Artist Interview: Optimystical Studios

Okay, let’s talk about Optimystical Studios. Showing some more bias here, because this business IS run by my brother. But it’s also AWESOME.

Logo art by Rebecca Hicks

Optimystical Studios specializes in handmade geek jewelry that incorporates everything from Doctor Who to comics to icons of the nerd world. Not wanting to limit themselves, they also design beautiful stone jewelry, as well as jewelry with a social conscience. Whether you are looking for Classic Art pendants or Spiritual designs, Optimystical Studios has a little something for whatever your tastes may be.

Adrian and Mick Keith (the faces behind Optimystical) travel to pop culture and comic conventions all over the country to share their fun and unique geek jewelry to fans throughout the year. When they aren’t on the road, you can find them in their home city of Portland, Oregon.

Also, check out their sister line, Valid.

From the site: “One of our goals is to make the world a more open and accepting place for people of all gender identities and sexual or romantic orientations, and we can achieve this through education and a positive attitude.”

I had a chance to interview Adrian, co-owner of Optimystical Studios, about his business and his journey:

When did you make the decision to leave the world of “standard” employment?

A: I worked several corporate jobs and ran into many cases of the company just not caring about me or my family when push came to shove (not being able to visit my great grandmother before she passed, not being able to leave to take care of my partner when they were sick). I decided after my last corporate job, when it was pushing me towards self destructive behaviors that I needed to walk away even if it meant less money, more hours, more stress, and more ramen. Because it also meant that if I needed to I could hop in the car and visit my grandma, or stay home with a very ill spouse, or take a mental health day.

Did you ease in while still working a traditional job or just jump?

A: I jumped. I went from corporate to freelance to working for a small business I believed in. When that folded I was able to have unemployment as a slight cushion while I dove in and put everything I had into starting my business. I was very lucky that my spouse was working while I was laying the groundwork, so food was always taken care of in the beginning.

How long did it take for your spouse to also be able to join you full time?

A: The business had been running for about a year and a half when my spouse started helping in small ways. At the end of our second year they quit their full time job and “joined the circus” as it were.

How did you get started with Optimystical Studios? How did the idea for your business come about?

A: This company started in January 2011, but I had been making geeky jewelry in similar styles for at least 3 years before that, and jewelry in general for over 10 years. The company I had been working for closed and I had already sworn I would never go back to a job that ate my soul, so the only real choice was to take what had been a tiny side business and make the push to become sustainable.

I was pretty burned out on what most people called real jewelry, because it wasn’t pushing my creative side. The geeky jewelry I had been making kept me exploring new concepts, styles, and techniques; so it really had everything needed to hook me into all the work that a business would become.

How long have you been exhibiting at conventions?

A: I started exhibiting at conventions long before this business came into being, probably 2003.

What was the first con you did and how did it go for you?

A: The first convention I did was a little one in Missoula Montana, called MisCon. I had a table, maybe 6ft long (but it might have only been 4), wedged in the worst location between the 2 entrance doors so I got bumped into more than being seen. But I was hooked. Up until that point I had mostly done craft shows, which are often outside (not the most fun in Montana) and always have a lot of jewelery. This was new and different and within about a year (maybe 2) I was exhibiting at big conventions like GenCon.

What is an average workday like for you? How many hours a day do you work on average?

A: A short day for me is 10 hours. Short days usually correspond to days that we are at a convention, so it’s retail with very few breaks and the full day on our feet (usually on concrete). A regular day is probably 12-14 hours, and I do days that length 5-7 days a week. When we’re prepping for a big event I’ve been known to do 18 hours at a stretch.

We now have our first 1st storefront, so we open at 11am most days. The day starts with emails and social media then depending on what we’re working on it either goes into jewelry prep or production. I try to take breaks throughout the day to eat and check emails and social media, but sometimes those don’t happen as much as they should. Recently each day also includes prepping online orders to ship and coordinating wholesale accounts.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?

A: Social media, specifically Tumblr has been the biggest way we’ve grown our business over the last few years. We also have to keep up on tv shows and movies that are outside what we might normally watch so that we can be at the start of any new trends. Choosing certain items in our catalogue to also donate to social causes that our current customers support has done a great job to push our brand outside the folks who already know us.

What plans do you have for expansion?

A: So many. Right now our biggest plans are related to adding wholesale accounts. Being able to sell our products in bulk to someone else and not having to do as much retail each month opens up a lot of time for us to try new things.

Who has been most important to your business success?

A: The support of my spouse in the beginning and all of the work they do now as my full business partner has been instrumental in making this business viable.

Our customers have been so supportive and the majority of customers from our first year in business are still customers.

What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?

A: Spending a ridiculous amount of time on social media. Keeping up on a younger way of interacting, presenting ourselves as fun and funny, being involved in social justice issues, and seeing emerging trends and jumping on them before anyone else can.

What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?

A: Mostly it’s whatever ‘business’ advice or “you know what you should do” that our non-repeat customers try to give us. Actually it usually comes from non-customers, people who are looking but not spending money, they all seem to know how we could run this business better, or what we should offer. It is almost always terrible and immediately gets shuffled to my brain’s trash bin.  

What three pieces of advice would you offer someone starting out today?

A: Find a massage therapist. I am 100% not kidding. You are going to put in a lot of hours, a lot of sweat and tears, and possibly even blood. If you want this to be your baby and to succeed that’s just how it’s going to be. Even if you find success quickly that will translate into work to keep up with the success. Having someone who can pull all of the stress out of your joints and muscles, without wanting you to engage in small talk, it is the best investment you can make.

If you had the chance to start over again, what would you do differently? What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

A: When we first started we had too many ideas and styles. I would go in with a more streamlined plan like we have now. We still offer a lot of different themes but the styles are all very coherent.

Steampunk jewelry, it was really hot when we started and we thought we could do something cool with it incorporating actual vintage components. But I didn’t know the scene well enough to know that wouldn’t fly. And because I wasn’t part of that community prior to starting the jewelry I didn’t realize how much it wasn’t a fit for our open and inviting style of business.

Now even when we start into a new line, and try to be trend setters, we take a step back and scrutinize the community around the thing. If it’s not a good match we pass. We don’t want to be involved with toxic communities.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

A: I have so many stories of the moments that make me go, “yes, this is why I do this.” but they all  boil down to someone deeply connecting with a piece of jewelry.

It happens a lot around our representation jewelry, because here is a physical representation that how someone identifies is real, and we have it, not just a rainbow, their very specific identity.

But it happens with characters too. We once had a black woman jokingly ask us if we had any Wonder Woman jewelry, when we responded with which one you could see the excitement behind her eyes start to build. We asked if she meant Princess Diana, or her sister Nubia. There was so much squeeling with joy because not only did we know there was a Wonder Woman besides Diana, but we actually had jewelry for her, and weren’t calling her ‘the black Wonder Woman’. She went on to tell us how much Nubia meant to her as a character and how she never thought she would see her in anything but ancient back issues.

That is so satisfying.

Besides the customer relationships and reactions, what is your favorite thing about living this creative life?

A: I think the fact that I am always learning. I don’t get to stagnate, or we fold. I don’t get to come to work and go into autopilot because there is always something new to try, something new to do, something to do better.

Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?

A: I think this would be a tie between Jaimie at Espionage Cosmetics and Friday at Friday Afternoon Tea.

Thanks to Adrian for being willing to take the time to answer questions! You can follow Optimystical Studios on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and their website!

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