I had the pleasure of chatting with Minja, a local Twin Cities model, wife, and mother of two who writes a blog Minja Music Model. The following is from her latest blog post. She is modeling the Quartz Crystal Teardrop Necklace.
Hello November! How nice of you to join us. October has been overall good to us in the Music family. Minus the fact that we have circumstantially consumed pounds of candy collected during week long Halloween festivities. I blame my children honestly. It was their idea to go trick-or-treating in the first place. I suppose I do have free will and CAN say no, but it is so tempting and hard to resist not to reach into all that loot they brought home.
It’s not like it’s going to get any better in November and December really. We have plethora of Holiday shindigs coming up. For starters, I am going to need me some good stretchy pants, supply of Tums, and an ability to forgive myself for over indulging. Oh well…. that is the mom’s life.
Speaking of moms. I had a privilege to meet an amazing mom, businesswoman, creator and mompreneur Yen Chee. She is the face, the artist, and a talented designer behind the beautiful jewelry of Yen Chee Designs. It is always an honor to highlight local businesses, especially those that are women owned. It is also very important to me that we show support to artists, creatives and local entrepreneurs whenever we can.
I am so excited to share this private interview with all of you and I hope you enjoy it.
First off, let me say congrats on creating an amazing brand of beautiful and breathtaking jewelry pieces. Also, I admire you for running your own business while raising two little kiddos at home. How do you manage your business and things at the home front without loosing course?
Thank you so much for the kind words. I am so grateful for being able to be a stay at home working mom. First off, I give a lot of credit to my amazing partner-my husband, who has always contributed to the day to day tasks of running a household, along with maintaining a stable job. This enables me the flexibility to run my business, while being a stay-at-home mom. Now that our kids are a bit older- 8 and 4, things are definitely easier to juggle, since my oldest is in school and my youngest in pre-school. It wasn't always this way to be honest, there have been times when I felt like I wasn't doing either particularly well. Running a business, while being fully present with our children was so challenging at times, but they are old enough now to understand when I have deadlines and orders I need to get out. Trying to include them by asking if they want to help out with simple tasks like putting earrings in little baggies, or beading a simple bracelet, gives them a sense of pride. My parents live in Duluth and my in-laws are in Malaysia, so we don't have family in town to help us out. We have reached out to our close friends and neighbors which has been a life-saver for us. We are lucky to have a great network that helps us out when necessary.
In terms of running my business, it is solely run by me so I am well aware of what my limitations are when it comes to making everything myself. However, I'm working on figuring out how to expand while finding ways that will help me get more accomplished throughout the day, and not have to make everything by myself. Before I have a big event, there are usually a lot of very late nights working, while the kids are asleep. This is still something I'm figuring out and learning as I go.
Yen Chee designs are beyond beautiful, they are extraordinary. Where does the inspiration come from?
So much of my inspiration comes from my background as an interior designer. I practiced for over a decade as a commercial interior designer, working at architecture firms. This has made me really notice the places and spaces I'm in, and gain an appreciation for all that is involved in bringing it to fruition. As a designer, I had to render on Autocad or Revit, and make sure to account for all the finishes, furnishings, and millwork construction, and put it all together in a set of construction documents. This all involves a lot of attention to every single detail. I also grew up drawing and painting, since my father is a watercolor artist. I grew up attending art exhibits and galleries which have always inspired me, but most of all, it is watching my dad paint so masterfully, that even after all these years, I still find magical. Whenever my dad juried watercolor shows, I loved sitting with him in front of the big slide projector and talking through why certain submissions were fundamentally better works of art than others. I didn't realize at the time, but this definitely helped me hone in on developing a better eye for color, space, value, texture, etc. all the main principals of design.
I understand that you grew up as the daughter of a renowned watercolor artist, and art was a big part of your life. How does it make you feel when you see your pieces displayed in art centers, or at local retailers? That must feel so gratifying.
It is often a pinch-me moment because ever since I was a young girl, I loved peering in the glass display cases to see jewelry. I consider my jewelry designs to be an extension of myself, so being able to express myself creatively and have someone recognize my art and feel that it is worthy of being in their establishment, is such an honor to me. I'm so grateful to the retailers as well as customers, who feel a connection with my work. If I can make them feel more beautiful, confident, or joyful, then I feel like I've accomplished something.
I notice that you design your pieces around healing stones. I personally had a lot of family loss in recent years. The most soul crushing one was the death of my father. I am a true believer in mother nature's healing powers and the importance of positive energy. What type of stone would you recommend for someone dealing with grief and loss?
I'm so sorry for your loss, Minja. I know there are quite a few stones that are great for healing from grief. I am personally drawn to a certain few, and out of those I would recommend Rose Quartz, the love stone. I truly feel if we open are heart chakras, that is where we can start to heal emotional wounds. In addition to that, I love clear quartz crystals because they are considered the "universal crystals", used for healing on so many levels. Another really good one for work with the angelic realm is labradorite. Labradorite is often used for angelic protection and aids in strength and perseverance when going through big changes.
I know you are proud of all your pieces, but what is the one design that really stands out to you personally, and why?
That's a tough question. I'd have to say that my metal pieces are very near and dear to me-particularly my rings. Rings are what introduced me to the world of jewelry making. I started out using a torch to make big statement rings to match my outfits for big occasions. But I really fell in love with the lost wax method which allows me to carve miniature sculptures. I've often sketched images of what I wanted the final pieces to look like, but as I go along carving, I realize that often times things change organically, or my intuition would guide me in a different direction. Designing something to be worn on your fingers, can be an interesting challenge due to its dimensionality and need for practicality in terms of comfort.
Other than your online store, where else can we shop your pieces ?
Locally, you can find my jewelry sold at the Walker Shop at the Walker Art Center, at The Store at Mia (Minneapolis Institute of Arts), in St. Paul at the Grand Hand Gallery, and up in Duluth (my hometown) at Waters of Superior.
What else is in store for Yen Chee Designs, anything special happening for the upcoming Holiday Season?
One of the core values of my business is always giving back to the community whenever possible. From the very first year I started my business 10 years ago, I designed a necklace where the majority of the proceeds went towards a local homeless shelter People Serving People. I continued to do this on and off throughout the years. I make it a point to always support local organizations or causes by donating jewelry for silent auctions as well. This year, I've decided to select another necklace where a portion of the proceeds will go towards another local charity. The necklace I've selected is the Quartz Crystal Teardrop necklace.
I also have two holiday events coming up. One is a a pop-up hosted by Veronique Wantz Gallery, happening November 23rd from 4-8pm. More info here
The other is Craft Bash, hosted by Parallel and Hennepin Made, and the American Craft Council. That takes place December 6th and 7th. More information here
Your selection of jewelry pieces is diverse and can surely satisfy many great tastes. What if someone has a design in mind and needs a custom piece, is this something you would be able to do?
It depends-I don't do a ton of custom work, unless it is very similar to what I am already making and maybe they want a different stone, or something just slightly different than what I already offer. I appreciate when people ask, and sometimes it leads to something exciting.
I hope you don’t mind, but I shared the quote I found on your website "I am confident because I can admit who I am, what I've done, and love myself for who I've become." –Anonymous
With that in mind, any word of advice for women out there thinking about setting out on their own and building their business around their artisan work?
Not at all-I feel like that quote resonates with many of the women who wear my jewelry. I would say-go for it! If you're financially able to maybe phase into it, until you're in the position to take it on full-time, then it could ease the pressure. Don't let fear of failing get in your way. I believe in never having regrets in life. Would you rather try and fail, or always wonder if you should've or could've done something? Believe in yourself, focus on what you're good at, get help for the things you don't excel at, and trust that you can do it. If you don't believe in yourself, then who will?
It was such a pleasure talking to you Yen, and thank you for taking time to tell us about yourself, your family and your work. I am very excited to see what else is in store for Yen Chee Designs, and I will be there to cheer you on in your personal and professional successes.
Thank you all for stopping by.