For this edition of Creative Corner we spoke with Brie Fagan, founder of The Wandering Gypsea and one-sixth of the team behind Makers Fest. Brie may be the Wandering Gypsea, but her roots are firmly planted at the Jersey Shore where she grew up. Always inspired by her surroundings, she took her passion for art and her love of all things land and sea and created her own one-of-a-kind jewelry business.
Brie’s creative eye and unique perspective have allowed her to sell her jewelry nationwide through her ecommerce site, as well as in person through various vendors and local art festivals. We spoke with Brie about how she kickstarted her own online business, why it took her years to refer to herself as an artist, and how she got involved in the much-anticipated Makers Fest.
How did The Wandering Gypsea come to be?
Three summers ago I was going through some old stuff in the basement and I found this jewelry kit my grandma had given me as a little girl. I used some sea glass from my dad and beads from the kit to make a few necklaces, which kind of got me into a making mood, so I made a flower crown with some fake sunflowers as well.
I wore one of the necklaces and my headpiece to one of the Wednesday night concerts at Sunset Park in Harvey Cedars. By the time I got home that night, I had four orders for flower crowns from friends. Pretty soon, more and more people were asking me to make them special wares, so I made an Instagram and Etsy account, where The Wandering Gypsea was born.
How did you decide on the name for your business?
As a little girl, my family referred to me as a gypsy because I always wore funky hats and all of my jewelry at once. In high school a lot of my friends called me “gypsy” in their best Borat impressions, for very much the same reason.
Originally I wanted the name to be Gypsea (because who doesn’t love a good pun) but I felt it was lacking. I feel as if the full name, The Wandering Gypsea, gives people a good description of my jewelry before ever actually seeing it. The word wandering let’s people know that my wares are not confined to just the sea as a theme, I pick up inspiration along the way.
Where do you find the inspiration for your pieces?
Nature is the most definitive inspiration and core theme throughout every single thing I make. The water has always been my biggest source of inspiration, for it is the most familiar. Whether it be sunrises over the ocean, or sunset on the bay, the changing colors and blurred reflections are beautiful. Even when the colors are lacking due to fog, or winter drear, the water is still mysterious and inspiring to me. Marsh grass, sand, seaweed, shells, crab legs, even just a salty breeze, it all gets my mind working in ways it never could inside. Taking it inland, the curves of the mountains, moss deep in the forest, bugs, and rocks all light my fire as well.
Had you always anticipated having a creative job?
Actually, not at all! I’ve never been able to draw so much as a simple stick figure. In high school when we were allowed to choose electives, I skipped over Fashion Merchandising and Art 101 for classes like Marine Biology and Sociology. I vividly remember thinking, “what would a class like Fashion Merchandising ever actually do for me?” I did take a pottery class my senior year because I needed an art class to graduate, and I will admit, I rather enjoyed making things with my hands.
How would you describe your personal style?
I would say a big part of why people call me a gypsy is because I’m all over the place with my style. A lot of my style is derived from my taste in music, which again, is all over the place. I grew up on a lot of 70’s music. As I got older, my parents really pushed my siblings and I to explore beyond whatever was fed to us on the radio and find artists we liked that played and wrote their own music. Punk, rock, folk, blues, old school hip-hop, you name it, I probably like it. So one day I may wake up and put on all black, the next I’ll be wearing one of my dad’s old Grateful Dead shirts, and a long flowy skirt.
One thing that has stayed consistent since I was a little girl, is that wearing shoes is the bane of my existence. Probably the beach kid in me, but if I can get away without wearing them, I’m a happy camper.
You’ve worked with crystals, stones, flowers, shells, and beyond – what is one material that you have yet to try that you would love to experiment with?
I am so very interested in learning how to cast. To be honest, I’m still a far way off from being able to do it, for it’s an expensive endeavor involving a kiln and forge. Therefore I don’t actually know much about it, but I think I have the basic idea. Say I find a leaf or twig I really like, I would make a wax mold of this leaf and use melted metal to fill in the mold and then put it in the kiln, leaving me with a metal leaf I can solder onto jewelry and do with what I please. I’d love to be able to incorporate more of nature’s textures into my work.
How has growing up on the Jersey Shore influenced your aesthetic?
My aesthetic in terms of business principles and the moral guidelines I hold myself to are definitely influenced by growing up on the beach. I would not have this business if not for the beautiful, clean shoreline of Long Beach Island drawing people here.
I find it important to keep things simple; to give back, and to ethically source my supplies. I try to keep waste to a minimum and buy supplies from locals, or at least other small business owners. I donate what I can, usually in the form of jewelry for auctions for local charities such as David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation and Clean Ocean Action. I carry these principles into my everyday life as well, having a reusable water bottle, picking up trash wherever I may go, doing small things to show my appreciation for this beautiful place I get to call home.
You sell your jewelry both online and in stores, how does being a business owner differ from a physical location to an e-commerce platform?
It is absolutely bewildering how large of a role the internet plays in my business. There are huge draws and sometimes just as big downfalls to having an e-commerce platform for my jewelry. A cool thing about the internet is that someone out in California can type in seaglass jewelry and stumble onto my page.
At the same time, there are thousands of others selling similar things on the internet, causing us all to have to competitively price our jewelry. I do not like competing with other makers, we are all putting our hearts and souls into our work and it’s really cool to know there are other people in this boat. The internet is so great for exposure, but it has to be done right. I already spend hours making each piece, it’s hard to find the time to photograph and describe each piece with the love I put into it.
Selling in person at craft shows is my favorite. I am there myself to answer any questions and really describe what a labor of love this is for me. The buyer is seeing exactly what they are getting and there are no surprises.
I also sell wholesale to shops, each with different policies and ways of displaying my jewelry without my being there to answer questions a customer may have, or give my opinion on displaying pieces. I’ve never actually had an issue with any of my shops displaying anything in an unpleasant manner, but I think that is due to my pickiness about what shops carry my brand. I highly trust and respect each of the shops who carry my jewelry, but it’s a completely different ball game than online or craft shows where I am the direct person one is buying from.
How did you first get involved with Makers Fest?
So after Hurricane Sandy, I spent a large part of the next few months volunteering with Jetty, where I met Dani Corso, who I bonded with over a mutual appreciation of handmade and local art, amongst other things. A year later is when I started TWG, and she has always unwaveringly supported me.
During Fall 2014 we were talking about our disappointment in a somewhat local craft show we had both been attending for years. We spoke of how cool it’d be if there could be a festival in town that was curated and had quality vendors. Dani called me a few weeks later and told me we weren’t the only ones who thought so. Dani, Erin Butterick, and Jeannine Errico are the true masterminds behind the Makers Fest, they really took the wheel and built something out of nothing. I am honored to sit on the creative council with Dawn Simon and Jessie Temple. It has been amazing to watch an inkling of an idea grow into something so special.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting your own business?
The lesson that has been the most difficult and most important for me to learn is that I am an artist. This is my job, and I need to have full pride in it. I am quite shy sometimes, and have trouble puffing up my chest and asking for what I deserve. Too often, I sell myself short, putting hours of work into a piece only to let someone haggle me down to a price so low that I’m hardly making a dime. This spring at a show was the first time I flat out said no to a completely ridiculous offer and it felt so good. Just last week, someone out asked me what I was, and I responded with, “I’m an artist” for the very first time.
Do you ever find yourself in a creative rut? If so, how do you get yourself out of it?
I am all too familiar with creative ruts, they come at the most inconvenient of times too. I remember last summer, I had three wholesale orders, along with a few customs piled and up I had two craft shows in the very near future, all seeming to be closing in on me. I sat at my workbench and could not get anything right. Everything I tried to solder I melted, I couldn’t even get the most simple of necklaces right. My boyfriend, Dave, called me, and asked me if i wanted to take a break and come walk on the beach with him and the dog. I told him I didn’t have the time, I was in a rut, and hung up.
Within twenty minutes he showed up at my house and despite my reluctance, I got in his truck and we went to the beach, only for an hour. I got home and picked up where I left off a different person. I got more work done in the next 8 hours then I had gotten done all week, because I took a little time to get outside, stretch, and rest my brain. I’ve made it a rule since that day to allow myself a little mental health time when I start to feel the pressure.
What’s coming up next for you?
Last December, I bought a 1972 Shasta camping trailer to tow behind my pickup. Dave is helping me to change a few things inside to make the already renovated trailer into a home/studio. It already has the amenities to provide as a home, but he is building me a custom jewelers bench inside as well. This fall (I don’t have an exact date set yet, but towards the end of October or early November) I’ll be taking a trip out west. I’m planning on doing a straight shot to Washington State and heading down the Pacific Coast, selling jewelry along the way. I want to see the whole west coast, as well as parts of the gulf coast and a lot of the mid-west. I am so excited!
Where do you see The Wandering Gypsea in five years?
I couldn’t really call myself The Wandering Gypsea if I didn’t have full intentions of seeing all that I possibly can. Hopefully after my west coast trip, which I hope to last a year or two, I can do something similar in Europe, Indonesia, and Australia. I really want to see a little bit of everything before I truly settle down to one spot, where I imagine myself opening a studio/storefront, wherever that may be.
To learn more about Brie Fagan and The Wandering Gypsea, be sure to visit thewanderinggypsea.squarespace.com. To see some of Brie’s creations, check out her Etsy shop or visit her in person at The Makers Fest on September 17. See you there!