Some days I think that Marja Germans Gard of MGG Studio has more style in her pinky finger than I have in the whole of my body.
She happens to be the maker behind Lela’s favorite daily earrings (she’s on her fourth pair!), and Team Lucky Brek was honored to welcome her into Brick House Branding last year, too. Now I’m excited for you to meet her as part of our ongoing “Meet the Maker” series. She has such a healthy perspective and she’s dropping knowledge left and right. Take it away, Marja!
Marja German of MGG Studio
LBC: What inspired you to take the leap as an entrepreneur?
Marja: It was less of a leap and more of a slide, to be honest! I started making jewelry as a distraction from my dissertation when I was working on my Ph.D. and I picked it back up when my kids were little. Soon my friends were asking me to make them things, and before long I had an Etsy shop. At that point, I was smitten and decided to commit myself completely to a creative career. I started my current line of jewelry, MGG Studio, in 2014 and have been doing it full time ever since.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
Marja: I create bold, sculptural jewelry that is designed to feel as good as it looks. I believe that good design and sustainability should go hand in hand, so I use recycled metals whenever possible in my jewelry designs.
LBC: Where can we find your products?
Marja: You can find my full jewelry line at mggstudio.com. You can also find my work at a curated selection of museum stores and fine gift stores across the US, and online at the design site Adorn Milk.
LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?
Marja: My first jewelry line focused on delicate stacking pieces like slim rings and bangles. While I continue to embrace a minimal aesthetic, my current designs are more statement-making; I want the people who wear them to feel emboldened and powerful.
LBC: Walk us through a typical workday.
Marja: My day starts pretty early- I’m usually at the computer around 6:30 or 6:45 to try to knock out a few work emails before sitting down with my kids for breakfast and then sending them off to middle school and high school. I typically roll into the studio around 8:30 or 9. I always start by planning out the day to maximize the time I have at the studio: because a lot of the pieces I make take multiple steps, I like to set up some processes to run in the background while I turn my attention to other tasks.
All MGG Studio jewelry is made by hand, so each day involves production in some capacity- sawing, soldering, polishing etc. Some days I’m also packing up wholesale and retail orders, while others I’m taking and editing pictures for the website or creating content for social media. I also have some days dedicated to visiting my caster and stonesetter in San Francisco to discuss new designs or pick up and drop off ongoing projects.
I try to block out at least one week two times a year to focus on play and exploration in the studio- this is when I get to pursue the design ideas that I’ve been filling my notebooks with for months, and these intensive design sessions result in the new collections I release 1-2x a year.
LBC: What are 3 things entrepreneurs should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
- Be prepared to work. Getting a business off the ground is no easy feat, and it’s going to require a lot of hustle. Make sure you love it, and then the work will feel (mostly) rewarding instead of punishing.
- Set good boundaries. A new business is like a baby- it always needs nurturing. If you don’t set limits for yourself, it’s pretty easy to start down the road to burnout. It’s smart to carve out times that you put work away and do something restorative (I’m still working on this one).
- Find your people. Whether it’s sharing resources, offering support or giving me a much needed kick in the pants, my creative community is indispensable to me. I have been a part of the same business group, Creative Business League, for 7+ years- we meet monthly to hold each other accountable (and eat good food and drink wine).
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Marja: I have a toolkit of things that center me when I’m feeling overwhelmed:
- Connect with my creative community (see above).
- Get myself to an art museum. I love going first thing in the morning when the museums are mostly empty. Being around the creativity of others recharges my batteries.
- Get outside with my family. We’re lucky to live in the Bay Area, where there are tons of outdoor activities a stone’s throw away. Whether it’s kayaking on Tomales Bay or hiking in Tilden Park, getting out there with my favorite people always gets me back on track.
LBC: Tell us about the best business decision you’ve made to date.
Marja: About three years ago, my business was stagnating. There was a moment where I faced the very real possibility that I would have to stop doing this thing that I love, and that is when I got really freaking serious. I put on my big girl panties (*nod to Lela*) and started educating myself about how to make this business go.
I took LBU. I took Brick House Branding. I got myself an accountant that specializes in working with jewelry business. I parted ways with my wholesale rep and resumed steering my business in the direction I wanted it to go. I’m still working on getting there, but taking ownership of my business and stepping into my authority dramatically changed the trajectory (and revenue) of my business over the past few years.
LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience.
Marja: I think the biggest challenge for me thus far has been determining and staying true to what I want and need my business to be- both financially and creatively. It’s a continual process, and I’m constantly checking in with myself to see how I can scale while remaining handmade and how can I stretch myself design-wise without losing sight of what makes my brand distinctive.
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox you can’t do without?
- Xero for keeping track of accounting and sending invoices
- Planoly for organizing social media content
- Google Keep for keeping track of all of the ideas and notes and to-do lists that are constantly floating around my brain. No more notes jotted on random slips of paper everywhere!
LBC: Imagine that we had a time machine. If we blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?
Marja: My hope is that I’ll have continued to grow along the same trajectory, adding a few extra hands in the studio. I’d like to expand my reach to customers and retailers throughout the US and beyond, bringing them beautiful jewelry made ethically and with loving attention to detail.
LBC: How have your interactions with Lucky Break influenced your business?
Marja: I’ve learned a *ton* from the Lucky Break classes that I have taken- they’ve forced me to take a hard, analytical look at my business and I can confidently say that the business is better for it. I also know that whether it’s through social media, classes, or offline discussions, I’ll be inspired by the wisdom and resources that the Lucky Break community brings to the table.
LBC: What benefits have you seen from taking classes, working with a mentor, and/or building community around your business?
Marja: The benefits of all of these can’t be overstated. Like so many other creative entrepreneurs, I spend a lot of time working solo, and it’s easy to become myopic. A business community that includes both peers and mentors not only helps with accountability but brings an important fresh perspective.
LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you loathe doing, what would it be?
Marja: Write my newsletters. I agonize over them and spend way too much time, and end up sending far fewer than I should as a result. You’d think writing would come easily after how much I had to do it as an undergrad (Comparative Literature degree) but somehow it just doesn’t translate.
LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.
Marja: True crime podcasts like My Favorite Murder.
LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?
Marja: Probably cheese (I’m eating it right now).
Thank you, Marja, for sharing your talent with us. We absolutely love what you’re doing with MGG Studio, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!