I’ve been in love with Lisa’s intricate, hand-knotted jewelry from the first time I said my eyes on it. The style is distinctive and chic and I covet pretty much everything that comes from her hands.
Don’t understand the obsession? You like will once you meet Lisa Anderson Shaffer, the mastermind (and hands) behind Zelma Rose… she’s as brilliant and generous as she is talented and stylish and this month’s Lucky Break Meet the Maker.
Lisa Anderson Shaffer of Zelma Rose
LBC: What inspired you to take the leap as an entrepreneur?
Lisa: In 2008 I had everything I thought I wanted from a profession. I was a psychotherapist working part-time as mental health counseling director at a local private fashion college and the other part of the time I was seeing patients in my private practice, specializing in working with adolescents in acute crisis. I loved both jobs, but they were taxing on a good day. And I knew that keeping even one while being a new mother would be a lot.
I made the decision that while we were trying to start a family, I would leave my job at the fashion school and focus on my private practice. The hours would be more flexible and I would decide the length of my maternity leave when the time came. When I finally became pregnant, my husband and I sat down to crunch the numbers. All the numbers. Everything from mortgage to student loans and childcare. Sadly, even after a master’s degree, 3,000 hours of clinical training, two-state exams, and a professional license, and years working with hundreds of patients, after factoring in the expense costs of my private practice, including childcare, I would end up bringing home a whopping $75 a week. For real. And I can honestly say that the work I was doing, while I loved it, was worth a hell of a lot more emotionally and mentally than $75 a week.
Not to mention that as an expert in early childhood and adolescent development, there were few people around more qualified on paper to take better care of my soon-to-be daughter than me. But, I had to work. I had started my career as a fine artist in 1998 and I knew that as an artist I could create my own schedule, have a much lower overhead and I was pretty sure I could make $75 a week. And initially, that was our goal. When I closed my practice, I started Zelma Rose with the initial intention of bringing home $75 a week. That was my leap.
And at first it was $75 a week, but things quickly grew and it became evident that I had a nice little growing business on my hands, on my time, and around my daughter’s schedule. I still run Zelma Rose around my daughter’s schedule. My leap was creating a job where I could be the kind of parent I want to be and make a living at the same time.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
Lisa: I create refined fiber – and soon to be leather – jewelry for statement makers. Wallflowers need not apply. All my designs are created in my studio in West Marin and made with zero to minimal waste practices.
LBC: Where can we find your products?
Lisa: My business has had so many incarnations! As years have passed, my designs have changed drastically, but I have always relied on believing in my design aesthetic and my drive to create really well-made, high-quality pieces. I wanted to make something different. I feel very strongly about being the best version of yourself and not a crappy version of someone else’s brilliance. It’s so easy to fall into the comparison game and lose your vision to what seems popular or working for someone else. Making everyone happy is a terrible business decision. Zelma Rose was quickly defined as different and not for everyone. Being specific has carried me through trends and highs and lows in the market. It can take a little longer, but once your people find you, what defines you becomes even more clear.
LBC: Walk us through a typical workday.
Lisa: My schedule still works around my daughter’s school week and vacations. On a typical day, I start work between 8 – 8:30 and work through pretty steadily until 2:30. Each day is different and since there are very hard constraints on my work hours, I have learned never to waste time on something that is not flowing. If I have a day where most of my time is on production and one design is not flowing as well as another, I just go on to the next and keep moving. It’s probably my favorite thing about running the show. There is always work to be done and if one thing isn’t working, move on and do something else. Then come back to it later.
I take a small break for lunch outside and then usually tackle some admin work before I need to leave to pick up my kiddo. I stop work from 2:30-5:30 and then pick it up again for an hour when my man gets home. I’ll tie up any loose ends of the day and tidy up the studio. My studio is at home and this works so much better for me than I could have ever imagined. I LOVE not spending time commuting and the flexibility to wake up really early or work real late is so important to me. If I have more I need to get done, I’ll work again from about 8:30 – 10pm and then start all over the next day.
LBC: What are 3 things entrepreneurs should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
- Believe in your script (this comes from a Bono quote. I love him forever and have no shame). Feel really good about what you are making, your point of view, and your practices. If you don’t, change them so you do believe in your script. That confidence makes all the difference in the world. It enables you to know that if someone doesn’t like your product, it’s not because it isn’t well made or carefully thought out, but because it’s just not their thing.
- Say yes. A lot. There are so many ways to run YOUR business. What works for someone else might not work for you, or it might, but you don’t know if you don’t try. It’s so important to try out different trade shows, selling opportunities, reps, trunk shows, everything. Saying yes allows you to not only know what you do like but more importantly, what you don’t like.
- Be very deliberate about your production decisions. Just because a design works aesthetically, doesn’t mean it works for you. When I started Zelma Rose I had a very nerdy long list of criteria that my designs had to fit and none of them had to do with my customer. I knew I would be only able to work in short bursts while caring for an infant, so I needed something that I could pick up and put down and was portable. I needed to be able to work from my car during naps or doctor’s appointments. If I hadn’t created these rules Zelma Rose never would have gotten off the ground. These strict parameters made it possible for me to start and grow my business on limited resources and time.
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Lisa: Switching gears. If something isn’t flowing, I stop. Some days my hands are slow, my words are slow, my editing is awful. When I get really frustrated and overwhelmed, I switch tasks. Even if it is just for an hour or so. A break from one thing, but still feeling accomplished about another always helps me to get going in the right direction again.
LBC: Tell us about the best business decision you’ve made to date.
Lisa: About three years ago, I decided that I wanted to be as inclusive as possible with my marketing. I still have a long way to go, but it is really important to me that lots of different kinds of people feel invited into my story and brand. It is my constant aim to have a variety of people represented in the first three rows of my Instagram. This goal works really well for me, as it keeps an invitation of inclusion at the forefront of my mind. I don’t always get it right, and I still have a far way to come, but making sure that extending an invitation is part of the everyday workings of my brand has been a really important decision.
LBC: Please share one misstep or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back or overcome it?
Lisa: I fail about a million times a day! For every success, there are about 5 failures to getting there. Sometimes a loss is just a loss and there is little to gain from it, but most of the time, eventually, fails do lead to surprising opportunities. One of the magical things about this business is that you never know who is quietly warming themselves by your flame. I’ve had incredible opportunities come from such big losses. Sometimes not right away, but keeping that perspective is really helpful. After a big blow it moment, I always fall back on belief in my script. Making it less personal and not about the quality of my work takes a little of the sting out of it for me.
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?
- Airtable. Oh my gawd, I love Airtable. It’s like spreadsheets for people who hate spreadsheets. I use it for everything. All things Zelma Rose, all things regarding my books in progress, anything and everything. It’s an invaluable tool in my studio. I just love it!
- Good photo equipment and basic photo editing tools. I began my career as a photographer and I have taken all of my product shots for ZR throughout the years. In the last year or so, I started shooting my own editorial photo shoots and it’s been a blast. I’m not suggesting this is for everyone, but photography is such a critical element in marketing these days, I do think it is essential to invest in a decent camera and some basic editing know-how.
- I think that Photoshop and Picmonkey are both great. I use them both every day. An hour or so spent on some product or studio photography can create such a large amount of content for social media, your website and beyond. Plus I love the flexibility of the publishing calendar when you can take at least some of your own photos. There is no lead time.
LBC: Imagine that we had a time machine. If we blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?
Lisa: I see Zelma Rose having two feet firmly in the luxury market. I want to be doing more made-to-order pieces and more big and bold custom pieces for magazine editorials.
LBC: How have your interactions with Lucky Break influenced your business?
Lisa: Lela is the best. I just love her straightforward attitude and I know for certain that every time we talk, I end up with a very clear plan of attack. She helps me hit the ground running every single time. I also LOVE Price-o- Matic. As an adult, I have decided that I don’t want to do the numbers myself. No thanks. That doesn’t mean I ignore them, far from it, but using Price -o-Matic means that I don’t have to do all the crunching. I just plug in my numbers and I’m ready to make decisions about supply orders, pricing, and suppliers.
LBC: What benefits have you seen from taking classes, working with a mentor, and/or building community around your business?
Lisa: I am so lucky to be part of a very close and supportive network of artists in the Bay Area. We really believe in lifting each other up. Many of us use, wear and gift each other’s products. There is little sense of competition here, which is wonderful. It makes all the hard work of running your own business that much more pleasant and a lot less isolating.
I am part of an incredible organization, Project Mentor and was lucky enough to be awarded a mentorship with designer Mara Hoffman this year. It was such an incredible learning experience and really changed the way I think about creating collections and what I want out of Zelma Rose. To pay it forward I have been a mentor through the program and met such incredible women from across the country working hard on their creative dreams.
Perspective is critical to running a successful business and whether it is a close-knit community, mentoring, or being part of a critique group, anything that allows you some space from your business to look at things with fresh eyes is really important.
LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…
Lisa: My playlist is full of 90’s hip hop and slow jams.
LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.
Lisa: My guilty pleasure is watching Ice Box videos on YouTube. Ice Box is this super fancy jewelry store where a lot of musicians and athletes buy super sparkly jewelry. I’m obsessed. I love to watch them pick things out and then hand over a stack of cash. It makes me super happy!
LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?
Lisa: “Belief in your script is essential.” – Bono.
I start every single day with this quote.
Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your talent with us. We absolutely love what you’re doing with Zelma Rose, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!