Interview: Odell Design Studio

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

(This is not a paid promotion or an advertisement.)


Odell Design Studio is a women-run jewelry design company that is based in NYC. It aims to create "fun, colorful and chic everyday... jewelry" for girls and women of all ages.


The business was co-founded by Marilyn and Haley Ballard. They collaborate together on each design in their NYC studio.


They create luxurious jewelry using a "unique colorization process never seen before in jewelry making, onto high quality gold plated brass..."


Follow on Instagram @odell_design_studio !





Interview Part I:


Chun:


So tell me about your Odell Studios.


Haley:


Well, do you wanna see a tour of it? We will start where the sheet is, so you can see where we make stuff. So we have work benches here for jewelry and things and then we have a sewing station set up as well, and we have industrial machines too and a shipping area and more… another bench… and do you see these tiny little pieces? I have to individually dye all of these pieces. It’s a lot of work. This is like my dye station. We’ve been not only doing the jewelry but also doing these candles.


So we are a design studio. These pieces here are being readied. They’ve been dyed and now they will go into being sprayed.


We do earrings, necklaces, rings, and we have… these are new ornaments that we have for the holidays. These will go on trees and such. We also do photography here. That’s a partial setup of the photography and the photo area that gets used in multiple ways. We have candles and machines that we use to cut metal and press metal.


There is a lot of stuff. There is a lot going on here.


We have a backyard, which is really nice.


Marilyn:


The final process of the metalwork with the dye is we take it out to the sheds outside and I spray it to put sealing. So yeah, there is a lot of process going on here.


Haley:


We start with... initially like… we have our pieces laser-cut. We bring them back here. We do all the hand finishing, we sand everything, we brush all them metal, we drill the holes, and we source it all in the US. Then we send it to Rhode Island to be plated in gold or silver.


Our jewelry in particular uses really heavy plating, it goes in mill’s. So most people will do flash plating which is 2 to 5 mill’s of gold or silver. And we do 10.


And then I personally do all the color. It is time consuming, and I have to… everyone is always different. That kind of like puts our brand apart because it is wearable art. You are buying an art piece.


Marilyn:


The shape may be the same, but the colorization is different. So this is silver before color. So these pieces are plated with 100 milligrams of sterling silver. The gold rings are 20 milligrams of 14 karat gold. For durability.


Haley:


After we get it back from plating, I do all the dying and we seal it with cerakote, which is a heavy duty substance for... automobiles. It is very durable. I have done a hammer test to see what would happen. So it is very durable. The interesting thing with the dye… it’s all chemistry and we had to learn… we tried several different ways to seal the jewelry. We tried wax… Renaissance wax. We tried ceramic, and now we tried cerakote. Because the oil from the skin will make the dye move if it’s not sealed properly.


Marilyn:


And we battle the other part of chemistry and that is the weather condition. We can only do it during certain time periods when there is low humidity and it’s not too hot and not too cold.


Haley:


And we’ve been in business since… we got our studio in December of 2018… and then we started getting our website and everything together in February of 2019. It’s been a process of figuring out how to use our space and also realizing that we’ve outgrown our space. So that is an issue. We are looking at another space… hopefully next year.


Chun:


So what is the main driving philosophy of Odell Studios?


Marilyn:


Fun, chic jewelry for everyday wear! That's where we started, and now we are adding our candles, our ornaments, our facemasks… because we need to make money… let’s be honest. We are incorporating our vision into each of those elements to make part of our brand instead of making random things.


Haley:


Our driving force is that we love color. We love color, and color I think brings happiness. We have such a sad world, and we have had that for quite a while… and so we try to brighten it with different colors and things… and even any of the new products that we do it all kind of comes together where it’s like it’s bright and vivid, and it’s a bit bold. We want people to...


Marilyn:


They smile when they see it.


Haley:


Yeah they do when we can see them smile.


Even with the face masks, it’s not necessarily our design. We didn't design the cloth. But we choose the designs based on how vivid they are and fun and trying to make something that kind of sucks better.


So that’s kind of… and also we are very environmentally conscious, too. Everything that we use doesn’t contain plastic. We don’t like to contribute to landfills or anything like that… so even our metal… it could last you a lifetime. And we offer a service where if you decide that you love your ring or something, but we have new colors… and after a couple of years, you want to try out the new color, then you can send it back to us, and we will strip it of its color, we can re-plate it if you want with gold or silver, then dye it again and send it back to you. So we want people to keep things for longer and not be fast-fashion.


Chun:


So it’s like slow fashion… like things that last.


Haley:


Yeah, yeah. Like a piece that you will love forever. It’s something different. That’s the one thing that we’ve gotten a lot is that our stuff is so different from other things out there, which is great.


Marilyn:


When we were doing in person markets and pop ups and fairs and things, it was really fun to see the reactions from people. We were at Chelsea Market…. Artisan Fleas… we were in there last year… And this one girl… she came in … and we had this great corner position, and she came walking and stopped in her tracks, and said “Oh! My! God!” in the top of her lungs really loud and everyone in the room heard it, and she just stopped and said, “Oh My God!” You know because of the way we set up our booth… it’s all on white so all the colors jump out at you.


We do big pieces. We do small pieces. Actually, we are doing a lot of small pieces right now.


Haley:


We love the big stuff, and we have sold quite a bit of it, but we are finding that with people’s price ranges right now in the current economy, it’s kind of hard to sell a $200 pair of earrings.

Chun:


That jewelry reminds me of some kind of seashell decoration on furniture found in Korea or Japan that shines in silver. That’s gold but...


Haley:


Okay, yeah! I know what you are talking about. So you know they are something different that a lot of people haven’t seen. We call them serpents.


Marilyn:


So we started really big, which was really a great way to start because it certainly got noticed.


Chun:


Yeah! Those are really nice crimson colors!


Marilyn:


So these are cuffs for your arms, and we do have a few of those. And they were selling, and we were out lived but they are not cheap! And these are all hand done.


Haley:


So when we first started, we were actually hand cutting these pieces with a saw.



Chun:


So what do you think is the significance of handcrafting in today’s age when everything can be done with a machine or mass-produced?


Marilyn:


I like the thoughtfulness and the thought process of what goes into something that’s handcrafted. You know somebody is putting their spirit into that piece, as opposed to a machine ... you know that’s just, you know, cutting.


Of course we couldn’t continue to make it profitable at all if we were hand cutting each of those pieces which had very intricate cuts. That last cup that I showed you would take 2 days just to get to the point where she can put colors on it. 2 days of my time is a lot.


So it was like okay I will struggle and be the poor artist or do we just get these laser-cut and jump past that whole sawing portion?


Chun:


So it was like a compromise!


Marilyn:


Yeah, so the pieces come back. They still need the edges smooth, they still need the brushing, because we want everything in matte satin finish, so we brush everything ourselves, we do all of that, we don’t have machines do it. There are machines out there that will do it.


Haley:


We wish that we could have that machine. It’s a lot of work.


Chun:


So you want to buy it in the future, right?


Haley:


I doubt it, honestly. I would rather hire just people to help. I would rather give jobs to people.


I think people appreciate it. Some do. We have been at markets where you tell them the price of something, and they freak out. And you are like, “but it’s hand-made,” and they are like, “So?”


Well, you are like, “No! It took a long time to make this piece! Time is value!” And I am just like, “you know what, this piece is not for you.”


Chun:


They don’t understand the value of craftsmanship.


Haley:


And I think that’s something that is cultural. The American culture has become very very used to fast fashion and having things like five dollar t-shirt that no one made but it was made by a machine.


Marilyn:


We are in a world of Walmart! Actually, K-Mart came before Walmart.


Haley:


And I think that there are more people who are used to that fast fashion or just can’t afford it. They want something nice, or they appreciate it, but they can’t afford it. But they appreciate it. So that’s fine. But then there are other people, who are like, “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Why is it so expensive?”


Chun:


That’s because they are so used to the cheap stuff.


Marilyn:


So we sort of fell into this hole… I think you originally asked how it all started. We sort of fell into it. We were… it was November of 2018. She had just gotten married. And my business at the time was on its last legs. I was a photo agent. So I represented the photographers for the fashion business. At times I produced their photo shoots for them. But there wasn’t a lot of work coming in. And it was right before the holidays. And I was like I would like to go back to making jewelries again, which was something that I did years ago, but I didn’t want to go back to doing gem stones and real gold and real silver because it’s really hard to sell.


Haley:


Yeah she still has it.


Marilyn:


Yeah I still have it all. So I thought I was going to go back to the basics and just start cutting metal. So I started ordering some metal. And I had one of my work benches… it was the only one that I had at the time in my bedroom. So I said to Haley one day, “Come and try this. I think you might like this.”


Haley:


Because I was designing all the shapes. I was like, “Here, cut this out. Here, try this.” And she was like, “Stop! You come try it! You come cut it out!”


Marilyn:


Suddenly, she loved it. Then we were fighting over who got to use the bench.


Haley:


And as far as the colorization process, I found… you know what patina is? In metal?


Chun:


No


Haley:


So basically it’s copper that has had… like an acid chemical process. You definitely have to have the right facility to make it in ventilation and all that kind of stuff… which you can buy it already done, but at one point I wanted to figure out how to do it ourselves in our space… and we needed space. And while searching that I came upon this other process which is what I am doing now. And nobody had done it on metal, and I decided to try it… and Voila!


Marilyn:


And it worked!


So there is a patina on the Statue of Liberty. Can you see that in the light?


Chun:


I do see it.


Marilyn:


So this is a naturally aging copper. So it gets that blue patina. And you can make it happen faster with chemicals. But there is a company out west that does it in colors. So this is really hard and it doesn’t need to be sealed or anything, but it‘s raw copper.


Chun:


Those are very beautiful!


Haley:


So the only problem with them was that it was copper, and we can’t plate copper. And we also realized in the first couple of months that we were doing raw brass, and people had allergic reactions to raw brass.


Marilyn:


Or just wearing it, the oil on your skin would turn it black.


So we got into the added expense of getting it plated.


Chun:


But the copper doesn’t need plating, right?


Haley:


It doesn’t. It will turn colors. But because it has that patina effect, you can’t plate it to protect it.


Chun:


So does it keep changing color and rusting forever?


Haley:


Yeah. So like that’s why the Statue of Liberty is green. It used to be brown.


Marilyn:


So yeah that’s how we started. It was at the kitchen counter where the colors came to life. She started coloring… actually we were both doing it, but she ended up being better at it. I am better at finishing and the assembly.


But she started doing big sheets of brass.


Chun:


Yeah, really cool. Is that a painting?


Haley:


Yeah it’s like a twelve by twelve. I haven’t finished it. It’s brass.


Marilyn:


So yeah, people had asked if we had prints or different things and this is the first one, although we do have prints.


So yeah, it got to be too crowded and too much metal dust in my bedroom, so we found this place. We found it on craigslist, and it had everything that we needed at the time, and a backyard that we loved. And we could walk here from where we lived.


Chun:


So it’s a good walking distance?


Marilyn:


Yeah about a mile and a half. Twenty five minutes.


Chun:


So what do you think about…. What are the challenges and successes that you’ve had in terms of running this business?


Marilyn:


Well marketing is always a challenge. When you are trying to create something beautiful and you know… I can’t say it ‘s 100% art only because we have a commercial aspect of selling it at the end, but I guess all artists do. Everybody makes art to sell at some point. I am a painter so I should know this. But just by osmosis we were discovered by a group called Metal & Smith, and we were invited to participate in their tradeshow in our first year.


Haley:


And that was two weeks after we launched our website.


Marilyn:


Then we were invited to be a part of the Designing Women Market at the Historical Society Museum, and that turned out to be really great. We met a lot of really cool people, and we sold a lot of our pieces. I am not even sure how they found us. So things started to happen.


Haley:


Yeah we get found a lot, and we are not even sure how. It just happens, and I don’t know... it’s just interesting. We are open to trying any type of platform that we can find to get in touch with people, but yeah we also in our first year gained a couple of wholesale accounts that are really good. We have a store in Key west that reorders from us quite often.


Our stuff does really well in coastal cities because it is vibrant.


Marilyn:


We got picked up by the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop, in conjunction with… actually they have a show up right now where they bought ten of our pieces to go with the show. It’s a Tersita Fernandez show… she’s a Brooklyn artist. The colors of our… they loved our color called ‘Fire.’ And because that color went so well with the artist’s artwork. And I think she did paintings and installations. So we call this color ‘Fire.’


Chun:


Wow~ it’s like some red from the Chinese palace.


Marilyn:


Yeah! In fact we met this one woman at Coterie last year. We were in the Coterie Trade show in the Java Center, and she wanted us to sell because we had an earring that was perfect for the Mandarin Hotel! In that color! She goes, “You gotta sell it to them!” But of course we haven’t.


Haley:


Yeah I think the biggest challenge though is the marketing, and trying to find the right retailers.


Marilyn:


Especially during a pandemic.


Chun:


That looks like a ginkgo leaf! Wow~ An earring!


Haley:


So trying to find online retailers or places or markets that are good because the cost of doing business is very expensive.


Chelsea Market - you would go there for two weeks, and they would have you pay in advance...


$1800 for… two weeks ahead of time… sorry! Right when you decide to do the market. So if you decided to go to the Market before Christmas, but you had to sign up in October, you would have to pay half of $3400. Period.


Marilyn:


And the other half, 30 days before.


Haley:


And you are like putting out so much money for these booths, and they ask you to pay like three to six months in advance. And it’s crazy when you don’t have that kind of cash flow in your new business. And that was really hard for our first year because a lot of the stuff that we wanted to do… we just didn’t have that kind of funding to start with. So yeah… funding was hard.