Business in the Time of Covid-19

I sent the content of this post out to my email list on March 23 so some of you may already have seen this content.  For those of you who do not receive JUL emails (or don’t read them; we understand and don’t judge), we wanted to share with you how we are approaching the current unprecedented challenge we all face.

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Right now, we are well and continue to fulfill all wholesale and retail orders
using recommended precautions. 

Since our orders have dropped off due to the new economic uncertainties we all face, we will be using the time we are not at our cancelled shows, and not making so many shawl cuffs and closures, to develop new content for you that we will be sharing here, as blog posts, and Instagram stories (which I will finally be learning how to do
with the help of my son Julian) via @jul_designs.

We are all facing challenges in this extraordinary time.
Our efforts at JUL are oriented toward survival.
We want JUL to survive as a business. We want to live through this. 
We want to stay connected to you – our readers and customers. 

We are committed to taking care of you.
We are committed to continuing to support everyone who works at JUL. 

So in case you don’t know who is part of our creative family, I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to my son, and my Balinese creative partner Agus, through the video below.  And I want to give you some background on Agus and his wife Indah.  You can click either on the link button or directly on the the photo below to see us in creative action.

Please forgive the fact that I have not yet translated my conversations in Indonesian.and the sound is just terrible because of the workshop noise.

Video taken in Bali Indonesia by Giuseppe Cimmino

Since 2007 JUL has been an international creative partnership between me (Laura), my Balinese creative and business partner Agus, and every now and again my son Julian (pictured above with Agus in 2018 in Bali)

In the past 13 years my son Julian has grown up and begun to contribute to JUL with original designs, and production assistance. Now he has begun to help with marketing and social media while he is at home trying to figure out how to take furniture design and metal fabrication studio classes on line after his on-campus classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art were cancelled because of Covid-19.

During the past decade Agus started a family – marrying Indah, who now works for JUL as Agus’ assistant – and became the head of his extended family compound when he unexpectedly lost his father to a massive heart attack several years ago.

Agus now has responsibility for his wife and son, his mother, his brother, and his brother’s new bride who is pregnant with their first baby.

Covid-19 is threatening Bali too. They have not yet reported many confirmed cases (the first being a British woman) but there are likely some people who have been infected but don’t yet know they are sick. Based on my past experience with the public health system and the hospitals in Bali, they are terribly equipped to deal with this challenge. 

In my most recent video chat with Agus I counseled him to stop smoking, as this puts him at higher risk if he gets sick from Covid-19. We discussed a new medication that can help him quit and I told him JUL will buy it even though it’s really expensive. 

I cautioned him not to go shopping in the market and instead place an order with the woman a few doors down who goes to the market early and then sells what she buys to people who live close by. 
He described that he stays in as much as possible, limits his contacts,
wears a mask, washes hands, disinfects product components as he picks them up from our artisans (our current inventory in the US was produced months ago).

I told him that sales here have fallen off, that fiber festivals and shows are being cancelled, that some of my wholesale customers’ shops have closed, that the economy is coming to a near standstill, we don’t know for how long.

Then I told him that I will make sure I pay him and his wife their regular salaries
no matter what. They should not worry that they will have no income.

When my confidence is challenged and I doubt myself, I think of my son.  I think of Agus.  And I press on. Not getting through this as a business is not an option.

I am posting this because I want you to know about Agus and how committed I am to him and his family.
And I want you to know how committed I am to you.

The Biography of a Shawl Pin: The Making of the Runa Penannular Brooch, Part 1

For those of you who have purchased a JUL Designs shawl pin (and have read the information on the packaging), you know that most of them are “Handmade Fair Trade in Indonesia” in White Brass (the rest are made in the USA).  But what does this really mean?  In this first installment of a biography of a shawl pin I start to tell you, and more importantly, to show you by sharing with you videos and images I took during a month-long trip to Bali, which is the location in Indonesia where I have JUL knitwear and body jewelry designs made.

The objectives of this month-long trip in July were three-fold.  First, I had product-development goals to launch with Agus, my Balinese collaborator and a critical partner in the creation and production of JUL knitwear and body jewelry designs.

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Agus Astradhi – co-designer and creative partner at JUL Designs
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Agus with metal flasks used for lost-wax casting

Second, I wanted to meet our new artisans, whom I had not yet met given that the last time I was in Indonesia was five years ago!  And third, I wanted to document the product development and production processes for you as I worked with my son and my creative partner and artisans.

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Julian (left) and Agus (center) recording the creation of waxes that will be made into metal shawl pins using the lost-wax casting process.

I want you to be able to see how many hands touch each piece you purchase.  And I want you to be able to see the relationships I have with my creative partners and artisans.  I speak the language(s).  I understand the culture. I have deep connections to the place going back over 20 years. I have dear friends and family there. I don’t just broker through a third party.

For JUL, Fair Trade is not a vague notion of doing business directly with producers.  For us, Fair Trade is specific. It means we are committed to people we care about. We have collaborative relationships with artisans we have been working with for years.  Having such long term working relationships means they understand our designs, which are mostly not conventional jewelry, and can work with us to develop creative solutions to the production and design challenges we encounter. Fair Trade means we know exactly how our products are produced, under what conditions and by whom. It means our artisans determine what we pay them for the products we ask them to make, based on how complex the designs are, how much time and effort each one takes, and what they need to support their families. Fair Trade for us is truly fair.

So how do I show you these relationships, these production processes?  We tracked production of one product – the Runa Penannular Brooch – from start to finish using photographs and videos.

This mosaic of images above gives you a sneak peek at what I will be describing to you in some depth over the next few posts.  In the upper left is the wax for the ring part of the Runa.  Upper right shows flasks of plaster molds for the Runa being vacuumed to remove air bubbles that can damage the casting. Lower left shows metal being heated to pour into one of those molds. Center shows raw Runa components after they have been cast. Lower right shows a Runa ring component being cleaned up and smoothed during the finishing process before the stick has been added and soldered in place.

This production process takes the Runa Penannular Brooch through twelve pairs of hands just to come into being, and ultimately to adorn your knitwear.

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The Runa Penannular Brooch after the two separate ring and stick components have been soldered together and the piece has been given its beautiful satin surface finish.

Next installment: From Wax to Raw Metal.

 

The Shinshoji Collection – First in the Silk Road Series – Part 1

The first time we visited the Shinshoji temple we only got a little taste of the rich ornament that has now become the inspiration for the Shinshoji Collection – JUL’s first collection of sterling silver jewelry.

My son and I first visited the Shinshoji temple in Narita, Japan almost 16 years ago when he was just five.  We were on our way back to the United States from Australia so I could defend my PhD dissertation and had a long layover in Japan.  The airline put us up in a hotel near the airport, close to which there just happens to be a very beautiful and old temple complex.  Rather than take what we were warned was an arduous and long train ride into Tokyo, we opted for the short trip into Narita and followed the route on the photocopied map. We walked from the little station down the old main street of the town to the entrance of the temple where a huge lantern hung over the gate.

It was raining that day but my intrepid son had (at 5!!) researched where the shuttle stopped in front of the hotel and learned we could borrow umbrellas for the day from the concierge.  If it had not been for his persistent game-for-anything personality we might have stayed in and had a very boring day.  But instead we went out and had a wonderful multi-course adventure.  Thankfully it was only our first encounter with the Shinshoji. The next time we went the weather was fine and we spent many hours investigating the temple’s old and new buildings and their magnificent metalwork, some of which you see on the roof-line of this amazing building below.

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When we visited the temple again some four years later, I focused my attention on this metalwork and took many photographs of the pierced and chased metal panels on railings, eves, lintels, and columns. I’ll tell you much more about that second visit in my next post as I have many more images and some videos from that visit which I would like to share with you.  Because of the rain on our first visit to the temple, and limited time to explore, I don’t have many photographs of our initial foray.  We didn’t get very far past the main gate and didn’t have any idea until later how extensive the complex is.  But our curiosities were aroused and so when we next had the opportunity on another day-long layover, we went straight to the temple, determined to spend as long as we liked there.

Building the Shinshoji Collection Out of Three Elements

My aesthetic meditation on the Shinshoji metalwork and its ornate botanical motifs, juxtaposed with simple profiles, became the three foundational components from which the Shinshoji Collection is compiled: the roughly 50 pieces of handmade, satin-finished sterling silver necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and pendants were created by combining these three architecture-derived shapes – Pierced Acanthus Lantern, Lotus Window, and Peony Door – in different combinations using silver chain and links of different sizes.

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Above: Acanthus Earrings No. 2 – show the Pierced Acanthus Lantern component

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Above: Peony Necklace No. 2, in which the Peony Door is the weight at the bottom of the drop and the Lotus Windows form ornaments that fall at the collarbone and create the transition from the necklace to the drop.

The Shinshoji Collection is an Opportunity to Create a Personalized Ensemble

What we have sought to achieve by combining three components to create an expansive collection of silver and blackened silver pieces is a range of jewelry items that can be assembled into hundreds of individualized ensembles for a range of aesthetics.

Because the collection is so big, we have decided to release it in stages while the first production run is underway.  We know you will want to put together individualized ensembles.  That has been the whole point behind offering you such a range of different and related pieces.  But you will also not be able to select your whole ensemble right away.  You will have the delicious pleasure and deferred gratification of pulling together your total look slowly during our special pre-order period.

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Pre-Ordering Your Personal Ensemble

While we are the pre-order phase, during this first production run, we are offering two special opportunities to our retail customers.

  1. We will have free shipping on all the jewelry during the pre-order period so you will have no penalty buying your ensemble in stages.  It will ship as a single wonderful look when the jewelry arrives from Bali in about a month.
  2. Every time you make a jewelry purchase, you will be entered in a drawing for a free pair of earrings of your choice to be given away at the end of the pre-order period when all pre-orders ship.

With these opportunities in mind, we have two different proposals for how you can take advantage of the pre-order period to build your individualized look.

  1. Purchase the pieces you love as they appear.  Each purchase, remember, will enter you to win a free pair of earrings of your choice.
  2. Start a wishlist to keep your favorites together as you build your look. We will give you the heads-up a week before our inventory is ready to ship from Indonesia so you can purchase your ensemble(s) all at once and still qualify for the pre-order free-shipping offer and be entered in the drawing for a free pair of earrings.
  3. Start picking out what you love from our Stage I release right now at juldesigns.com.

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If you look closely at the metal work on this building, you can see the pierced designs of the Acanthus Lantern. In my next post, I will delve deeper into this metal work and how it inspired a series of metal pieces that I pictured in my Instagram quite some time ago now, and which have now become part of a broadly accessible jewelry collection, no longer consigned only to my private collection of handmade-for-myself pieces.

It is thrilling to be able to share, with you, shapes, that have so long rolled around in my mind’s eye.

Coming Soon . . .

Images and videos of my son’s and my second visit to the Shinshoji temple will accompany the release of Stage II of the Shinshoji Collection later this week.