Posted by redshoes26 on Feb 24 2017
Following is the full interview we did with Lauren Neal, jewelry designer for NEAL Jewelry. Part of it ran in our monthly email, redshoes news, which is sent to subscribers on the 26th of each month. To join the mailing list, enter your email address in the field near the bottom of each page of our website.
We met Lauren Neal, jewelry designer with NEAL Jewelry, years ago when Christy worked with MNfashion. We admire her ability to create new pieces that are so different with each collection, yet remain true to her aesthetic. All that, and she's rad to be around!
Hey Lauren! Tell us about you.
Let's just say that I've had two other careers before becoming a jewelry designer, and it took a lot of guts, support, and coffee to get where I am today.
I'm from Saginaw, Michigan, but I've lived in Minneapolis almost as long as I lived in my hometown. I live in Northeast Minneapolis with my fiancé in a little brick house that we bought and completely renovated. I love it there and never want to leave.
How did you start working as a jewelry designer?
I never really thought about what exactly I was going to do when I finished my jewelry degree. I just knew I needed to get a studio because I was already selling to stores locally and in New York City. I didn't want it to be found out that I had been designing and making jewelry out of school. I got my first studio in 2010. I worked part-time waiting tables until 2013, so jewelry was also part-time until I could give my full attention to it. It all just happened organically after that.
Tell us about NEAL. What do you make?
This answer changes every year. When I first started making jewelry, I was a amongst a scattering of designers who carved and cast their jewelry. Now, there are so many people designing and making jewelry; all casting, all using recycled metals, all doing it locally. The challenge for NEAL is to remain unique and original in that market. I've always aimed to make special pieces that people can wear comfortably and confidently, and I believe I continue to do that. The custom jewelry I make for both men and women is really special, and those relationships inform my regular line of jewelry for sure.
You used to be Carrier Pigeon. Why the name change?
[Over time I felt] the name was limiting for the brand, so I changed it to NEAL. I seriously could not think of another name. I'd been struggling for more than a year and just couldn't commit to a name that I might get sick of in five years. I figured I've been living with NEAL for 30-plus years, so why not? Aside from it being my family name, it's simple, clean, and strong, which I think is reflective of my jewelry.
Tell us about your latest collection.
The OASIS Collection is my most playful collection so far. The big, bold floral shapes are super fun and feminine. I wanted to imbue some whimsy into my line. It definitely has a ’60s flower-power vibe, which I'm super into at the moment.
What is the best part about what you do?
The best part of what I do is that every day is different. What drove me crazy about my past careers and jobs was the monotony. The last job I had before jewelry made me feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Although I do really appreciate routine and structure, I just need to do something that has a distinct start and finish. Making physical objects that go off into the world is really satisfying.
What's the most challenging?
The biggest challenge for me is the solitude. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely require a private space to work. But I miss the exchange of ideas between peers on a regular basis. I try to carve time out to meet with other designers and business owners, but it's tough sometimes. I don't have a team of people telling me I'm on the right track or doing a good job, so I just have to trust my gut mostly.
How can redshoes nation help you with that challenge?
I love feedback. Seriously. Most of the time, I ship my jewelry off to stores or individuals and never hear anything [in return]. When I do pop-ups and events, I get to see people's reactions to my work and get feedback on how the jewelry feels, and that's so helpful to me. It's awesome when customers take the time to write me emails about the jewelry and how much they love it. I got one today. It totally makes my day.
What are your plans for the next couple years?
I'll be working on a line of fine jewelry and/or a wedding collection. My goal is to make more time to travel and make more interesting shit.
What has been a highlight of your career so far?
I can't think of one singular highlight. I'm not particularly moved by press or fame-type stuff. I'm moved more by people being moved by my jewelry. When someone hires me to make them a special piece and they're moved to tears…that's a special moment for me. Collectively, these moments are highlights. Also, the fact that I'm still doing this and haven't quit yet is pretty significant.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer. I went to a Language Arts school in junior high and it was fucking awesome. My teacher read Johnny Got His Gun to the class (we were like 13!), and he'd cry and pound his fists on the table. It blew my mind and I thought I wanted to affect people like that. Every day we'd read aloud to each other, and we wrote poems, stories, and screenplays. I've always loved the comedy and horror genres, so I thought I'd either be the next Stephen King or write for Saturday Night Live. Looking back, I honestly think I abandoned the dream because of a stupid college requirement. Like, I didn't want to take Spanish or something. There's still time though.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
1. I'm a total neat freak. I'm one of these weirdos who actually enjoys cleaning and organizing. It's cathartic to me. If I weren't making jewelry, I'd be helping people organize and beautify their homes. (Call me….)
2. I love ’90s music. Especially grunge and hip hop. I still listen to 2Pac and Pearl Jam. I'm not ashamed!
3. I'm a huge fan of stupid/bad movies and physical comedy. I grew up watching The Three Stooges, which might explain it.
4. I swear a lot.
5. I'm a diva about my morning coffee.
What is a favorite pair of shoes you’ve owned?
I have a pair of all-black Converse that I've had for…15 years I think. I wore them on my first trip abroad. I had my mind blown in Italy wearing those shoes. They've basically been my traveling shoes ever since. At this point though, they've kinda turned purple, have holes, and even have duct tape on the inside. I'm not one for holding onto things I don't need anymore, but I can't get rid of them!
What else would you like to add?
Thanks for taking the time to learn about me and my jewelry!
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