By Emily Yount, Point Park News Service:
Jennifer Orefice, 27, the owner of Jenn’s Jems, Jewelry & Accessories in the Strip District, gets to wake up every morning to go to a job that she loves. Creating hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry since age 13, Orefice specializes in custom and vintage necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings. She even designs her own T-shirts. The shop contains many jewelry pieces inspired by movies, TV shows and other facets of pop culture. She shares her storefront with her mother, who makes stained-glass art mosaics. Their shop is located in the Pittsburgh Public Market.
Q: How did you start your business?
A: I started when I was 13 when my mom went on a business trip and she couldn’t take me with her and knew that I’d have a lot of down time. So she bought me a beading kit, and by the time she came home, I had used every last bead to make bracelets and necklaces and all these things. Then the woman that I was staying with told me I should try to sell them. We thought, “Really? You think we could?” And so my mom nurtured and encouraged me, and that’s when it started.
Q: Was your mom already into art when that happened?
A: Yeah, she’s really crafty, but we had never done any business ventures. We had never sold anywhere. We just liked to do arts and crafts together a bunch at home.
Q: When did you start to sell your pieces?
A: About that same time when I was 13, actually. I mean we had always done arts and crafts together, but it was about when I was 13 or maybe 14 when she let me do my first craft show. So that’s when we really started. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to get to where we are today, but you know, it has been a great experience. And I love getting to work with my mom.
Q: So it started with your business, and your mom latched on to your store?
A: Yeah, I started selling my jewelry, and then when I was going off to college because she had helped me with all my shows and helped me through that, she said, “Oh, well, you should teach me how to make jewelry while you are in college.” So I started teaching her how I make jewelry, and I would occasionally send stuff back home, but it was really her starting to make her own stuff. She mostly does the glass mosaics now, but she has just such a distinct style, and I have my own distinct style so it kind of encompasses more people, which is good for business, getting more people into the store. With our kind of business, it is primarily women, which is why we started selling T-shirts. And we’ve got a lot of new things coming in because we are really trying to get men in the shop!
Q: Earlier you talked about being “back” in Pittsburgh, so where are you from originally?
A: I’m from Murrysville, which is just right outside Pittsburgh. Then I moved to Brooklyn, New York, and now, here I am back in Pittsburgh.
Q: Was that for college?
A: Yeah, that was for graduate school, actually. I went to Edinboro University for my undergrad degree, then I went to the New School of Social Research in Manhattan for my graduate degree. Both were for psychology. It’s definitely different from the arts, but I still think it helps me relate to my customers and talking to people I meet. I mean, it wasn’t a cheap degree, so I still try to get my use out of it somehow and use it as often as possible.
Q: Is this your first storefront?
A: Yep, this is it! We’ve done shows. We had products in a bunch of other shops, but this is our first physical shop — the headquarters of our business.
Q: How would you describe your business?
A: Like a statement about my business? That’s a really interesting question that I have really never thought about the answer to, which I honestly should have. I guess just like “custom-made with a personality.” I mean, something you are not going to find anywhere else.
Q: How do other people from your family interact with the business?
A: Well, my dad helps a lot with the mosaics, which is cool because if you think my mom and I are cute, you should see how cute it is when my dad would make jewelry with my mom. It was adorable, so masculine, yet doing something so feminine. And so then my sister, she plays an important role too. She doesn’t actually do any of the art or the jewelry, but she comes up with design concepts, including how high or low items should be. She decides the color schemes, where things should be placed. She’s an integral part because I can create jewelry all day long, but I have no idea where things should go, so she plays that kind of role, and they are just so helpful and supportive. They also always help me if I need anything, like going to a show, setting things up or anything like that. It’s awesome to be in a family business, I will say that.
Q: What are your plans for expanding and the future in general?
A: We are going to see how it goes. I’m having a great time being back in Pittsburgh, and I’m doing things that I never thought I could do. I’m wholesaling to other businesses, doing fundraising for schools, stuff like that. Just trying to expand into more of that. I would love to become a household name in Pittsburgh. I’m already meeting people that have heard of us through different outlets, friends of friends, things like that, and I would love to be one of those Pittsburgh artists.
Q: Is there anything specific, like a specific artist, that inspires you?
A: Just a lot of local artists. I like people who do their own thing or who make their own products. I really love like the wood crafters because I don’t know anything about wood, so I couldn’t make anything like that, but I love looking at it and taking inspiration from it. And that’s honestly really true for most of the artists around here.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I’m sure everyone says this, but honestly, it’s very one-of-a-kind. I really love people’s comments like: “Wow, I’ve never seen this before!” or “This is so unique!” And it’s very personal and I like that kind of style, because why look like everyone else when you can stand out? And now especially since I do shirts, I always say that, “I wear my heart on my sleeve and my interests on my chest.” I really like having things that people can relate to. It’s an instant conversation-starter. I only wear my own products! People know not to buy me jewelry anymore because I typically won’t wear it. I have actually sold necklaces right off of my chest before, like someone has said, “Oh I really love this,” and I’m like, ”Bloop, it’s yours,” because I think that it’s important to showcase your work.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your creative process?
A: Yeah, I mean it never stops. I find myself losing a lot of sleep because I am constantly thinking about ideas. And I will say that as an artist, one of the things that I focus on is trying to stand out. I mean I do like to do things that are popular because they are going to sell, but I like to see what other people have made and think, “Well, what I can I do from here? How can I make this my own?” And a lot of it stems from there. I mean I could just create all day long, I find it very soothing, relaxing. Ideas just come, and I create it as best as I can.
Q: What is your favorite thing about coming into work?
A: The people that I get to meet. For sure. I’m also a part-time nanny, so I stay in a house all day with three kids under 5 years old, so getting to come here and to different craft shows is so nice. I get to meet people all the time who not only get to become friends, but I also get ideas. People see my stuff and are like, “Oh, I see you have this Harry Potter stuff. Did you ever consider doing this too?” which is then a completely new idea. So yeah, definitely the people I get to meet. Plus I’m in charge. I get to totally do my own thing. I mean there is nothing better than being your own boss, which is a big reason behind why I do this.