Meet the Maker: Andrea Watson
When I first started The Safari Collective four years ago as an online shop, we had 10 to 15 products for sale. Andrea was one of my first customers. I still remember the beautiful blue mug she purchased and thinking as I packaged it up to ship to her how it would fit in so well with her Wilmington, North Carolina home. As the shop grew and I started to collaborate with artisans to bring their work in, I knew instantly that Andrea’s beautiful jewelry had to be a part of it.
We’ve carried Andrea’s pieces for over 2.5 years now, ever since we opened the doors of our brick and mortar.
A few months ago, her beautiful hometown of Wilmington, NC was hit directly by Hurricane Florence. Luckily, Andrea and her family evacuated and her home was mostly kept safe, but her community was torn apart badly. I thought now was the perfect time to shine the spotlight on Andrea, her work, and any little way we can help her community recover.
I hope you’ll give it a read. She spells out the most beautiful, painful truths about being a small business owner and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Could you tell us a bit about Andrea Watson Designs and how it began?
Of course! AWD originally started as a dream back in 2008 when I first discovered my passion for metalwork. I used to tell the story differently, but I've really embraced this part of my journey as the years go on. I was at Bowling Green State University and I had just failed one of my major courses for Interior Design, after getting mostly A's and B's in almost all of my other classes. The program director could have allowed me to re-take the class and continue in the Interior Design program, but she was adamant in turning down my request. I was devastated. It felt like the worst thing that could have happened. She assured me that I would thank her later (which I certainly did not appreciate at the time). As a result, I decided to pursue courses to fulfill my art minor. The very next semester, only two weeks into a Jewelry & Metals class, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It just felt right. I had this gut feeling and I was able to imagine exactly where I am now. I didn't know how I was going to get there, I just new that I would. It feels pretty incredible, really. To have lived out a future that I saw so many years ago. And, the part about the failure. I actually love that part now. Almost everyone who succeeds at something, first fails at something else. It's my favorite thing to share with new artists or anyone struggling to find what they're passionate about.
Are you working on anything particular at the moment?
Yes! I've had a slew of new products in the works for quite some time now. I took most of 2018 off, in terms of creating a new product line. But I've been chomping at the bit to release some new pieces. Some of you may have caught glimpses of them on my Instagram story, but I'm hoping to release an official collection of these new designs right before Christmas.
What inspires you?
Hmm. So many things. I'm inspired by travel, nature, connection, meaning, spirituality, and anything "woo". I think pieces of that show up throughout my collections and especially in my online presence. As for the jewelry design itself, lately I seem to be inspired by currently fashion trends, certain fashion designers, minimalist styles, and my own criteria of simplicity, elegance, and wearability. I actually have page after page of ideas hidden away in sketchbooks and that's often what you see showing up in new collections. From time-to-time, I'll see something random that inspires me and I'll screenshot or draw a quick sketch on my phone of whatever it may be. But usually, those screenshots and images end up in my phone and never used. It's more of what comes out while sketching that really makes it into a tangible piece.
What has surprised you most about running a growing business? Any lessons learned along the way?
Oh man. So many things. I'll just share about the most recent lessons I've been learning though. January will mark two years since I left my part-time position at a law firm and went full-time as a business owner. What has surprised me most about these last two years is how difficult it is to work full-time, as an artist, from home. It seems like everyone idolizes this lifestyle and believes it's THE BEST of the best in terms of the American dream. Not necessarily the artist part haha, but working for yourself, from home, with complete flexibility, and don't get me wrong, it certainly has its perks. But there's another side that many people don't get to see. When I first went full-time, it felt like a dream. As time passed, I started realizing that I was missing a sense of community. Working from home can actually be quite lonely. Especially at the beginning when you don't realize the importance of scheduling in lunch dates with friends, meetings with clients (instead of shipping local orders), coffee dates with other business owners, yoga classes at that studio you love, etc. And when you're focused on building a successful business, those things can easily go by the wayside. The other important distinction is that YOU ARE ALONE WITH YOUR THOUGHTS. Literally. There are not enough podcasts or Spotify playlists in the world to keep you completely occupied from your own thoughts when you work alone. This was a really big one for me. You get up close and personal with what's really going on in that beautiful mind of yours behind the scenes. And sometimes, it's not pretty. I would even venture to say that almost anyone who works alone for a year or more will find some kind of unpleasant habits they've picked up along the way. You just can't hide. It's not possible. There's no workplace chatter, impending deadlines, or customers needing constant attention. Because of this, I realized just how important therapy is. Now, I am so grateful for where I am. I have grown in ways I never could have imagined and also in ways I always dreamed of. This has, hands-down, been the most surprising part of working from home as a full-time business owner. It's something that really seems to go under the radar, but is embraced and understood by many other full-time artists and creative souls.
You live in beautiful Wilmington, NC. What does your community mean to you? Have you witnessed a new resilience since Wilmington was hit by Hurricane Florence?
The community here in Wilmington is made up of a vibrant collection of people from all over the United States. It's a city of transplants. Almost everyone you meet has a story of how they got to Wilmington and each one is surprisingly almost exciting and unusual as the next. It's almost like Wilmington sends out signals to random people and they just show up. At least that's how we've always felt about Wilmington, from an outsider's perspective. We've lived here for a good part of our 20's and now into our 30's and we've always noticed people coming and going over the years. So, for us, we never felt a secure sense of community here. Not that there isn't community, but within our circles, it always seemed like connections were transient and the long-lasting friendships more rare.
All of that seemed to change during Florence. We have never felt so much love and pride and concern for our beautiful city as we did then. It was an incredible and devastating time for our community. Danny and I had evacuated to Ohio during Florence and for several weeks afterwards. During this time, we stayed up-to-date thanks to our friends and so many community organizations who stepped up to support our city. While it was heartbreaking to see the incredible loss that so many people endured, it was also inspiring to see how our community came together in ways we had never seen before. Even now, as people continue to rebuild, strangers often ask each other how they did in the storm. There are new organizations and old who continue to raise funds and provide support for those in need. And there's a new sense of community and pride for our sweet city.
Can you tell us a few ways that people can help, near or far?
Absolutely. Even though the cameras and news crews are long gone, there is still so much devastation in Wilmington. There are people waiting to have repairs made, get access to insurance relief funds, obtain estimates from contractors, and even people who are still waiting for the chance to speak with an adjuster. Here are a few ways you can help:
The Campus Emergency Fund provides financial assistance to UNCW students personally affected by natural disasters.
This fund will provide assistance to UNCW faculty and staff who have been personally affected by Hurricane Florence.
Disaster relief organizations provide vital goods and services to those in need. However, there are no agencies that provide diapers. As the only statewide diaper bank in North Carolina, DBNC partners with state emergency services to fill this gap.
Good Shepherd Center staff, volunteers, and supporters will not only be caring for the hundreds of hungry and homeless men, women, and children we see each week but will also be taking on displaced families from storm damage, and the dozens of homeless residents that were relying on the Salvation Army’s 3rd Street shelter, now destroyed. We ask you, our family of supporters and friends, to do as you have done for the past 3 decades – put your faith in Good Shepherd Center to continue to be the unwavering source of compassion and support for those who need it most. Donate Here.
This fund will support groups that do not have the capacity to receive online donations, but who are already providing leadership and offering direct services to those bearing the brunt of economic and environmental devastation in the region.
Food, water, and supplies are stocked and being distributed from our six branches to our network of partners. Needs on the ground continue to change based on people’s access to their homes, continued power outages, and the impact of receding flood waters. Hygiene and cleaning items are becoming more necessary, but the need for water has decreased. As we work to distribute food and supplies to shelters and our non-profit partners, fund donations will be of special importance to help the Food Bank provide emergency and increased assistance to people in need, as swiftly as possible. Gifts can be made online at foodbankcenc.org/florencegive. Checks can be mailed to 1924 Capital Blvd., Raleigh, NC 27604.
Nourish NC is a non-profit organization that provides hungry children with healthy food, empowering them to succeed in the classroom and in their community. Cash donations can be made here https://nourishnc.org/donate/ or mailed to 601 Greenfield St., Wilmington NC 28401
Pender County Christian Services is in need of boots, winter shoes, pillows, pillow cases, sheets, warm coats, towels, personal items, and any and all household items for families. Their Food Pantry is in need of condiments, boxed foods (mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, pancake mix, etc.), cleaning supplies and diapers.
Port City Proud is a Wrightsville Beach-based group of construction and building professionals who are coming together to help our friends and neighbors in their time of need. We’ve all seen the destruction caused by the fallen trees and rising floodwaters of Hurricane Florence. We clear trees and debris so our neighbors can have access to their homes and start the recovery process. The donation link is here.