Medical Student to Full-time Maker : How Brooke Ballard Came to Launch Janey Bee Jems
We caught up with Brooke Ballard, jewelry designer, fashionista, and well loved Memphis creative to chat about her journey from the medical field to becoming a creative entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a little bit about the moment you realized you wanted to be an artist?
Growing up I loved to be creative, but I was taught that it was just a realm of afterthought or a "hobby". I had passions, and I felt like I always knew where my heart lies, but every environmental factor for me pointed to a career in science. I was taught by my school and my parents that careers involving the medical field were the only option and that no matter what, I was to seek stability and income. I was an undergrad nursing student for nearly three years before I had my wake up call. Within the matter of a month, I had made a switch to fashion. I was suddenly transferring to the merchandising department, working full time as a children's retail manager and buyer, and deciding to start my own business. This happened in May of 2015, and I never looked back!
How did you learn your necessary skills?
The skills I use to create are self-taught, which means I'm constantly learning something new, and my process is constantly evolving. I learn best "hands-on", so I pretty much just tried to make a necklace one day. No youtube tutorials or anything, just beads and string. My first designs were not very stable, but they were so important to my creative process!
Who do you consider as your most influential mentor?
Definitely my aunt. She was the one person that pushed me to harness my creativity when I was growing up. We were always creating beauty from ordinary things, and she chose to show me the light in everyday magic. She passed away a few years ago, and it was really hard on me. For a while, it felt like a little piece of my creativity died, but It took me losing her to see just how much she had impacted my life. A year after her passing, a box was found with her things labeled "Brooke's drawings". I immediately opened it to find that she had kept all of my artwork and creations after all of those years. To have someone tell you that you can create early on in your life I think is so important, and I'm so grateful that I had that.
Do you have a creative ritual that gets you started?
My environment is really important to me for my creative space. I have to have a lot of natural light and good energy. Depending on my mood, I'm either watching The Office or listening to my "Create Some Pretty Things" Spotify playlist. I'm also learning that clutter hinders my mood greatly, so I try to keep my space clean and organized.
How do you measure success in your work?
This has changed over time, and I'm so thankful it has. I use to measure success by volume. If I was making over 300 pieces a week, then I was successful. But now, if I'm creating pieces that I'm proud of, regardless of volume, that is success to me. The pieces that I put my heart and soul into cultivate my definition of success, especially if it is a piece that I made because I loved it, not because I thought it would sell.
What artist inspires you the most?
Dylan Lex. It's a statement necklace based designer. I think she lives in LA. She doesn't make her designs by hand, but her pieces are handmade by artisans. The designs are high end and so unique. Their brand is centered around the powerful feminine, which is where I envision my brand to gravitate towards.
What compromises have you had to make in order to succeed? Has it been worth all of your effort?
I think I've made compromises occasionally in my wholesale partnerships. Some I regret, but all of the experiences I am thankful for. I've worked with stores that have tried to take advantage of me, especially in my earlier age. When I first started wholesaling, I worked with this one store that I won't name, but the buyers insisted on taking my pieces apart and building them to what they wanted during every meeting. It felt like I was compromising so much of myself just to work with this company. By the end of the meeting, my designs were no longer mine. I would always leave and just cry in my car. It's safe to say I no longer work with this store! I eventually reclaimed my power, and cut the account completely. In business, I still work with the occasional difficult buyer, but that's just how it goes. I try to be the most accommodating and professional, while still standing my ground. The difficult moments make the amazing ones so much sweeter, and it all has helped me grow.
What do you love about being a creative in Memphis?
My favorite part about being a creative in Memphis is the opportunities and the community. I'm so incredibly inspired by my peers, and I LOVE being able to do shows, pop ups, etc. with other artists. There's a few other artists that are local that I look up to so much: Brave Design, I.V. by David, Urban Hardware, Tilton Street, and B. Sartain. These guys are just amazing artists, and it feels so cool to just be in the same city with them.
Do you have any new and exciting projects planned for 2021?
Yes! Lots of little projects for JBJ. For Memphis Fashion Week, we just finished up the Cover Photo Shoot, so that was fun. We will be also hitting the ground running with The Edit here soon, with a publish date by early summer!
What are you looking forward to most for Memphis Fashion week?
My hope is for somewhat normalcy. I was genuinely devastated when it got cancelled last year due to the pandemic. The energy that the event brings is incredible! I work really well under pressure, so the hype is like no other, and I always leave the event feeling so inspired. I love the runway shows, and getting to plan my outfits. I think my favorite part is getting to create jewelry looks based on my outfits to wear for the shows!
Memphis native, Brooke Ballard is a self made entrepreneur with a passion for creative works and the fashion industry. Determined to help others, she specializes in content curation, product design, interiors, and team management. Since launching her jewelry brand in 2016, she has worked with over sixty retailers nation wide and her products have been sold to customers all over the world. Expanding her brand and passions, she now curates must- have statement pieces, and specializes in content creation and marketing projects with well known companies in the Memphis area such as Memphis Fashion Week and The Scout Guide. She can also be seen brightening young minds of college students enrolled in the Fashion Program at The University of Memphis.