Fashion & Style Interviews

Vicky Gkarmiri On Making the Leap from Practicing Medicine to Launching a Jewelry Business

In this photo of Vicky Gkarmiri, she is wearing a dark blue top and dangling round blue and white earrings. She is holding small canvas that says "Don't Let Anyone Dull Your Sparkle."
Courtesy of Vicky Gkarmiri. Photo by Lauren Bethany Photography.

After immigrating to the United States from Greece in 2019, Vicky Gkarmiri launched Next Door Goddess, a brand of limited-edition statement jewelry pieces inspired by her homeland. Though designing jewelry had been her passion for many years, Vicky’s decision to start Next Door Goddess wasn’t an easy one. The designer spent years practicing medicine as a family doctor in Greece and felt compelled to choose between continuing her career as a physician in the U.S. or taking a chance on starting a new business. “I was going back and forth for a while. Medicine—if you love it—isn’t a field that’s easy to walk away from,” she said.

With ample time to think on the long flight to Texas, Vicky decided to give her passion for designing jewelry a shot. She shares her story in the thoughtful interview below, and it’s sure to inspire those who have a career change in their hearts.

Close up photo of Vicky's side profile. The focus is on one of her earring designs.
Courtesy of Vicky Gkarmiri. Photo by Lauren Bethany Photography.

Tell us about your work as a jewelry designer and Next Door Goddess.

I design and create jewelry inspired by Greece for stylish women who crave to leave their mark. I help them unleash the goddess within and stay unforgettable with jewelry that is bold, colorful and eye-catching—the kind that starts conversations.

AJ: How did you get started as a jewelry designer?

Vicky Gkarmiri: Designing and making jewelry and collecting beads has been my passion project for more than 30 years. I started out being self-taught. Back in the day, browsing the internet and watching YouTube weren’t options. Meanwhile, I studied medicine and became a family physician.

I kept my passion alive because I loved seeing women wearing my jewelry and feeling confident, gorgeous—like goddesses. I studied jewelry design in Greece and at the New York Institute of Art and Design to sharpen my skills while still a physician. I thought I would set up a business at 67 after retirement because I loved my job, too!

But then, we decided to immigrate, and I came to a crossroads. I wasn’t sure what to do. Taking the medical path again looked like the logical way to go, but I had this feeling inside—something was nagging me. Then, I took a career change course, and one question changed my trajectory: “If you were to die tomorrow, what’s the one dream that you’ll regret not having given a chance to?” That put the seed in me to change my path in my professional life.

Our current website went live on January 2, 2021, after a long path of ups and downs. I consider this to be the day our business was born.

Pair of red and tan earring designs.
Courtesy of Vicky Gkarmiri, founder of Next Door Goddess.

AJ: When did you realize that designing jewelry could be your business?

VG: Very early on, women were asking to buy my jewelry. In Greece, we all love dressing up, even for a walk in the park. And jewelry is a must. So, it was always a possibility.

In Greece, there’s a saying that loosely translates to “learn a craft and let it go, and if you’re hungry, grab it again,” meaning a craft can feed you in times of need.

But I was a doctor with limited time. Then I got married, and we had three little ones; my hands were full. I kept making jewelry, collecting beads and studying design out of passion, and I thought I might build a business later in life. Because I loved my job, and it’s a job with high demands if you want to do it well.

Meanwhile, we started discussing immigration seriously, and, as I mentioned before, up to the last moment, I wasn’t sure about the path I would take.

I wanted to make an informed decision, so I took personality tests and courses on how to build a jewelry business and started virtually hanging out with jewelry designers and getting mentorship because I wanted to make sure this was something I really wanted to do.

So, between realizing I could make money out of this and getting out there, building a website and starting a business, almost 30 years went by.

AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?

VG: My creative inspiration comes from two sources. The first one is Greece. The style, the colors, the happy vibes, the amulets, the sunshine—everything I was brought up with and my memories of places I have traveled to, both in the islands and the mainland—these are engraved in my heart.

Then, this image of a woman putting on my jewelry and smiling with confidence—a woman that wants to stand out, lead, shine, be center stage and leave her mark. This vibrant, vivacious goddess, who’s larger than life, the soul of the party, the woman who turns heads for all the right reasons.

When I create, I always have Greece and that woman in my mind. She’s the one I design for—my boss.

A big part of my process is intuitive. I start creating a piece, and down the road, I let it take its own path.

It feels like my pieces are coming to life through me, rather than being made by me, and I firmly believe this is happening because a woman out there would love to have these specific pieces in her jewelry collection.

I rarely, if ever, sketch. When I see and touch the beads, the yarns, the textiles, I get images that are so clear in my head, and they come instantly, like a download. Sometimes I wish I could print my thoughts!

How do you apply that inspiration to your work?

I don’t design pieces out of pressure to have a new collection—my jewelry is fashionable but evergreen.

I design a collection when I feel the need to create something new, and I let it marinate for a bit. I let my mind wander in my memories of Greece, the photographs online and then the colors of the season that call me and my boss—my customer.

Jewelry is a piece you add on. As a designer, I need to keep in mind the colors trending, not necessarily to create something in these colors but to create something that would go well with them. Ideally, a piece of jewelry will match many outfits, so I do my best to serve the closet of my customers and amplify the outfits they already have. As for Greece, take my word for it—every color under the sun you’re looking for, you’re going to find it in my homeland.

If a customer has been shopping with me for a while, I also have a better grasp of their personal taste, and I can go the extra mile and customize a piece for them. I create everything to order, so this makes it easier for me, and it’s a service I love providing.

A woman that wants to stand out should look beyond what’s on the shelf to find jewelry that really speaks to her—it’s an investment she’s making on herself and her style. If you want your style to stand out and be unique, statement jewelry is one of the best ways to go—so long as you’re making the right statement!

So, when it comes to applying my inspiration to my creative process, I’d say, when I hear the calling, or I have an order, I let my imagination go wild, and then I tame it to meet the needs of my customers in the moment.

Closeup photo of Brown and Gold hoops from Next Door Goddess.
Courtesy of Vicky Gkarmiri, founder of Next Door Goddess.

AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

VG: I was bullied as a kid for my weight. I became insecure about my looks, and that took me down a vicious circle of low self-esteem and feeling less than for many years, well into my adult life. Part of my why for making jewelry is that I want every woman, myself included, to realize that we all deserve to feel gorgeous and confident just as we are.

Our company name and the Goddess charm were born out of my need to have a charm like that back then, when I was beating myself up for not looking like the girls in the magazine cover, but also now, as the woman in my mirror grows.

Everyone thinks I’m so confident, but insecurities are always there. They’re fueled by the scale, the grey hair, the pandemic belly, the wrinkles—you name it. From size 8 to size 12, I have been confronted with negative self-talk, so I learned that confidence is a muscle that I need to keep working on.

Down the line, I figured out ways to manage my inner voice. I saw that when I look good, I feel good and that it has less to do with my size and more with my style. A visual reminder of how I deserve and want to feel can go a long way.

AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?

VG: When I subscribed to the idea that beauty doesn’t mean perfection, it started infusing my whole life. Our calling as artists is to bring beauty to this world in the form we perceive it. But our human hands weren’t destined to become precision machines. Instead, they were destined to infuse our creations with feelings and soul. There’s no amount of perfection that can ever beat that.

When I see my piece, and I get the feeling that I captured the moment, the place, the vibe, I proudly present it to the world. If I take it apart because it has a slight imperfection, despite it being so beautiful, despite me loving it, then am I not giving myself the subconscious message that I should take myself apart because I’m not perfect?

As a customer, I will return a machine-made item if it’s not pitch-perfect. That’s my expectation of it. But I often buy handmade, and I love the little imperfections that make these items unique and beautiful. Then I remind myself, that’s what my customers love about my pieces, too. This is the cure I found for my artistic perfectionism.

AJ: When it comes to running a creative business, what keeps you going through the ups and downs?

VG: A testimonial I got: “The message behind your jewelry was one of the things that inspired me to publish my first ever poetry collection. I love how I feel when I wear it. I believe every woman deserves to feel that way.”

Next Door Goddess is here to spread a message, and if I quit, then some woman out there that needed to hear this message from me, in the way I deliver it, will miss out on feeling beautiful. She will miss out on a push to shine her light, bright. Some days the going is tough, especially now that we are in the beginning, but that’s what keeps me going.

AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their work out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?

VG: Every gift in life comes with a responsibility. You were not given the gift of creating beauty so that you could hide that beauty under the table. You were given this gift because someone out there needs your creations, and you are here to serve that someone. Nobody else can do this in the way you do. So why are you not serving them? Out of fear of rejection?

Rejection is a fantastic thing. For every person out there, who will not like your work, there’s another person who will love it. Indifference is the problem, not rejection. If people are indifferent towards your work, then you’re not putting out all of you; you’re holding back.

Art is polarizing because it triggers emotion, so let go of the need to please everyone; it’s impossible. Express yourself to the max, in the wildest way your heart desires, then stay the course, and find the people you are here to serve. The more you get yourself out there, the less vulnerable you will be.

AJ: Has someone ever criticized your designs? How did you handle it?

VG: I receive criticism constantly—my jewelry is bold and different. I’m grateful when people take the time to comment on my work. This is very important because people don’t always do that. It means my work triggered some emotion—even if it was a negative one, this is great.

To address this, I have a go-to response: “It looks like my work is the wrong fit for you but thank you so much for taking the time to give me feedback. If you let me know what you’re looking for, I may be able to point out some designers that do it in an exceptional way.”

I only consider changing my designs based on the feedback of my customers. They are my boss, and I’m here to serve them. The rest are just the wrong fit, so it’s best to refer them to the artists who can serve them better. This means nothing for the value of my work or me. The sooner you realize that as an artist, the better your life will be.

AJ: Are you are passionate about a cause and why?

VG: I’m passionate about giving back, and I have found an organization with a cause I love. In Kind Boxes is a volunteer-run not-for-profit organization helping new moms in need with postpartum mom and baby care essentials. This is so important and close to my heart. If there’s one point in life where a woman’s confidence takes a hit, postpartum tops the list. Hormones, lack of sleep, a new baby, body changes the list is endless. Moms in need are the most vulnerable, and I love that this organization is thinking of them, too-not just the baby. We have a whole line of bracelets giving back to this organization, but there are multiple ways to help them. Please check them out on their website.

AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: What brings you joy?

VG: I have a big list, but hugs and kisses from my loved ones are on top. Creating is my happy place but seeing women wearing my designs, looking gorgeous and feeling confident makes me even happier. A little gift, a phone call, a sunset shared, a dance, writing, painting, being of service—this world is full of opportunities to feel joy. Sometimes we’re grumpy over the little things and forget all the big-ticket items going well for us. The more I practice gratitude, the more I find joy.

Thanks, Vicky! Next Door Goddess jewelry is available at nextdoorgoddess.com. You can also follow the brand on Instagram and Facebook.

This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

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