Interview with Holly Daniels Christensen
Holly Daniels Christensen began making jewelry using local sand from Cape Cod, Mass., at her kitchen table—gifting the pieces to friends and family. Their enthusiastic reaction to the gifts led Holly to believe she was on to something. She soon discovered that many people like holding a special place close through keepsake jewelry. And in 2010, Dune Jewelry was born.
Today Dune Jewelry handcrafts jewelry and accessories using sand and earth elements from thousands of iconic and memorable locations around the world. “We create tangible reminders of life’s best moments. Every design is personalized with sand or elements from somewhere special to the customer, such as sand from the beach where they honeymooned, crushed granite from an incredible hike in the Rockies or flowers from a special wedding. Every piece is unique,” Holly said.
The entrepreneur’s story is inspiring as Holly didn’t let a turbulent childhood define her future. Not only does Dune Jewelry delight its customers with meaningful designs—it builds community through charitable partnerships.
Artisan Joy: How did you begin making jewelry?
Holly Daniels Christensen: I started at my kitchen table creating jewelry for friends and family. I was looking for a creative outlet while working in the Boston real estate market. Every time I saw the people I gifted, they were wearing my designs, and they began asking if they could purchase items crafted with different sand locations. Of course, I said yes, and the business ideas began to form in my brain.
AJ: When did you realize that you could turn your work into a business?
HDC: I realized that I could turn my artwork into a business after I began taking pieces to local arts and crafts shows and selling out. Once people realized that the designs held actual sand from their favorite places, they were in love with the sentimental value. At one of the shows, I met a sales representative who asked if she could take some designs to local shops, and I agreed. From there, things really took off.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
HDC: Mother Earth, the ocean, our customers, my daughters. I find inspiration at odd moments throughout the day. It comes in waves and can be gone just as quickly as it arrives.
AJ: How do you apply that inspiration to your work?
HDC: Our designs have distinct artistic boundaries which can seem restrictive to an artist at times but the businessperson in me always finds a way to move forward. Each piece has to have room to add sand and earth elements along with the jeweler’s resin that we use, and the size of sand varies dramatically. Sometimes it’s 1mm, sometimes it’s 2mm and it’s always misshapen, so the designs need to be flexible so the application can work with all the different and unique elements.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
HDC: I dropped out of high school and left home when I was 15 due to a tumultuous upbringing. I find it an interesting point in my history because I was able to turn it around and create a life that’s dramatically different from what I experienced as a child.
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
HDC: I continuously use the term, ‘done is better than perfect.’ In my experience, I’ve learned to let the sheer joy of completing something overshadow the creeping doubt that is always in the back of my mind wondering ‘is it good enough?’ It has taken years of practice to change my mindset, but I’m so happy that I did. Perfect is never perfect. There is no such thing. Art is subjective, and that’s what makes it so incredible.
AJ: When it comes to running a creative business, what keeps you going through the ups and downs?
HDC: Every day is a roller coaster when you run your own business. You have to learn to work through difficult situations and continue to put one foot in front of the other. Momentum and confidence in your intuition is key.
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in putting their work out into the world but feels vulnerable about it?
HDC: Do it! The world deserves to see what you’ve been working on, and you deserve to share it with the world. We’re all here for a very brief moment in time, so why not take some chances. It hurts when someone doesn’t like your work, but at the end of the day—who cares? Really, do you really care or is your ego just a little burned? Pick yourself up and keep going, keep creating, keep being you. You matter!
AJ: Has someone ever criticized your artwork? How did you handle it?
HDC: All the time, and I simply thank them for their feedback. They are allowed to speak their mind, right? But you can only control how you react to the criticism—so thank them for their feedback and move on. Their opinion shouldn’t affect your confidence.
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?
HDC: Yes, absolutely. Oftentimes the world feels like it’s falling down around all of us, but I firmly believe that you have to set boundaries on how deeply you dive into the news and current events. You have to know what is happening, but you do not have to spend 18 hours in a rabbit hole of doom and gloom. It’s not going to help the situation. What helps the situation is being proactive and taking care of your own mental health to ensure that the people around you feel safe and supported. If you can begin creating a stable community around you, the hope is that it begins to spread. If you have a larger platform, you can definitely create educational content and fundraisers as well which will help you to feel more in control of what is happening.
AJ: What Causes Are You Passionate About?
HDC: Our ocean is the lifeblood of our planet, and we continue to treat it like a garbage disposal. It’s absolute insanity if you really think about it. Here we are spending billions to take joy rides to space when realistically we could be exploring our oceans and finding ways to sustain this beautiful planet we live on.
Dune Jewelry has donated close to $200,000 to multiple charities over the past 5 years through our online Give Back events and Coastal Preservation is a good portion of that. We love the Surfrider Foundation and Mission Blue.
Editor’s Note: You can learn more about Dune Jewelry charitable partnerships here.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask: what brings you joy?
HDC: My most joyful moments appear when I achieve harmony in my life. If my children and husband are happy along with my team members and colleagues, that’s pure bliss. It’s rare but wonderful. Having 30-plus people counting on you, especially in the midst of a pandemic—when anxiety is high—can be a challenge, but I take one day at a time, and I do the best I can. That’s all I can do.
Thanks, Holly! In addition to running Dune Jewelry, Holly is the author of Happiness Comes in Waves: Life Lessons from the Ocean (Quarto Publishing), which comes out this May. You can follow Dune Jewelry on Instagram and Facebook.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity. If you click the link to Holly’s book above and make a purchase, Artisan Joy may receive a small commission. Title and subtitle updated on 8/2/22.