Keep on Rocking in the Craft World: A “Canadian Rockies” Interview with Artisan Nathalie Girard

Posted by: Lyra Pappin

Nathalie Girard is a hardworking jewelry designer on her way to having it all. After two years of promoting her online jewelry company Canadian Rockies, Nathalie is branching out into boutiques across Canada with designs on the United States as well. Her unique style and intricate wire work also recently helped her to win MetalChasers.com’s Valentine’s Day design contest.

Nathalie resides in Alberta, Canada and uses the lush landscape as inspiration for her varied, colourful, and tranquil pieces. The precision required to create such high-quality handcrafted items made us wonder about the woman behind the work.

Nathalie took a moment from her busy schedule to explain how she got started and offers some great insight for designers on the cusp of their next great creation. From being frustrated by piles of paperwork and overcoming the fear of the bead-blasting torch, Nathalie has forged on and shows no signs of slowing down.

Let’s Talk Business! 

Lyra Pappin: When did you first begin making jewelry?

Nathalie Girard: I got into it quite by accident actually. I've been doing all sorts of crafts all my life, from the time I was a little girl, but I hadn’t given much thought to it as I got older. Just over two years ago, my in-laws were visiting from Austria and though she doesn’t speak much English, my mother-in-law was talking about growing up during the war and not having much of a childhood.

I felt her deep sadness and I thought to myself "I had a very happy childhood and I got to play with all sorts of toys and do all kinds of crafts. I wish I could share some of that fun with her to make her happy now."

I really adore my in-laws, they are just so sweet, so after dinner that evening I excused myself and went out to the big crafts store nearby. I wanted to find something we could do together, keeping in mind that it had to be something visual and not too complicated since we had the language barrier.

I came home with a few cute jewelry kits, a bunch of tools, and a few jewelry making books, and, of course, some Austrian Swarovski Crystals (a must in any Austrian household!). When I came in, I explained to my father-in-law what I had planned and he smiled and explained to his wife what I had in mind as I was pulling out all the goodies from the bags I had brought home. You should have seen her eyes light up! We played all evening long, messed up a few times, but kept trying and made some pretty things. We laughed, acted silly, and just had so much fun together. It was wonderful to see her laughing so hard that she had tears of joy in her eyes.

Seeing her happiness, and having so much fun putting together, these few basic pieces of jewelry got me hooked like I had never thought possible.

LP: How did you know the time was right to start your own business?

NG: After a few months of preparing, lots of practice and self-teaching, and seeing that my friends and family really liked what I was doing, I figured, “Why not try to start my own business?”. Plus, I realized that I needed to start selling it so that I could afford to buy more supplies to make more. It's a very expensive hobby!

LP: What has been the most rewarding aspect of running your own business?

NG: For me, the most rewarding part is having the ability, through my designs, to make other people happy. I make something, I sell it myself, and the direct interaction with my customers is such a nice perk because what I do, myself, has 100% impact on how my customer feels once they have received their order and start wearing my creations.

When you work for a big company, you often don't even get the direct feedback from the end-client, and the product or services sold by the company are not 100% from your own personal work, it's more of an accumulation of all the work put in by a ton of people. By running a small business, you know that when your customers are happy it means that you are doing a great job and there's no better feeling that that.

LP:  What or who inspires you?

NG: Many things inspire me… the beauty of nature is certainly at the forefront - the gorgeous Canadian Rockies nearby, the beautiful forests, pretty flowers, the sun, the sand, the beach, the ocean… these are things that I love so much and are very dear to my heart.

My designing friends and peers are also inspiring, especially the wonderful and super talented Eni Oken ( http://www.enioken.com ). She was my mentor and taught me to work with hair-fine wire. Her eye for design, color coordination, drive for perfection and beautiful creations really inspire me to think my designs through and apply myself to make more unique pieces of wearable art.

Another important source is this terrific intimate group of female designers that I belong to called the "Laughing Muse Jewelry Artisans" (you can search LMJA to find great creations made by the members of our group or visit http://laughingmusejewelryartisans.blogspot.com). These women are not only extremely talented jewelry artists, they are true friends and 'virtual sisters'.

We all learn various techniques from each other since we specialize in slightly different mediums and styles and we encourage, support, and critique each other on a daily basis. We push each other to break through our comfort zones and to try new techniques, new mediums, and new designs – to think outside the box. These women are my daily dose of inspiration and I am so proud of all the gorgeous creations they come up with… it's magical.

LP: What are your greatest achievements?

NG: I think that my greatest one so far, in terms of making jewelry is that I got over my fear of using a torch! As I learned more about jewelry making last year, I started to discover the world of artisan lampwork beads and what an eye opener this was!

I had no clue there was such a thing as lampwork beads, and I'm so in love with colors and shiny things (I feel like a magpie sometimes - see shiny thing, must get shiny thing and hoard it!), that I decided that I wanted to try making some myself but I was really afraid of working with a torch.

To get over this, I took a local semi-private course a year ago and within a few minutes, the teacher had helped me forget my fear of the torch and it turned out that I have a natural ability to make lampwork beads.

The endless creative possibilities of this artform excited me so I decided to acquire a torch, a digital kiln, lots of glass and tools, so I could to start making some beads in my studio, which I did for a while last year until I got too busy with jewelry sales. However, I am gearing up to start lampworking again and I'm quite excited about it.

I am also planning on learning how to do soldering to create sterling silver and copper jewelry creations. I think this will give me much more flexibility in terms of creating the designs that I have dancing around in my head.

The problem has been that there are just not enough hours in each day to do and learn all the things that I want. But I know one thing: all those ideas in my head really need an outlet!

LP: Are there downsides about owning your own business?

NG: The paperwork side of things frustrates me because it takes away from my creative time. Hunting for cool unique materials is fun but it also means receiving stock, pricing individual parts (calculating cost per bead, etc.), keeping an up-to-date inventory, shipping and packaging, photographing pieces, etc… and these administrative tasks do take a good amount of time and I wish I didn't have to do all this!

LP: What are your future plans for the Canadian Rockies brand/business?

NG: I want Canadian Rockies to expand outside of online sales. I'm starting to get some of my pieces out in a few boutiques across Canada and this is quite exciting. I would like to also expand to the US, as the majority of my online customers are located in the US so it would be nice for them to have access to my jewelry as well.

LP: What do you call success?

NG: I think that success is living a balanced life. For me that means taking care of my family while working towards achieving our business goals. Right now, being less than 2 years old in business (a jewelry design business usually takes 3 to 5 years to get established properly) I find that I have not achieved this balance that I am seeking.

Too much energy goes towards establishing the business at the moment, but I know that it's temporary and I will push through this phase. I am starting to work on narrowing the gap now, and I will call myself successful once I have achieved the right balance between business and family.

LP: What advice do you have for people who want to start their own business or pursue jewelry making?

NG: There are a TON of jewelry designers and other small businesses out there. With the Internet, it has become easier to sell things and set up a business, but it also brings in a sea of competition, so the best advice I can give anyone who wants to start any kind of business is:

1) Study Your Craft - If you are going to sell something, make sure to learn by reading lots of books and taking classes, then practice, practice, practice, and then sell your best work. Handmade creations obviously come with some slight imperfections, it's the wonderful nature of handmade, but there is a big difference with a slight imperfection that adds some flavor to a design versus a piece that is just plain badly put-together and designed.

2) Study Photography - If you are going to sell your items online you should invest in a decent camera and, most importantly, take a photography course at your local college, or at least take the time to read some of the great free tutorials & tips online. There's some terrific photography tips right here on iCraft too - use this great free information!

First impressions are everything so your pictures should say "WOW" and do your creations justice, otherwise selling them will be quite difficult.

3) Study Business - Take a course in business/marketing and in customer service. A lot of people lack the training or experience and this is *the* most important aspect of running a business. There are many affordable courses offered in schools and online for Adult Education. If you are serious about building a successful business you should take the time to learn about running a business before launching into a venture. 

Lyra Digresses…

LP: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

NG: I have traveled a lot throughout my life and have been to many fantastic places around the globe. I find that the weather and my many (environmental) allergies affect me a lot. If I could go (and live) anywhere in the world, it’d be Lake Las Vegas in Nevada. My husband and I have been there before and it's not only a lovely peaceful place (far enough away from the hustle and bustle of The Strip), but we also really love the very dry and very hot sunny weather. Plus, the people are so nice, and it’s not being too far away from Canada. Not to mention, our allergies behave too - what a bonus! Our second choice would be Los Angeles. We just love that sweet California sunshine!

LP: What is your favourite way to relax?

NG: Doing yoga meditation/relaxation with one of my many Rodney Yee DVDs.

LP: What do you never leave home without?

NG: My glasses. :)

LP: What really gets under your skin?

NG: No matter what I do, I seem to be gaining weight much more easily as I age…

LP: When are you happiest?

NG: I’m happiest when I am doing things with my hands. Whether it's designing and creating jewelry, making lampwork or polymer clay beads, cute little critters, greeting cards, handmade soap for my family, cooking healthy meals from scratch, growing organic vegetables and fruits in our garden. That, and also spending lots of precious time with my husband and our two Yorkies.

Footnotes: All photos for this article were provided by Nathalie Girard © 2008.

Photo1: Nathalie Girard
Photo2: Nathalie in her studio 
Photo3: The Rocky Mountains
Photo4: Trixie and Diesel, Nathalie's dogs
Page Views: 4168


  Notify me of New Comments

Jun 19, 2008 | The Knitting Lady

Thank you Nathalie for a truly inspiring answer! It looks like you’ve thought about all this before and that you don’t get discouraged easily. Great attitude!
I do agree with all your comments and thank you for answering my question. It’s always nice to hear what others think about things that worry you the most. Thanks again and great success to you!

Jun 16, 2008 | Posted by:

Thank you very much for all your kind comments and cheers - I appreciate it a lot!

Knitting Lady - Good question my dear! You know, there is competition everywhere, for every type of item you can think of. I think that there is a place in the market for everything. Low-end, High-end, In between, because there is a target market for each segment. People that make high quality items or nicely done items and they undersell themselves, will not be able to keep doing this for ever, as they end up spending more money than they take in. Some do it as a hobby and are not looking to make any money. They just want to make some things, get a few dollars for them, and it's truly just for the fun of making a few things, even if they lose money, that's probably less costly than if they spent money on doing other hobbies, at least they're getting some of their money back. Those are not usually your 'true' competitors...This type of seller will always exist, and we can't do anything about that. What we can do however, is find a niche market/buyers that are interested in what we make for the price that we sell our items at. They are out there. Remember that when the price is set too low, as nicely done as something may appear, upon closer examination, the quality may not be there, and if it is, it can still backfire because buyers may have doubts about the quality of the item (i.e. how can this be high quality if it is priced so cheaply)... or they will have fallen for the low price item before and received junk or something that looked nice but fell apart within a couple of weeks, and that's the "once bitten, twice shy" group - I say that if you focus on Top Notch Customer Service and create High Quality UNIQUE and INTERESTING items, you will be able to get a reasonable price for your handcrafted goods, if you look for your target/niche market. Every customer you gain is a potential return customer and one that can also bring others in to buy from you, so treat them like gold. Over time, as you build a 'following' you should be able to readjust your prices to an even better level for the amount of work you put into your pieces. Don't overlook the wholesale and consignment options available out there too. Contact local boutiques or gift shops or specialty shops... you never know. Look at what item(s) have been your best sellers so far, look at what boutiques are carrying and selling, use that to spark your imagination and create unique twists on those items of yours that sell well to spice things up even more, that always helps. There's always going to be competition, so don't let that discourage you. Take a marketing course. It may help you present your items better to potential customers so that they really understand what they are getting for their money. Best of luck to you! Keep your chin up :-) Nat

Jun 16, 2008 | The Knitting Lady

Great article! All the best to you establishing your business. Just wonder how do you feel about competition? I feel discouraged sometimes seeing the amount of hand-knitted items on the Internet and in boutiques, especially when they are nicely done and inexpensive. Do you ever get discouraged?

Jun 13, 2008 | MyHandboundBooks

Great interview Nat!!

Jun 8, 2008 | Sugabeads

Hey wow Nath, imagine my surprise to find this great article here. Very nicely done girl.

go Nath go!

Jun 3, 2008 | Creative Treasures

Wonderful article Nath! Thank you for sharing with all of us the success of your business! Also for mentioning our LMJA group!


Jun 3, 2008 | Kathy McDonald

It is so nice to see you and now i have a visual!
Great ideas and info.


Submitted by:

Lyra Pappin
Toronto, ON, Canada

Search Blog Central