In her interview, Melissa Panszi-Riebe, jewelry designer and founder of A D’Zine, shares how she evolved as a creative entrepreneur, from finding the courage to sell at craft fairs to launching a full-fledge business. Melissa creates one-of-a-kind, limited-edition jewelry using vintage, new and global pieces. Each design evokes a story. The designer’s words inspire us to continue to create and build our businesses on our own terms.
AJ: How did you get started making jewelry?
MP: I was educated as a social worker, but always incorporated a creative side to the way I treated my clients. During this time, I started to make jewelry for fun. As I perfected my craft, I decided to shift my career to a creative entrepreneur. I started selling my jewelry because I believe that everyone has a story to share, and jewelry helps with that story. I like mashing up my pieces with vintage and new.
AJ: When did you realize that you could turn your work into a business?
MP: It was a slower process. I started getting comments on things I made and was wearing. I loved that the pieces I made were unique and mostly one of a kind. I started making for silent auctions. I then started to do markets. Even after all that, I did not have the confidence to say, ‘this is my new business.’ I happened to go out one day with an acquaintance/stylist who said, ‘what are you waiting for? It will never be perfect, and you will make mistakes. Just do it and start, or you will never start.’ Something just clicked. I went home and started planning and looked into collectives and everything switched.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
MP: I love the stories. Either the story of how I find the items or the story about who had the jewelry before. I usually sit down and just start creating.
AJ: How do you apply that inspiration to your work?
MP: I am a huge music fan. I always have music or a podcast going and that will affect the energy as I create. In addition, by using vintage pieces I know that the pieces that are coming from the old jewelry was owned by someone at one time. I try to honor their memories while at the same time create a new piece that will make new memories with the person who wears it.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
MP: I am a huge reality TV junkie. Because of that, I tried out and was on Flea Market Flip and was a contestant with my best friend from high school.
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
MP: It is a constant struggle. It is easy to go down a rabbit hole of comparison, especially since I am self-taught, and this is fairly new in my life. I try to surround myself with collaborators, not competitors. My inner circle is filled with people that support me, challenge me, keep me in check, while we have the same goal of succeeding. This circle consists of artists and good friends. I also journal to try to help me see my progression throughout time. I am definitely not where I used to be.
AJ: When it comes to running a creative business, what keeps you going through the ups and downs?
MP: I have to remember my goal: helping people realize their inner strength and beauty by wearing my jewelry. The people are so unique, and I love when they tell me their stories of their life and of their special events. I am so honored that something I created is part of their daily or special events. These people are what keeps me going, and when I feel down, I think of my community and the amount of people that are wearing something I created. When I stop to really think about that, it is mind blowing. I feel so honored that people spend their money on something I created.
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their work out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?
MP: Just do it. As I was told, it will not be perfect, but it will not be anything if you don’t start. Find your community. As in anything, there are people who want you to succeed, and there are people who do not. Find those people who want you to succeed and surround yourself with them.
AJ: Has someone ever criticized your artwork, the goods you sell or your creative business? How did you handle it?
MP: Being an artist puts you in the position of being critiqued all the time. Honestly, you will never appeal to everyone, and you don’t want to. If you appeal to everyone, you really appeal to no one. Once you figure out who your target community is, you will find your people. Many times, these people will also go out of their way to write a good review or send you a note or a picture with them wearing your creation. I have a box with all these notes and photos, and when I feel down or frustrated, I read these to pull me out of that negative energy space. The other thing to remember is that criticism can come from another person’s insecurities or envy. It is important to step back and recognize what is true critique and what may be that person’s own issues.
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?
MP: I focus on what I have control over and what I don’t. One of the main things I love about owning my own business is having the power to focus on what I want to focus on. A big part of my business is the Monthly Featured Nonprofit. A portion of all my sales goes back to that nonprofit every month. I love that I get to decide who to give my money to. When I sit at my bench and create, I love knowing that my jewelry will benefit people.
AJ: Are you passionate about a cause?
MP: As a trained social worker, I have always been passionate about causes and helping people. When I first started out my business, I thought I had to keep that separate from my own business. After the murder of George Floyd, I thought, ‘why am I keeping it separate?’ I wanted to incorporate a social justice piece to my business. It was not only important to help raise money, but to provide a platform for the work that is being done to better the community. I also believe that as a Latina, it is my responsibility to be out there and showing that we can own a business, that things don’t have to be perfect, and we can be our own boss.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: What brings you joy?
MP: I love beautiful things. Color, sunsets, things you can’t take your eyes off of. However, what brings me more joy is not just visual, but also emotional. Being with friends who you have a mutual love is beautiful. Laughter is beautiful. Being moved by a story is beautiful. Spending time with my family while playing an intense game of poker is beautiful. Sharing a moment together is beautiful. All this brings me joy.
This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.