Friday Interview: Figs & Ginger February 25, 2011 12:08

This week, I'd like to introduce our loyal readers to Rhonda Wyman, who along with her husband Elijah own the ecofriendly jewelry company, Figs & Ginger. As an enthusiastic wearer of a pair of Figs & Ginger earrings, I was excited to get to know the creative team behind this jewelry collection, inspired by forests. Read on to learn more about Rhonda and her company. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your handmade business.
I graduated from RISD in Jewelry & Metals back in 2004. I've always had a lot of problems with "Art Jewelry", which was a big emphasis at school. I never had any money, so wanted to make something nice for people like me. I spent about 3 years trying to get away from the "Art Jewelry" design aesthetic, and stumbled upon the original Elliot Bird Necklace. It kind of took off, and since then  we've been scrambling to keep Figs from losing momentum, expanding the line, and growing into other branches of design. We're hoping to coin the phrase "Design & Craft Company", and get away from just jewelry. We're starting a wedding & party goods line, which is super fun, at the moment.

Describe your studio for us.
Well, we're in a bit of a transition right now. We've grown fairly fast and went through several different studios. First our house, then we expanded into a home depot shed in the back yard for metalwork. Then a vintage pink and teal trailer in the front yard for an office, then a normal out of house studio. And we just moved back up to MA. Currently, we're setting up the garage here to be our 'dirty studio'. When the tenant above our basement studio apt leaves, we'll rent that and make it into our office. Caitie, FIgs' Studio Manager, is running the office and metalwork out of our empty house in Asheville till we get settled up here. I think we'll continue to keep Caitie working on the jewelry when we leave, she's a super talented Metal-smith & Textile designer herself ( and a great part of Figs. It's worth it to try and make things work when you have someone you can trust with your business.  Ya, so...our studio.

Did living in Asheville, North Carolina have an affect your work and what brought you up to Massachusetts?
We loved Asheville! It gave us a real opportunity to grow our business. But we missed our family and friends up here. We know way more people here, and have better resources so it makes more sense for Figs to be up here also. We also did a lot of travelling. Asheville's airport and mountains made that tricky some times. We had more space down in NC, but more happiness here in MA.

Can you describe your creative process to us? 
Our house is littered with scraps of paper/cardboard/fabric/wrappers/receipts and such scribbled with fleeting ideas. If we think of something that sticks, it'll go into a sketchbook and I'll start there. It's easier for me to make samples as I go. So I'll do that in metal or paper or print stuff out on the computer. We have a laser cutter and that me helps work through potential design flaws quickly. I"ve been getting away from metal lately, it's been 8 years now so I need something new, and that's changing how i design. I've been spending more and more time using the computer as a sketchbook. It's been fun, but I still prefer my sharpie pen and "biggie" newsprint sketch books.

Your work says ecofriendly, describe to us some of things you do to make your work easy on the earth.
Well, working with any kind of metal is really not good for the environment, and we try to make that clear to people. We buy as much refined sterling as possible, so we won't be involved in any new mining. But it's impossible to source everything like that, so we try to make up for that in other ways. We recycled everything we waste. We've been using our paper and wood scraps leftover from the lasercutter to as kindling in the wood stove.  heehee.  We had some small solar panels, water collections, and compost going for figs in Asheville. We don't use any harsh chemicals in the studio. We do a lot of research and try for local family business's as our suppliers. Our casters are less than 100 miles away.  Our paper is made in the US at a mill that uses water power.  The biggest thing is just trying to make every decision with our impact on the environment in mind.

What handmade item would you save in a fire?
We have a handmade Mountain Dulcimer by our friend Joel, Elijah would save that. I don't know if I would save anything handmade, but I would save anything of my Babushes(Polish for Grandmother) that I could grab, especially her Bernina sewing machine.

How did you first become involved with Craftland?
I'm not really sure any more. I think a friend told me to look into it, and several RISD kids were involved, and it seemed fun. So I submitted my work, volunteered, and it was super fun! I think that was the first or second Craftland, but I'm not positive.

Guilty Pleasure?
TV. I love a good story. I feel guilty when I watch TV, but less guilty when it's a Joss Whedon show/comic book.

Check out this video shot in their pink and green studio in Asheville.

Figs & Ginger from DuckDuck Collective on Vimeo.