Today we’d like to introduce you to Suzan Zahedi.
Hi Suzan, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I think I have always been a storyteller. I started writing at age 11 but then started to tell stories through drawing, sewing, making things and selling them. I’m not sure at that age what story I was telling, but I knew that when I created something and someone bought it, a new story was in the making and I liked that idea. I have also always been a collector–nature things, old books, paper, leather–things worn and weathered by life. It wasn’t fancy things that moved me, it was things with character, things that people used in their everyday life, things with a story.
At age 15, I asked my father, who was an orthodontist at the time, to teach me to make jewelry and I began a jewelry business. I started with aluminum and brass, and then when my techniques warranted–I was allowed to work in sterling silver. I loved working with metal. Even at that young age, I loved forming shapes, hammering, sanding and filing and polishing–seeing just plain wire take on shape and beauty. I only made jewelry for about two years and then I went to college for graphic design and then pursued a career in graphics and marketing. It wouldn’t be until 23 years later that I would teach myself once again how to make jewelry and fall in love with metal for the second time.
In 1995, once I had practiced jewelry techniques for a year, I was ready to answer the biggest question of my jewelry career–What should I make? You know–with techniques in place and all the freedom open to you, one can get paralyzed trying to decide what to make! But, as I started hammering and melting metal something said YES inside of me, and I am still using those techniques today 25 years later. I liked incorporating old world craft processes, using hand forging, using the torch, and other hand techniques, in contrast with using a lot of machines.
I found that similar to the printmaking classes I took in college, I loved patterns like embossing in metal. So I developed signature patterns that I use on all my pieces. I love hammering and creating beautiful shapes that are classic but have just enough edge to make them sophisticated. I love melting scraps of metal to form beautiful dimensional pieces. It is a discovery process when you put metal to flame, and each piece is a little different, unique in its markings and shape. So with a few special techniques selected and refined, my look was curated and my Collection created. I began to show my jewelry in local boutiques and my business was launched in 1996. Now, back to the storytelling and the personal touch that will become the hallmark of my jewelry…
I wanted my jewelry to mean something, to bring out emotion. So I decided to tell my own story in hope to help others heal. From the time I was 17 and off to college, my life had already been filled with trauma; losing my mother to suicide at age 3 1/2, being raised by an abusive stepmother, and being raised with no faith. Each taking its different toll on my perspective and choices. What I found in the jewelry I was making was that I loved the idea of making jewelry that became part of another person’s life, creating memories and touchstones. I also found that I loved the natural markings and imperfections that making jewelry left because it mirrored our own characters, so I left these markings in and they have become part of my signature designs. I also love the detail and the craftsmanship of jewelry making and became passionate about keeping the art of the handmade alive. I was compelled to tell my story of courage, authenticity and hope with each of my designs and teach others how to make jewelry.
As my style solidified, what emerged was silver and gold jewelry that is organic, tailored, classic, edgy and filled with unique detail. I wanted to make jewelry that women would collect and wear everyday like second skin. I love working with pearls and organic beads, many of which are ancient and have the most beautiful patina. My designs are simple yet unique in that you can’t place them in time. There is a nod to the ancient where gold and silver were pounded and patterned, to the medieval and victorian where chains were worn layered and utilitarian, to the modern where simplicity delights, to the plunder of a lost ship where luxury breathes–and yet it will fit with any outfit, any day. After all that I had been through, I wanted to make it easy for women to feel good about getting ready for the day. My jewelry line began to grow through word of mouth to generations of women. I was inspired to give them something more, something with the jewelry that would bring courage and hope, something that would say…I understand you. This inspired me to share my story and my original writing with each piece of jewelry.
As I shared my story with the jewelry, my Collections grew to include engraved pieces that held people’s life celebrations, memories and special moments. Gift-giving became a significant part of my Collections and my jewelry became part of people’s lives. I love making jewelry for happy celebrations but am also honored to make jewelry for those who are going through tough times and those who have lost loved ones.
Today my studio, Studio SUZAN, is in the heart of Costa Mesa/Newport Beach in Southern California and is open to the public and we are happily and gratefully celebrating our 25th anniversary making jewelry! My Studio is designed as a personal and fun shopping environment. There is natural beauty décor at every turn, and the jewelry is displayed with the backstory on unique displays pieces of natural materials and antiquities. Studio SUZAN is a place for inspiration, encouragement, beauty and connection. I want each person to feel known, even for just a few minutes of their day.
In addition to creating and running Studio SUZAN, giving back to my community has always been important to me. I decided to make use of the pain I had experienced and began mentoring foster youth as part of a business mentoring program through Orangewood. This experience changed my life and since that time, I have been speaking and mentoring in Orange County as a way of giving back and investing in other people. We support many charities and organizations that help women and children and we collaborate with these organizations, making special pieces of jewelry that signify their mission and purpose. In the next coming years, we will be expanding our Studio to include workshops, interactive projects for children and seniors in the community, as well as more mentoring and life skills teaching.
Jewelry to me is a way of connecting to each other, of showing love and of capturing time. There are always stories to remember when you talk about your jewelry and in addition to it magnifying the beauty of the person wearing it, jewelry is history–a continuation of the story of beauty and possibility. Working with our hands has echoing effects on generations. Beauty speaks hope and hope speaks love. Jewelry is beauty you can hold and hold on to and that is beautiful to me.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Making jewelry by hand is so beautiful and exciting and yet it has many challenges, especially as we have become so immersed in digital culture. I especially love unique pearls and beads and over the years have been able to find ancient beads with gorgeous patina. I have a family and do not have the opportunity to travel to find unique beads in remote places, so I have relied on developing relationships with vendors who know I look for special beads and send them to me for choosing. Some tasks like these can simply not be done on computer.
I am an artist by nature and have been taught graphics and marketing on paper. I still do all my designs on paper and work my collections with the metal and components and all my design archives are in notebooks and yet I have had to rely on spreadsheets for pricing and the computer for photo editing and cataloging. This means wearing many, many hats in one day! As my business grows and the prices of precious metals increases and continuously fluctuates, I have to stay flexible and dynamic.
One of my personal challenges is that the fashion industry is always living multiple seasons ahead and I try to resist this way of living. I want to live in the present, and yet planning is inherent in making Collections possible. I am always striving to balance being in the present inspiration and season and at the same time looking ahead to what is next. My jewelry line has always included essential everyday pieces as well as one of a kind pieces and so as the number of years that we are in business grows, so does the number of designs, so editing is always a challenge, I am a designer and an artist at heart and I love to create and create… editing is a challenge but it is an essential part of the business. I wrestle with this.
The road as a single mother, artist, and business owner has been an upward climb but I am so grateful for my faith and how it has been the underpinning for my business and my relationships. I have been living my story out loud, as authentically as I can, and while that can be hard to do, it brings me the most joy because lives are touched and changed. We have weathered 25 years and it has been fantastic!
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
My work is inspired from my heart. The challenges in life and the complexities of being a woman drive me to tell stories and to make jewelry that echo these stories. After leading a lonely childhood, I have found great compassion and connection to life, women and families, exemplifying how life is so different and yet so much the same for our hearts. Love is a lifelong conversation and my jewelry is part of that conversation. I want women to be braver, more generous, and less encumbered–there is a story that matters in every person.
I am wholeheartedly committed to helping preserve the artistic spirit in people. Young people have such a challenge to find their voice and life can be chaotic and confusing. I want to help them understand themselves as creative people so they can preserve their creative spirit without getting swept up in the demands of culture and technology.
Harnessing time is always challenging for me. I have so many ideas and responsibilities vying for the same 60 minutes that I have to be very intentional and focused on my core values.
Lastly, being an artist is surrendering to process and that takes a lot of faith and trust.
Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
I am a sponge for inspiration and theme. I love to take photographs and look at nature, both in real life and on the computer. I like to read about and watch documentaries on nature, fashion, human behavior, time management, decorating, how things are made, engineering, family and relationships.
At any one time, I will be doing a Bible Study, watching documentaries on Netflix, listening to sermons, artist and writer and musician interviews on Youtube, watching a family drama and crime show and listening to podcasts on boundaries, communication, brain function. It is all interwoven and there is so much available for inspiration, the list would be a mile long…my goal is to keep observing, to keep growing and to keep creating and inspiring other.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: www.studiosuzan.com
- Instagram: @studiosuzan
- Facebook: studiosuzan
- Twitter: studiosuzan
- Yelp: Studio SUZAN