Peggy Li is the founder of Peggy Li, a woman-, Asian American- and Pacific Islander-owned jewelry brand. You may have spotted her designs on television, including “Arrow,” “Dead to Me,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Private Practice,” “Witches of East End,” “Riverdale, “New Girl” and other hit shows. Peggy Li’s handmade jewelry is simple and feminine but with a modern edge.
We chatted with the founder to learn about how she began designing jewelry. Like many creative entrepreneurs, Peggy’s path to full-time jewelry design wasn’t linear. She offers some great advice here, and we hope our conversation inspires you.
Artisan Joy: How did you get started making jewelry?
Peggy Li: I think I got started like a lot of people. I was making jewelry for fun for myself. I was working as a writer in Los Angeles and couldn’t afford to shop as much as I would have liked! People stopped me on the street to ask where I had gotten my pieces. It made me think it could be something.
AJ: When did you realize that you could turn your designing jewelry into a business?
PL: As a writer, I had the opportunity to interview the costume designer for the TV show “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” Cynthia Bergstrom. Afterwards, I decided to send her some of the jewelry I had been making. I totally forgot about it until I received a call from Cynthia, letting me know that she was using my jewelry on the show and had told a reporter at USA Today about me! The reporter asked where people could purchase my pieces and I said, “My website.” After finishing that phone call, I turned to my coworkers and said, “I think I have to build a website.”
“I don’t think I’m dogged by perfectionism as much as I am about comparison syndrome. While I think you should always be aware of trends and what your peers are doing, as well as aspiring for more, always take the time to put the blinders on and focus on what you love, your abilities and what brings you joy in your art.”Peggy Li
AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
PL: I pull inspiration from all sorts of places, but mainly from TV and film, my first loves! I also love working with the raw materials themselves—stones, beads and charms. I’m drawn to unusual colors and cuts of stones and work to highlight the uniqueness of the materials.
AJ: How do you apply that inspiration to your work?
PL: There’s usually just a shape or texture or color combination that I see that inspires my designs. I will iterate on those shapes and color combinations and work to highlight the charm or stones in a way that makes sense to me.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
PL: I majored in Chemical Engineering at UC Berkeley and always thought I would be a scientist growing up! Instead, I moved to Los Angeles after college to become a screenwriter. I moved back to the Bay Area to do online marketing for Electronic Arts before finally taking the leap to run my business full-time.
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
PL: I don’t think I’m dogged by perfectionism as much as I am about comparison syndrome. While I think you should always be aware of trends and what your peers are doing, as well as aspiring for more, always take the time to put the blinders on and focus on what you love, your abilities and what brings you joy in your art.
AJ: When it comes to running a creative business, what keeps you going through the ups and downs?
PL: I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do. Taking a moment to appreciate the how far I’ve come helps get me through the low points.
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their work out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?
PL: I say just go for it. Or not—you can enjoy your art just for yourself. In my case, I craved feedback and putting my work out there gave that to me, for better or worse. I was excited about what I was creating and wanted to share that with others. Only with feedback did I know whether I was headed in the right direction to get better at what I was doing.
AJ: Has someone ever criticized your artwork, the goods you sell or your creative business? How did you handle it?
PL: Oh, totally. It stings, it hurts, but then remember the blinders thing? It will drive you nuts to compare yourself to other peoples’ standards. Your journey is your own. I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished while also knowing there is still much more to learn!
AJ: Creatives are often very in tune with what’s happening in the world. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. If this happens to you, how do you cope?
PL: This is a very interesting question. I’m not of the school of “suffering” for your art. Yet, we all definitely draw from our own experiences for our creativity. I see my work as a great outlet to express what I’m feeling, if not by words, by work and by action.
AJ: Are you passionate about a cause?
PL: Lately I’ve been able to turn my jewelry work into ways to raise money for causes I’m passionate about. One is World Central Kitchen, a wonderful organization that goes to disaster zones and feeds displaced people and first responders. Another is combatting the recent rise of hate against Asian Americans. I created a Fortune Cookie and Year of the Ox design to raise funds for Go Fund Me #StopAsianhate campaign. Lastly, I just recently listed a Dove Charm necklace to raise funds for girl teen writer mentorship program WriteGirl (that was seen on the Today Show). You can learn more about these items and charities here.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: What brings you joy?
PL: Spending time with loved ones, eating great food, watching movies and being active in the outdoors (specifically, golfing)!
This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.