Ashley Procopio Jewelry
It’s a beautiful, sunny day in Boston after a gloomy stretch of cold winter weather. Ashley Procopio meets us in the parking lot and welcomes us to her studio with open arms, literally, giving us us all warm hugs. She leads us up two flights of bare wooden stairs, warning about the steepness of the steps. Once she gets chairs for everyone, she passes around a bag of coconut-crusted cashews that she helps herself to throughout our conversation, commenting on how delicious they are.
Even though this is a new space for Ashley, she’s at home. Her first jewelry studio was in Providence, Rhode Island, and in the interim between moving there to her new space, she briefly lived in the suburbs, but it just wasn’t quite right. “It was little things,” she explains. "I missed the sound of the train. And seeing the skyline.”
Finally, she found a new space, and an apartment within walking distance in Jamaica Plain. “One night while I was here, I had the window open, and I heard the train go by, and I was like: ‘Oh my God, I’m home.’”
Sunshine spills into Ashley’s seven-by-fifteen studio through her single window. She’s hemmed in on by large canvas sheets on suspended wire, but the the space is cozy, and already distinctively hers. Both her desks are one-of-a kind. Her father helped make her jeweler’s workstation by taking an older wooden teacher’s desk, removing the top, and adding two risers before replacing the desktop in order for Ashley to have her work and tools at eye level. Most jewelers desks are small, but Ashley’s is larger, allowing room for a crockpot for heating up metal and various jars filled with water and a rock tumbler that turns for the duration of our interview. Half opened exposed draws are filled with tools, scraps, wrenches. Her office desk, situated right under the her studio’s window, is actually a black-painted door covered by a sheet of glass, whose panels are filled with buttons, keys, appetizer forks, thimbles, small scissors, safety pins, and other miniature treasures that belonged to her grandmother.
“It’s small. I mean, I think it has some cool elements,” she says of the studio. "There’s a mural on the wall that was here when I got here. I don’t know what it means but it looks like a bunch of islands. An erial view of a topographical map, I don’t know, islands, which is kind of cool.”
Ashley’s jewelry has an understated, simple design, and industrial feel to it. She finds most of her inspiration comes from fashion bloggers, and from what she herself wants to pair with clothing she already owns. “I love getting dressed. It’s probably one of my favorite times of the day,” she says. “And I find a lot while I get dressed I wish that I had a ring to go with this. It always comes from: what do I want to wear, what do I want to incorporate with my clothing?”
As a metalsmith, nothing Ashley uses for her products is prefabricated. She uses wire and sheet metal and shapes it to meet her needs. “I want things to look beat up,” she says. “I want it to look worn. I really like things to look like they’ve been loved and used. And that’s why I put scratch marks on my work.” She holds up a piece she’s working on as an example. “This is actually an order, and I’m debating how much of a nick I want to take out because it’s a story, and I kind of feel like with jewelry, you’re creating like an heirloom. I like the knicks and the bumps in them.”
A lot has changed for her since she began her business two and a half years ago. “My last corporate job was at Children’s Hospital and it was super-corporate. Just very cubicles-as-far-as-you-could-see, and fluorescent lighting, and my cubicle had a number on the outside. I was very unhappy and I found myself always complaining about my life. And I realized I could complain about my life until I was blue in the face, but nothing would ever change if I didn’t change it. And I just made it my ambition to start a business.”
Which isn’t to say this wasn’t a risk for her. When she finally put in her notice and launched into her own business full time, it was October 2015, and in retrospect, Ashley thinks she might have done things differently: “Now looking back on it, I’m like: ‘You idiot! You quit in October?’ I had nothing lined up and it was almost holiday season. And, knowing now what I know...” she trails off and adds: “But I made it.”
One thing that helped her transition from a corporate job to a self-employed creative job was her one-thing-a-day rule. “I committed to one thing a day. So either a sketch, or creating a business card, or making jewelry or whatever, it didn’t matter as long as I did one thing a day. And then one turned into five, and then five turned into ten, and then I started getting orders, so within four months I put my notice in at my job, and I went all in.”
But she also emphasizes the importance of determination: “I’ve hit a lot of roadblocks and I remember being in them, or just overcoming them and thinking: Whoa that was really hard and thinking that’s the point when someone would probably give up, like this is too hard, I’m out. Being able to kind of ride out the storm and getting creative and figuring out how you’re going to get through it, the peaks and the valleys...if you’re determined and it’s something you really want to do, yeah, I really just think it’s determination to ride it out.”
This determination has paid off. Ashley now sells her jewelry in nineteen locations across the country as wholesale or consignment. Her business has grown as such that she has hired employees during the busy holiday season. She lives walking distance from her studio, and puts in about twelve hours of work in per day, but, as she says, “I love what I do so I don’t think of it as work.”
“I get happiness out of this. I feel like it kind of shows in my work. It’s my little sanctuary. I feel like this has an identity, as though it's almost a person even though it's not.”
Her business is still in its beginning years, and Ashley is thinking about new directions. “I want to start setting some stones,” she says, gesturing toward a plastic baggie pinned to the wall above her. “I have some turquoise up there. I want to start doing some cocktail rings. And then I’d really like to start doing occasion jewelry, so like wedding rings, engagement rings, bridal. Probably later this year or next year.”
This is a big step that comes with many considerations. Occasion jewelry takes more time and will be priced differently than her current products. But it also stems from Ashley’s current philosophy as a small business owner. She sees her jewelry as a way of connecting with other people and their experiences. “This is another reason why I want to do occasion jewelry because it’s an engagement ring, and then it’s a wedding band. A new baby on the way. You know, a memory gift,” she explains.
“I think it’s very personal,” she says, describing the transactions that take place between her and her customers. “I feel like people have a tendency to just open up with me. So jewelry is kind of the middleman, but I feel like these relationships kind of grow. Year two I would kind of see the same people and have them come back and tell me how they’re doing or buy something new. The annual-ness of it I really like. I like doing the same shows, you know, seeing the same people every year. So I’m really curious about year three.”