Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannon De Jong.
Shannon, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve been a creative person for as long as I can remember, although I never formally studied design. In my childhood in rural Iowa, I found wonder in flea markets and natural history museums alike, fascinated by the origins of antiques and taxidermy. I’ve also been repurposing since childhood, finding usefulness and even beauty in discarded objects. I’m drawn to tactile experiences – I prefer wood to plastic, distressed objects to shiny ones, and tangible items to the digital world. All of these proclivities would later influence my medium and voice as a designer.
I started out working in jewelry production for a local designer back in 1999 to earn some extra money. I took to it pretty naturally and fell in love with the ideas of both working with my hands and having the freedom of running a small business from home. But I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have the design chops or the business sense at that young age to launch my own venture. So I proceeded to work for other jewelry designers for the following 10 years.
I learned the ins and outs, the triumphs and mistakes, the old models and the new. I immersed myself in sample making, sourcing raw materials, fabrication, in-house & foreign production, inspiration boards, trade show life, quality control, pricing, overseeing others, and learning the general culture of the wholesale fashion business, over the journey of my next 10 years.
My first collection, called JACK ASTALI, was more of a side-hustle at first, while I continued to work for other designers. Then in the fall of 2008, I embarked on the adventure that has been my livelihood ever since – working full time on my own line.
ASTALI officially launched in the spring of 2009, 10 years after that first gig assembling jewelry in a converted garage-studio. I now understand that everything happened at the right place, and at the right time. ASTALI is not just a creative outlet for me or a means to pay the bills. It’s the culmination of that lifestyle I dreamt about nearly 20 years ago when I realized I didn’t have to sit in an office at a computer or answer to someone else for the rest of my working days. Since that initial leap of faith, I have never looked back. Because when I took it, I was ready.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
One of my biggest challenges in the early years of my business was holding fast to my creative point of view.
When you work for someone else in a creative business, you can’t be too married to anyone bright idea you may think you have, because ultimately, their brand is their voice and their vision, not yours. I had to be flexible in that way for many years, and I understood why. It wasn’t my name on the door, so I had to be malleable creatively.
When I finally had my own creative voice and platform to express it, there were moments when I was a little too amenable to continuing to execute the design ideas of others, as I had in the past. For example, I found it hard to turn away lucrative offers to mold my brand into what a given retail chain wanted to sell, rather than what I wanted to create.
I found that the further away I strayed from the aesthetic that I was passionate about, the more it felt like “work”. I felt a disconnect with my end customer like I was trying to tell a story in a language that I could only marginally speak. Ultimately I had to ask myself if the money was worth it if this was how I wanted to invest my time and energy. And the answer was no.
I had to pivot back to where I began, with the raw materials that resonated with me, with the styles that I would wear myself, and with the small boutiques who “got it”. I had to bring ASTALI back to its roots.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the ASTALI story. Tell us more about the business.
ASTALI is known for its conversation pieces.
I create jewelry for men and women out of unexpected materials – like snake vertebrae, buffalo teeth, fool’s gold, leather, feathers, porcupine quills, vintage tribal jewelry, recycled bullet casings, subway tokens, and peepshow tokens. Basically, I find something intriguing, something with a story of its own to tell, and I figure out how to make that object wearable and aesthetically pleasing. I’ve even done custom work with dinosaur teeth!
ASTALI pieces always have character. For instance, I could make 100 pairs of porcupine quill earrings of similar length, but no two pairs would be exactly alike. I embrace the unique qualities of natural materials, and so do my customers.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I can’t say I believe in luck per say. There have been moments of success that felt serendipitous, and moments of hardship that felt ill-fated. But to chalk up too much to luck, good or bad, is to assume less responsibility for my triumphs and failures. I believe I personally can learn more from my experiences when I do not consider luck as an influencing factor.
If luck exists, it will have its sway regardless of my actions. For my part, I want to work as if my success is dependent on my own tenacity.
“Luck is believing you’re lucky.”
- Retail prices range $50 – $140
- One-of-a-kind pieces range $135 – $200
- Website: https://www.astali.com/
- Phone: 213-675-3566
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/astalijewelry/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/astalijewelry/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/astali
- Other: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ASTALIJewelry