Silversmith Kristy Shean is a one-woman show. From jewelry design and creation, to boxing orders for shipment, Shean oversees every aspect of her business Broken Arrow Jewelry in her hometown, Huntington Beach, California. The surf, sand and Southwest serve as some of her biggest inspirations.
Her Potawatomi grandfather owned Whitlock’s Trading Company in Pismo Beach, California, selling Native American-made goods to tourists. Although the shop closed before she was born, Shean finds encouragement from the stories and pictures passed down through her family.
“I’ve always been into my personal heritage, and knowing I can continue my family traditions and keep that going is awesome,” Shean said during a phone interview with the Hownikan. “For me to be able to recreate Native American jewelry, like my ancestors, is so amazing.”
After a stint in culinary school, Shean began exploring new options to fuel her creativity. She found a jewelry-making course with a local community college teacher.
“I went and did three classes with her in her home studio, and she taught me the basics,” Shean said. “Once I learned the basics of silversmithing and what tools I would need, I stocked up, and from that point on, practiced on my own time.”
Shean spent the summer of 2015 honing her craft in her garage. By the end of season, she published a website and began selling hand-crafted pieces of jewelry to friends and customers.
“I wouldn’t have thought it was going to be a full-time job, but it’s just something that I love doing,” she said. “I feel like if you put enough time and effort into anything you like, you can turn it into something.”
Day in Shean’s life
Living on the West Coast with her husband and pet Australian Shepard, Shean takes advantage of the warm sunshine and pristine beaches nearby. She focuses on balancing her love for the outdoors with the demands of running a small business.
“I try to give myself at least one full day off a week,” she said. “I could have two, but I don’t mind working.”
In the mornings, Shean checks on orders and prioritizes her work, finishing pieces throughout the day. She also makes time for marketing and developing new products.
“This week, I’m working half on orders, half on the website — getting the new products listed and adding all the product descriptions,” Shean said. “Then next week, I will have some more orders from this last collection that I need to wrap up, then hopefully I’ll have more from the release this Saturday.”
Her home workshop offers the opportunity for creating whenever inspiration arises, day or night.
“If I’m just sitting around, I’ll go work on some pieces or orders. There’s always something I have to do,” Shean said.
When Shean first started Broken Arrow Jewelry, most of the business revolved around custom orders. Although she still offers customization options, Broken Arrow Jewelry has expanded with seasonal lines and products that provide greater wholesale opportunities.
“I’ve been focused on getting more inventory on my website. What I’ll do is each month, I kind of come up with a scheme for a collection … and I choose stones and make my design around that,” she explained.
Shean does not sketch designs but rather experiments with stones and metal to bring her ideas to life.
“I look at inspiration from Native American jewelry from the 1920s to 1970s, and when I see pieces I like — I’ll see a design from one vintage piece and another one, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that would look cool if I merged those,’ and I’ll use that design as inspo (sic),” Shean said.
She sources gems and turquoise from vendors across the Southwest and through gem fairs in Arizona. Shean prefers to purchase raw stones that she can polish with a CabKing machine herself, giving even greater control over the quality of her work. However, for some collections, she purchases already processed stone from New Mexican artisans.
“They’re very precise on the shape and the mine — they all look similar. Which is great for made-to-order pieces,” she explained.
It also cuts down on labor, and as her business continues to grow, time has become increasingly more valuable.
Shean utilizes her past experiences working in retail and for other small businesses to build her company.
“I’ve seen how the back of the house works with finances and marketing,” she said. “At the end of the day, you just have to have good products you’re selling. That’s the main goal right there, but after that, the rest just falls into place.”
The success and growth Broken Arrow Jewelry has experienced over the past five years offers Shean a sense of accomplishment.
“Being a woman and owning a small business is empowering in itself,” Shean said.
“Honestly, I love working for myself. I feel accomplished at the end of the day, and I don’t want to stop. I am grateful for every sell, so I just keep creating and hoping that people will keep loving it and purchasing it so I can work for myself for as long as I can.”