Betsy Cross has managed to create an empire with her lovely jewelry brand Betsy & Iya. What started out as just an idea in 2008 has now turned into an established jewelry line that is carried in over 100 stores worldwide. With the help of her husband/businesspartner, Will the two have been able to grow a solid team around them taking the brand to the next level. Betsy’s wonderful designs are geometrically inspired with interesting cutouts and colors, and are great additions to anyone's jewelry collection. We visited the newly remodeled and expanded Betsy & Iya headquarters located in Northwest Portland (Thurman & 24th) the space is equal parts store front and studio. The storefront has a great feel to it and carries a wide array of jewelry, apothecary, clothing and accessories. The studio and offices are located behind the store and are very impressive. From the custom built jewelry benches and work area, the logical layout of the space, the attention to history of the building as well as the production amenities it all makes the space give a productive vibe! Enjoy our studio/shop visit with Betsy & Iya as well as the great interview with founder Betsy Cross.
1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?
I was initially drawn to Portland to be close to friends, art, and culture. What I’ve found after nearly ten years here is that this city is now my home. The business we’ve built here, the connections we’ve made, our uniquely supportive small business community, and the citywide quest for beauty and quality of life are all things that keep me here.
2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?
Design wise it’s collaborations. I’ve had the chance to work with some incredible people recently on custom designs. Nothing gets my juices flowing as a designer more than a new challenge; learning a different technique or thinking outside of my comfort zone is where I always seem to grow and get better. A specific example is the cast bronze pendant I designed in partnership with Lake Perriguey, the lead attorney in the case that lifted the ban on same-sex marriage in Oregon. Lake wanted a special gift to give to everyone involved in the case and came to me to make it happen. Not only was I super excited to create something totally unique, but the fact that it celebrated that victory made it all the more gratifying.
My background is in devising work-- making something from nothing-- within an ensemble. Whether it be a bigger picture meeting with Will or full marketing team meeting about events, coming out of a productive brainstorm is one of the most exhilarating feelings--ensemble work at its best. We recently had something we dubbed a Maker Play Day wherein I showed our production team new and old sketches, we discussed materials, parameters, etc and then just let them roll. Some really cool new pieces came out of that. It left me wanting more. I guess you could say I'm a firm believer in the old adage: two+ is better than one. With that, I also look forward to future collaborations with other local businesses. Portland is such a supportive city for this kind of thing.
Otherwise, we’re a sponsor of the Backfence PDX live storytelling series and their shows are some of my favorite events in town to attend. I find each performance not only entertaining (like, “stomach hurts from laughing” good) but also inspiring. People getting up in front of an audience and telling their stories is always a huge boost for me. Maybe it’s my theatre background? Whatever the reason, I love the human-emotion-story connection.
3. How did your brand start?
I’d come to a point in my life around 2008- after graduate school and before any type of steady career - where I was alone and curious about what to do with my life (we all reach this point at least once, right??). I was confused and broke, but on the positive side, I had nothing at all to lose. Jewelry making was an idea I’d had in my head for a while at that time; I’d frequently reach into my brain, entertain that idea, but then put it back for the time being. Eventually, I realized that there would never be another time but the present to jump head first into this world and try with everything I had to make it work. I holed up in my studio and cranked out a ton of jewelry. When I made a modest profit and my first open studio celebration, that was all the sign I needed to keep going. Will joined me as Director of Development in 2010 and we hit the road to gain wholesale accounts across the country. Now, we’re a staff of eleven people and two dogs. I didn’t know much about business at the beginning, but I believed in what I was doing with every ounce of my being. That’s the spirit that still guides me and the brand today. If something doesn’t feel right, we don’t do it.
4. What has been your biggest obstacle?
Fear. More at the beginning than now, but I definitely still feel it creep in and produce self-doubt, especially when I’m about to start something new. I think the biggest thing is to just go forward. Easier said than done, sure, but don’t spend time entertaining the thoughts that bring you down. Focus on the positive and always, always trust your gut.
5. What or who inspires your design?
Color, culture, place. I love trying to capture a particular set of circumstances, or way of looking at the world, within palette, or a piece. Will and I spent two weeks in Peru in May and it was crazy inspiring. The people we met, the culture we saw, the places we visited, all of it. A highlight was getting to observe Peruvian women work with textiles; they do their own dying and weaving and are just pros, so confident in their craft. The whole trip was really inspiring and a chance to recharge away from home. We came back to our fresh new studio and office space and it’s been full speed ahead ever since. I’m super excited to reveal what’s come from all this inspiration (aka new designs!!!) later this year.
6.What are your favorite things about Portland?
The people, the parks, the food and drink. Fellow makers and indie retailers. I love being in a place where it’s accepted and encouraged to dedicate your life to your passion and see what comes from good old fashioned hard work. I’m always proud to show off my city to visitors. I get a huge jolt of PDX love every November when we do Little Boxes, the event that brings together over 200 independent businesses in an effort to encourage people to support local retailers the weekend after Thanksgiving. The way it all comes together always gets me emotional! It’s frantic, spirited, and inspiring, and I know having it in a city like Portland makes it really special.
7. What is your favorite part of your studio?
My workbench. It was custom made for me by our friend Brian and it represents so much more than just where I work. It’s all the years of creating in a tiny space that surely wasn’t the most conducive to making, but I did it anyway. First alone, and then with our production team all squeezed in. My new bench reminds me that we never let our former small space inhibit creation; in fact, we thrived and grew during that time and now, we each have our own beautiful spaces. It feels like such an awesome reward for years of hard work!
8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?
Can I say all of it? Seriously. It’s still so new feeling (we officially moved in on May 9th, 2014) that it’s difficult to name a favorite. I do love the natural light we get, as well as the exposed wood and brick walls in the office. And the breakroom. Ok, I’ll just say my favorite thing is the fact that we can all move around a lot more freely and openly now. Makes it a lot easier to get in the zone and be productive.
9. Tell us two truths and a lie!
I went to clown school.
I wore red cowboy boots with my wedding dress.
My middle name is Page after Jimmy Page.
10. 5 things you can’t live without.
Music. Dog love. Coffee. Sleep. Will (hi, babe!).