The following interview by Jasmin Malik Chua was originally published on Ecouterre on September 7, 2016.
Most preschoolers have trouble deciding between Play-Doh and finger paints. Not Michelle Pajak-Reynolds, though. Even at the age of five, the Cleveland native knew she wanted to create jewelry: powerful statement jewelry, not unlike the bracelets and tiara that Lynda Carter brandished on television's Wonder Woman. Some three decades later, Pajak-Reynolds is bringing her eponymous brand to New York Fashion Week, where her handcrafted baubles will go on display on September 14 as part of the Nolcha Shows Fashion Media Lounge at Bryant Park. Inspired by fairy tales and the sea goddesses of myth, Pajak-Reynolds's "Undina" collection features recycled sterling silver, one-of-a-kind gemstones, and a timeless aesthetic. But don't just take our word for it; hear from Pajak-Reynolds herself to learn what makes her—and her brand—zing.
1. Tell us more about your brand and what inspired you to start it?
My eponymous brand is a couture jewelry company that specializes in extraordinary jewelry for extraordinary women. In addition to designing my signature collections, I work one-on-one with clients to create breathtaking one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces.
I began designing jewelry at 5 years old after being inspired by the power bracelets worn by actress Lynda Carter in the Wonder Woman television series. I’ve built my life around being an artist and creating jewelry, so taking a leap and building a brand around my passion just felt right.
2. What makes you a sustainable brand?
All of my designs are handcrafted in recycled precious metals and a carefully curated selection of gemstones and pearls in my studio in the Akron suburb of Stow, Ohio. I also use sustainable products in my production practices and studio and office supplies.
3. Was sustainability always a factor from the start or something that you have veered toward?
Sustainability in jewelry design and manufacturing wasn’t on consumers’ minds when I started making jewelry decades ago. My first in-depth research in responsible sourcing and sustainability occurred while pursuing my MBA in Entrepreneurship at Baldwin Wallace University. BW is one of the first schools in the United States to offer degrees in sustainability so to learn from professors who are at the forefront of this subject was a wonderful asset as I was re-working my business plan. With the birth of my daughter last year, I’ve become more interested in sustainability and more committed to incorporating sustainable practices at my company and at home.
4. What challenges have you encountered with your brand, in terms of keeping it green or otherwise? What compromises have you had to make? What do you hope to improve?
I use only recycled precious metals in my designs and I’m working on developing relationships with suppliers who offer certified ethically sourced gemstones. These certifications are expensive and not every vendor can afford to be certified. So the compromise is to work with a very select group of vetted US-based vendors (certified and not) who publicly promote their sustainable practices.
5. What inspired your latest collection in terms of cuts, fabrics, and colors?
My latest collection, Undina, is inspired by water goddess mythology and mermaids transforming into foam on the ocean in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. The Undina Collection is handcrafted with thousands of recycled sterling silver elements and pin-set gemstones and pearls that move independently to playfully capture the light and shimmer with every step.
I hand-selected gemstones such as labradorite, kyanite, crystal quartz, moonstone and emeralds and combined them with pearls and oxidized recycled sterling silver to convey a watery ethereal mood.
6. Describe the person you envision wearing—and embodying—your brand.
The women I design for are confident charismatic women who pursue their own joy wherever it may lead. They balance many roles but are always true to themselves: independent spirits who forge their own path and inspire others to do the same.
7. Where do you see your brand in five years?
I see my brand carried in a select group of upscale retailers and having a larger studio space and showroom.
8. What advice do you have for aspiring designers; particularly those who want to keep sustainability at the core of their business?
Join and be active in the professional organizations for your industry. They will help you stay current with the latest in government regulations and sustainable best practices and products.
Photo credits: Julie Stanley/JuleImages LLC