Sunny Earrings for Dark TimesCOVID-19 #SmallBizSpotlight | While on furlough, a Brooklyn-based textile designer used her free time to launch a jewelry line. Published: March 16, 2021
Programming note: This article is part of a weekly column on small businesses in New York during COVID-19. To get #SmallBizSpotlight articles straight to your inbox, sign up here. You'll receive one email every Tuesday afternoon. Thanks for reading!
Exactly one year ago today, the White House urged all Americans to stay home from work and school (for 15 days …). Sunday marked a year since New York City’s first confirmed COVID death. And Saturday was the one-year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s killing. This month is full of tragic commemorations — bracing reminders of all that we’ve lost over the past year, compounded by the harsh truths that continue to emerge as we reckon with systemic racial injustice and socioeconomic inequities.
Given all this, I hope you can make space to mourn; it’s painful, but sifting through that pain makes space for gratitude, too. What’s kept you above water this year? I'd love to know. Writing this column has been one of my flotation devices: in addition to reminding me of the sheer resilience of small business owners, it’s a weekly treat to just, ya know, talk with someone outside of my teensy pod.
This week’s feature is Sunny Side Studio, a whimsical (and delightfully affordable!) line of earrings from Sahara Aldrich, a Brooklyn-based textile designer. When Aldrich was furloughed at the onset of the pandemic, she funneled her creative energy into making acrylic earrings in her Bushwick living room; though she’s now back at the ol’ nine-to-five, Sunny Side Studio lives on. Keep reading for our conversation.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you become interested in jewelry design?
I always had a passion for jewelry. I have a lot of jewelry. When COVID hit, I was put on furlough for a little bit, and I had all this extra time to do my own art projects. You always think, What would I do if I didn't work? I was trying to reframe quarantine as an opportunity to do all the things that I'd ever wanted. And my partner was like, "You should make earrings." And I was like, "Yeah," because I’ve always wanted to.
Where does the name “Sunny Side Studio” come from?
[Amidst] the depression we were all going through during the spring and summer when everything started, I would feel so much energy every morning when I woke up and the sun was there reminding me that it's not so bad. Something about the sun has always made everything a little better, you know? That was the inspiration.
At what point did you realize your pandemic hobby could be a business, too?
Pretty soon. I started showing my friends, and they were really excited about it, and people were like, "I want one.” So I started building it into something more.
Do you have any help?
It's all me for the design aspect. But my sister does the graphic design, like the logo, and her boyfriend does the photography. My husband helps me as well.
So far, all your earrings are acrylic; what draws you to that material?
The way it filters light. One of my inspirations is James Turrell, the light artist, and he talks about how you can use immaterial objects like light as an art form. My objective is to harness the energy of sunlight. The translucent and transparent materials do really cool things with shadows. When you're walking down the street with the earrings on, if you catch it at the right time, the sunlight will shine through, and your earrings will make a colorful shadow.
What’s your inspiration for the shapes and overall aesthetic?
My inspiration comes from balancing interesting shapes and colors to have something that's captivating and brings joy. I do a lot of curvilinear wiggles. I go between organic shapes and more geometric shapes. I’ll sit down, grab some random Prismacolor markers, and just go. That organic process is really important to the playfulness of it. And then I look at the collection and see how many long shapes I have, how many short shapes I have. I try to make it a variety pack so there's something for everyone. Diversity is really important to me.
How has demand been? Has it been difficult to manage?
Since my business is really new, I didn't know how much to order [from the laser cutter] the first time. It was experimental at first. But business is doing really good, and the flow is very manageable. I have this very weird thing where I actually really enjoy packing orders. I love mundane things like that. So I get really excited after my nine-to-five. That's when I'll pack up my orders, and then on the weekend too. I love the monotony of it.
Have you been surprised by which styles have taken off?
Yeah, in some ways. I mean, there were some that I knew were going to be popular, like the Froot Loops [small hoop studs with a thread-wrapped brass bar] and the Wavelength [hook earrings with transparent acrylic and a gold-plated squiggle bar]. All of them are quite popular, but they have different moments. I don't know how that happens, but there'll be a week where it seems like everybody wants the Torii [hook earrings inspired by the traditional Japanese gate], or everybody wants the Game, Set, and Match [asymmetrical drop earrings of frosted acrylic].
What’s your core customer base?
It's very diverse. I would say the age group is 24 to 40. Like I said, I try to make sure there's something for everybody. So a lot of people who have more serious jobs will tell me that they can still wear the Froot Loops. I have a range [of clients], from artists to people in medical sales.
The Froot Loops / Photography by Carlo Velasquez
The models on your site are refreshingly relatable. Are they your friends?
Yeah, they're all my friends. I wanted something real. There's beauty in everybody, and that's something that is very important to me [to show]. I try not to photoshop the photos very much. I want it to be approachable.
In the fashion and style space, there’s a lot of talk about how we’re adorning ourselves from the chest up for the new Zoom way of life. Is that why you launched with earrings?
Exactly. The response when I launched the earrings was immediate. It was one of those products during COVID that had a demand versus a downfall because people needed a way to express themselves through the video cam. And even with masks, I always hear people talk about how they don't get to express their personality as much. It feels suppressive, and [earrings] are a fun way to show a little something about yourself.
As vaccinations continue and restrictions lift, how are you planning to grow?
Hopefully, I’ll be able to reach a wider audience in real life. Obviously on the Internet, you can reach a wide audience, but I think there's something important about meeting people in real life, and them coming by your table and seeing the earrings. Because when you see the photos online, the earrings are super attractive, but they're even more attractive in real life. That material is just so captivating, the way the light filters through it. It's very playful, it's very tactile … You want to touch it. And so I'm excited to join craft fairs in the community and more widely [throughout] Brooklyn.
Any plans to expand beyond earrings?
I have my next collection dropping in April, and I'm going to be adding some necklaces. And I've heard a lot of people saying, "I wish I could wear your earrings, but I don't have my ears pierced," so I'm looking into ear cuffs, but I have not quite settled on a design.
How to help:
Until next time,