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Meet Denise Bell of Half Full LA in Mar Vista

Today we’d like to introduce you to Denise Bell.

Denise, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My Etsy business started in 2016. I actually started to make beaded jewelry earlier than that, though, selling to friends.

There was a two-fold reason why it began. One, I couldn’t find well-made jewelry with quality materials at a reasonable price point, so I just started making it myself! At first, I just sold to friends. I decided to try Etsy so I could basically have a catalog where people could go to see what I make. Then orders started to trickle in from customers I didn’t know! That was a great feeling. I have now just celebrated over 600 sales.

The second reason was to help me get through early sobriety. I got sober in 2013 and was looking for something to keep my hands busy and stay out of trouble. I tried different crafts because I love to use my hands. Gardening, sewing, knitting were my hobbies in the beginning. I started beading jewelry and it was just so meditative. It’s kind of like an active form of meditation for me.

What keeps me going now is my love of the craft and my ability to financially contribute to social justice causes. I started donating to charity a few years back, giving 10% of my sales to organizations every month. It varies and has included everything from The Florence Project to help immigrants and refugees, The Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and the Trevor Project, among others. February, March, and April’s organization is a mental health fund to help black women and girls go to therapy. It was started by Rachel Cargle, a black activist. This little jewelry business has allowed me to support causes financially so I can be a more effective ally. I wouldn’t have been able to do that before I started half full LA.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Getting started was challenging… I had never beaded before, I just knew what I wanted the jewelry to look like. The distance from my vision to execution was far! So I started hanging out a lot at a bead store called Bead Source on Pico and got a lot of advice from them. There were a lot of YouTube video tutorials in the beginning! You can learn anything you need to on YouTube, probably even brain surgery and rocket science.

Also, I have three kids (3 1/2, 9, and 14) and a house to run. I don’t have much time during the day to work on my beading, so I stay up late to finish orders and work on new projects. Typically I start to work around 9 pm and end around midnight. By the time I get to sleep it’s around one or two, and I have to wake up at 7am to get the kids to school. Fortunately, I am able to take a nap in the afternoon before I have to pick everyone up. Otherwise, I would be a total nightmare.

Half Full LA – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I make handmade glass seed bead, raw gemstone, and 14k gold filled and solid gold jewelry. I specialize in bracelets, primarily bracelet stacks, but have ventured out into necklaces and earrings. The beads I work with are small, anywhere from 1-2mm, so one bracelet looks nice but ten looks even better!!! When I started out, you didn’t really see beaded bracelets with quality components. The metal beads were usually base metals or just gold plated, which looks pretty at first but is a cheap material and tarnishes and turns color very quickly. I invested early on in 14k gold filled metals so they don’t turn colors and you can even wear them in the water. I make jewelry that people don’t have to take off. I’m lazy about my jewelry and don’t want to put everything on and then take it off every day. So I made jewelry for my lifestyle.

Also, I’m super grateful I can donate to charity. Before I got sober, I was a fairly selfish person and numb to the issues and needs outside of my little bubble. Being sober has allowed me to be more sensitive and aware of a world outside of myself and able to take an active role by showing up both financially and physically showing up for events and causes I believe in.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success to me is multi faceted. I’m successful if someone feels good wearing my jewelry. I put a lot of love into my work, and I hope people feel that. Then there’s a financial success that gives me more freedom and allows me to give money to causes that are important to me. Finally, there is mental/emotional success on my part. I love what I do. Beading and jewelry making is a creative outlet and a form of meditation for me. If all three things happen simultaneously, it’s magic.

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