INTRODUCING: LULU AND SHAY
Having earned a B.F.A. in film and worked as a film-trailer editor later on, Leeorah Betan-Hartman decided to eventually turn her lifelong-passion and hobby, jewelry making, into a full-time career. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Lulu & Shay channels the designer’s inspiration in natural surroundings, incorporating the storytelling nature of filmmaking into handcrafted, hand-carved pieces. Created from recycled and reclaimed metals and precious stones, the label aspires to make beautiful as well as sustainable jewelry; even their packaging is 100% recycled. We caught up with Betan-Hartman to discuss working on her jewelry range, offering bespoke pieces, and expanding into men’s jewelry.
I read that you have been making jewelry from a very young age, however, you only launched your brand in 2010. How did your prior experiences led you to establish your brand and how do they contribute to it?
Although I always have had a deep affinity for jewelry and the process of making it, I did not professionally explore this until after many years of learning both the metalsmithing and wax carving craft. I studied filmmaking in college and pursued a fulfilling career in editing film trailers, but I missed working with my hands. I started taking classes in metalsmithing and wax carving in NYC.
I find that my prior experiences of working in film, as well as extensive travels around the world are huge inspirations in my jewelry craft. I try to use the storytelling nature of film to apply a narrative element in my jewelry line. Editing films requires distilling a big picture into its key elements, and I strive to mirror that in my jewelry making. Each piece can tell a story of its own while striking a personal connection with the wearer.
What is the process of adding new pieces to your collections? Do you introduce new designs or new theme collections as well?
Lately, I have been working on adding new pieces to my existing collections. I am still working on building up my “Luna Diaries” collection, and just this week added a new hand pendant holding a key, as well as adding pieces to my “Adrift” collection including a stacking Pear Center stone ring for the Seaweed band. I have also been adding to my “Vital” collection quite a bit recently. I am just now wrapping up several custom pieces, and then starting this fall I intend to embark on a new collection playing with more colorful and unique-shaped stones with more textured bands.
What is your approach to color when it comes to incorporating in your pieces?
I have been adding more color stones to my collection as of lately, including opals, sapphires, tourmalines and emeralds. I just love the warmth that color stones give to the pieces. Each stone is unique onto itself giving the piece an even more special feeling to the individual wearer as no two are really ever the same. Throughout history various cultures have long held beliefs in the powerful healing power of gemstones, an aspect which brings so much more meaning and sentimental value to each piece of jewelry they are included in.
Do you have favorite jewelry designers? To what extent are you inspired by your peers?
I definitely admire many different designers’ particular way of working and process to pull together elements of design and craftsmanship. Over the past few years, I have met many emerging as well as seasoned designers. It is wonderful to have their insights on all the different aspects of the trade. Although I admire many current designers, I work on creating my own unique designs and collections that reflect my style and creative process.
Your pieces are all entirely handcrafted and hand-carved. I understand that maintaining a “slow” approach is important to you, but do you believe that in some cases it could obstruct some aspects of your business?
I do realize that handcrafting my pieces does take longer, but for me the process of creating the piece by hand is very important. Often, while I am working on a piece, I may make subtle style changes as I see it coming together. Hand-carving or building up the wax is part of the journey that brings each piece to life. I feel that the handmade aspect of my pieces allows for a more unique and organic feeling to the piece itself. This makes it more special and allows for a truly distinctive feeling to the piece with nuances that could never be replicated by a computer; this also allows me to ensure that my jewelry remains personal and meaningful to each person. My hope is that Lulu & Shay jewelry remains timeless and can be passed down from generation to generation. I feel that even though it may take more time to achieve a completed piece that the time is more than worth it, considering it can be a piece that can last a lifetime.
You also collaborate with your clients on engagement and wedding rings, which I believe is starting to evolve into an individual niche industry. Would you ever focus entirely on this jewelry category?
I really enjoy making custom engagement and wedding rings. It is such an honor to know that they will have those rings for life, unique pieces to cherish and pass down. Being trusted with creating a symbol of love and longevity, knowing someone saw that potential in my work, is something that makes me so proud to do what I do.
I will always continue to make these one-of-a-kind rings and commissions, but I also very much enjoy putting together collections of pieces that are inspired by other aspects in our environment and surroundings. It is so rewarding when someone is drawn to these pieces as something that they too can relate to. I love creating collections that have pieces that not only can be worn on their own, but can be worn together and built upon to create new stories and meanings for the individual who owns them. I intend to both build on many of my existing collections and create new ones in the future, as well as work on one of a kind commissions.
You are looking to cultivate a relationship between your clients and environment. Besides eco-friendly packaging and your using nature as an inspiration source, have you researched any other ways you could run your business sustainably?
Many of my jewelry designs are inspired by nature and the natural elements, so remaining eco-friendly and preserving the environment for future generations is a strong value of Lulu & Shay. All of the metals that I use are from reclaimed and recycled sources which avoid invasive environmental mining. I also try to obtain on ethically sourced diamonds and stones whenever possible, and have been finding more sources for other precious and semi-precious stones to achieve this. Additionally, I only work with local businesses that I have had relationships with for almost 20 years. By building this close relationship and trust, I know that the standard that I have for ethically sourced materials is upheld. I am exploring more options of how I can insure that all aspects of my business follow a standard that is dedicated to ethical manufacturing.
You are hoping to develop a men’s collection as well. With what pieces are you thinking to start with? To what extent will you take trends into consideration?
I have a small Men’s collection at this time, consisting of simple wedding bands and selected fashion rings. I have two styles of an Archer Ring that I find is very popular as it can be worn several ways. I am exploring more fashion options for men as well as wedding rings. Many of the rings I have for women are more delicate stacking rings and necklaces. It is fun to branch out of that and make larger pieces for men or that can be unisex. Pieces that I envision for my men’s fashion line include certainly more rings with unique textures, as well as stones some bracelets and cuff links. My wedding collection may include less conventional rings for people looking for more of a statement and unique look. The hope I have for the jewelry I make is that it remains timeless and becomes one with the wearer as they create their own story and life journey with it. I feel that many men may be hesitant to wear jewelry, so I would love to make sure the pieces in my collection enable a feeling of one with the wearer and they can feel like themselves wearing it.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am finishing up some custom pieces for clients in the U.S. as well as internationally. These include a wedding ring and engagement rings, and I just finished a very special men’s ring commission for someone in Australia. He had such a clear vision for the piece he commissioned to commemorate a recent job promotion. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to bring his vision to life to mark such a special moment. I am also adding a few more styles to my “Luna Diaries” and “Grow with Me” collections, which are almost finished and ready to be showcased. I just started on a few new rings with sapphires, tourmalines and opals that incorporate larger and more unique shaped stones for fall and winter. I think with colder weather coming, it is nice to have some larger more colorful pieces to help inspire and bring brightness to the day. I also do my own website design and a lot of my own photography. I am hoping to add some new lifestyle shots and stills to my site in the all as well.