started to tether. Zoe is level headed, organized, visually creative, and doesn't hurt that she's a gorgeous babe on the inside and out. She keeps me in line, and on top of our deadlines. Zoe also takes care of the visuals, packaging, website maintenance, customer service, and business to business relationships. She works hard to get us out there and we wouldn't be where we are at without her.
I handle more of the logistics and mechanics of the business relationship. That includes aspects like finances, expenses, and budget. It also includes figuring out how to make each jewelry piece and developing the most efficient way to reproduce them.
One outstanding trait we both possess is the drive and ability to work hard. While in school we were always the last to leave the studio in the evenings. We always come together when developing new designs.
EM: I couldn't imagine a more balanced and symbiotic partnership!
You also spent some time in New York studying at GIA. What prompted that and what did you study there?
AL: In addition to our business, I have my foot in the fine jewelry world, which is my day job. Technology has increased exponentially, allowing the jewelry making process to become easier and more affordable. Sometimes we need to adapt to these advances, and I felt learning CAD/CAM 3D modeling would further my skills as a jeweler both in my personal and work life. To quote my dad, "Furthering your education is never a bad idea."
EM: I think it's really remarkable that you have a full time job in addition to designing and creating your own jewelry! How do you balance the two?
AL: I work anywhere from 40-50 hours a week with a local jeweler. Luckily I have two days off in a row where I get the majority of Birds N Bones orders/work done. In addition, I usually spend 3 hours after work either in the studio or at home taking care of what I call "computer" work. Filing orders, budgeting our monthly expenses, ordering supplies, organizing tax and license expenses, etc. Nobody tells you about all the paperwork that is required when running your own business. Luckily I have a very supportive husband who understands how important this business is to me and we schedule personal time together around the business deadlines. He also helps out whenever he can...as we speak he is doing a casting run with our local SF caster right now. Zoe is also there for me if I run out of time to do something. She is always willing to pick up my slack and bend over backwards to make it work.
EM: You both really do have an incredible work ethic, sounds like a total labor of love as well! Speaking of love, you were recently married in New Orleans, congratulations! How did you choose the location and how does it feel to be a wife!? Has it changed your perspective at all?
AL: Yes, my partner, Alex, and I recently tied the knot back in April. We chose to have it down in New Orleans since I grew up there. We picked a date 4-8-16 because my husband is obsessed with symmetry, and it happened to fall on one of my favorite events, French Quarter Festival. It was basically a mini vacation for any and all who attended. We had a blast eating all the delicious food and listening to some of the best local jazz bands play on the street.
Everyone keeps asking me the question, "how does it feel to be a wife?" Honestly it doesn't feel any different. I am still the same person and our relationship thrives the same way it did. Although we are very excited to file taxes as a couple this coming year and thrilled we can be on the same health plan. I married for the benefits *laughs*. It's going to sound cliche but the key to any relationship is communication and compromise. My husband and I tell each other everything, even if something small is bothering us. Same reason I believe my relationship with Zoe works so well. We are constantly texting and emailing each other ideas, and Skyping to get as much face-time as we can.
EM: Whatever you guys are doing, keep doing it because you are killin' it running a business from two different cities! And congrats on all the new benefits and perks of being married while maintaining all the best parts of your relationship too. Thank you so much for taking time to chat and tell us about your side of the Birds N Bones empire!