*Article featured on SD Voyager*
Today we’d like to introduce you to Diana Lee.
Hi Diana, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.
Sure! My name is Diana “Yoyo” Lee and I am the creator of STUDIYO Jewelry where I make architectural jewelry inspired by my background as a commercial interior designer. I’ve always been an artsy/crafty kid that was always drawing, crocheting, or making way too elaborate things for school projects and I think that I always wanted to be some sort of artist. But, like a lot of kids, was told at a young age that being an artist would never be a viable career. So, I went to college and studied Interior Architecture and Product Design.
After college, I started working as an interior designer at an architecture firm, and immediately, the big difference in my life was that I was no longer making with my hands. In school, I always had “studio” and was constantly making models, creating prototypes, and making in the wood shop. Once I entered the working world, everything was mostly digital. I found myself on the computer all day and missed the physical feeling of making, to the point that it was causing me to feel empty inside. I started teaching myself how to make jewelry in 2017, pretty much only a few months after starting my job, and taught myself how to sell online. It started out very slow and grew alongside my progression as a designer at my firm. I had the opportunity to work on many interesting commercial projects with fun clients in the Seattle area like The Pokémon International Company, Google, and Indeed, and had a constant source of inspiration in my job as an interior designer while also having an outlet that was entirely mine. Having a full-time job while I was learning about building a small business took the financial pressure off and I was able to have this hobby that, at a minimum, paid for itself for many years.
My coworkers were my first models and my jewelry started catching on with other designers from different firms. I was told that my jewelry was something that reminded them of a trip to Barcelona or Italy, earrings became great gifts for architects, and the feeling of other designers and my peers wanting to wear my jewelry was very validating, exciting, and addicting.
The last couple of years have really forced myself, and many others I believe, to really think about what lights us up and what we really want to be working on, and I decided to start transitioning from only working on my business at night and on weekends, to part-time, and now finally taking the leap and working on STUDIYO Jewelry full time. Together with my partner and 2 cats, we just made the move from the Seattle area to San Diego, and am so excited to build STUDIYO Jewelry up here!
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Haha oh my goodness, definitely not. When you go to college for a specific job type that you hope to get after school, there are many expectations for you to stay in that career. Whether those expectations come from family, your partner, friends, coworkers…etc. When I first started, I was super quiet about it and never wanted to tell people that this is what I was doing. It took many years of quiet persistence to convince the people around me that this was something that I would be continuing to pursue, regardless if it was paying the bills. And mentally that can be really hard. Luckily my partner was one of the first people to be convinced that this is something I want to do and once I had him on board, it really made me feel more validated and open about this business. Not everyone who starts a small business has a good support system and that period of time can be really difficult and lonely.
Then on top of the mental gauntlet, you wear all the hats in a small business if it’s just you. You design the product, make the product, market the product, design the packaging for the product, and ship the product yourself. It’s a ton of work and when you first start out, you’re not really making a paycheck so it can be very exhausting.
To be honest, I don’t know if running a small business is ever a smooth road. (At least I haven’t experienced that yet.) There are crazy ups and downs, it’s a little unpredictable, and I’m always learning something new every day. I think I will always feel like I have more to learn but that’s also what makes it fun and exciting!
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Yes, so in terms of jewelry-making, I am completely self-taught, and my pieces are a combination of graphic design, architecture, and art. All my designs are inspired by the sleek hard-working women I am constantly surrounded by in the design field. My pieces take snapshots and details found in the architectural world and abstracts them in a way to create modern and unique pieces that are easily wearable with your favorite go-to outfits. My recent collections including the Tracery Collection, MOD Collection, and Luminaire II Collection were inspired by cathedrals, mid-century modern furniture, and light fixtures.
Because my background is in interior architecture, I feel like my design process thus far has definitely been influenced from making paper models. This process translates pretty seamlessly to flat sheet metal, which is what the majority of my designs are made from.
I really enjoy using industrial metals like brass and stainless steel in my pieces and recently have started creating more with stainless steel because I really dislike cleaning tarnish off my jewelry. I found that I can leave stainless steel out and not have to worry about tarnish for much, much longer than any of my brass or sterling silver pieces. I also love that it’s such a tough and industrial metal that is for sure harder to work with, but also makes my lightweight and delicate pieces more durable.
What makes you happy?
Oof. This is a deep question. I mean, this is what everyone is searching for right?
I think part of starting this business was my search for this elusive “happiness”. For me, I think it boils down to freedom. Whether that is creative freedom with no constraints, physical/locational freedom, or freedom of time. Creating what I enjoy making, on my own schedule, and experiencing places that are different from where I grew up is what feels like happiness to me.
- Range of about $40 – $200 with most pieces in the $60 – $100 range