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Jewelry Designer Amy Gates on Making Wearable Art from Upcycled Materials

Photo of jewelry designer Amy Gates.
Photo Courtesy of Amy Gates

Amy Gates owns Avian Designs and makes unique boho-inspired jewelry from upcycled materials, specifically thrifted leather jackets, decorative steel tins, soda and beer cans, plus chicken feathers. The editor of Artisan Joy has been a fan of Amy’s work for a while and recently interviewed her to learn about Avian Designs.

Artisan Joy: How did you get started creating your jewelry?

Amy Gates: I was inspired after seeing a pair of chicken feather earrings a friend had made and decided to try my hand at it as well. After that, I started buying leather jackets from thrift stores and making upcycled leather earrings too. It evolved from there to using soda and beer cans and tins. I love taking something old and making it into wearable art!

Drop earrings by Amy Gates.
Earrings by Amy Gates. Photo Credit: Sarah Hill.

AJ: When did you realize that you could turn your craft into a business?

AG: After posting some pics on Facebook, I received a lot of positive feedback from friends and decided to turn it into a side business.

AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations, and how do you apply it to your jewelry designs?

AG: I’m most inspired by the whole boho aesthetic, but sometimes take inspiration from other pieces I come across. I might see a boho-style decor piece and keep that in mind when creating a new style of earrings or necklace.

Upcycled leather earrings by Amy Gates.
Earrings by Amy Gates. Photo Credit: Sarah Hill.

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

AG: Perfectionism was a much bigger deal to me before I had kids. After having them, I’ve learned to let go of a lot of that. I still struggle with it at times, but I’ve learned to accept imperfections as part of my art.

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

AG: It can be anxiety-producing to put your art “out there,” but it can also help you grow as an artist and be rewarding when you allow others to experience it as well. Sometimes you need to get out of your head and just go for it.

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

AG: Yes. While at markets or shows over the years, I’ve had a handful of people scoff at my jewelry pricing. I just shrug it off. I know there are plenty of people out there who value and appreciate my work.

Upcycled suede earrings by jewelry designer Amy Gates.
Earrings by Amy Gates. Photo Credit: Sarah Hill.

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?

AG: That’s a good question. Sometimes I need to take a break from the news or find a way to get into nature for a walk or hike. Being in nature is very healing for me.

AJ: Is there a cause or non-profit organization that you’re passionate about?

AG: I’m passionate about upcycling and living as green a lifestyle as possible. I’m not about perfection when it comes to green living, but I think we can all make at least a few small positive changes. Another cause that I am currently supporting is No Kid Hungry, an organization that works to end childhood hunger in the United States. I donate 5% of my sales to that organization. You can learn more about No Kid Hungry at www.nokidhungry.org.

Drop earrings made from a vintage tin  by jewelry designer Amy Gates.
Earrings by Amy Gates. Photo Credit: Sarah Hill.

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

AG: I had a planned home birth for my second child with a midwife. My labor progressed so quickly that she nearly didn’t make it in time. But the really wild part was that my son ended up being a surprise breech baby! He was born feet-first at home on Thanksgiving Day.

AJ: What brings you joy?

AG: Lots of things bring me joy, including hearing my kids laughing, watching my chickens frolic, working in my garden and being in nature.

Thanks, Amy! Her jewelry designs are available for purchase on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/aviandesigns, and you can follow Amy on Instagram and Facebook.

This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

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