Testing Her Metal: Industrial Jeweler Krista DeJoseph (MPA ’08)

Krista DeJoseph is an accidental entrepreneur. As an undergrad at SUNY Fredonia, she majored in English and double minored in women’s studies and American studies. She came to New York City in 2003 to work full time in the nonprofit sector. To advance herself professionally, she pursued a master’s degree from Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. But to feed her creative, hands-on side, she began taking metalsmithing classes as a hobby. That hobby became her jewelry business, Queens Metal (so named because DeJoseph creates her sculptural, industrial-inspired line in her Astoria, Queens, apartment). By the time DeJoseph had completed her MPA, she realized she had a full-time jewelry business on her hands.

DeJoseph, who was profiled in Time Out New York, graciously agreed to answer our questions about her life as an entrepreneur and her burgeoning business.

BCAM: What prompted you to take your first metalsmithing class?

DeJoseph: When I first moved to New York City, I immediately began investigating the various continuing education classes offered at venues like the 92nd Street Y. I’ve always been interested in acquiring skills that involve getting your hands dirty. So when I saw that the Jewish Community Center offered jewelry classes, I enrolled immediately. The prospect of working with hammers, metal, and fire was thrilling, and I was hooked from the very first class.

BCAM: How long has Queens Metal been in business?

DeJoseph: I’ve been slowly building the business for almost five years, but it’s really only been in the past two years or so that I’ve been making jewelry full time.

BCAM: How did your business develop?

DeJoseph: My business sort of took on a life of its own. Initially, making jewelry was a hobby, and if I sold a piece here or there, I was psyched. I never approached it as a business, which came back to bite me later—I strongly advise anyone interested in starting a business to develop a business plan. Once I began having consistent sales, I had to scramble to create an infrastructure that could keep up with my sales. I realized I needed things like a website, marketing materials, and photographs of my work. Now I spend a huge portion of every day focusing on the “business” aspect, with less time devoted to the “creating” aspect. That can be frustrating at times!

BCAM: Do you have any business partners or employees?

DeJoseph: I do have a small circle of people who help me out on an as-needed basis: a photographer, a PR rep, a jeweler, and a few “saleswomen” who help at craft shows. But for the most part, I carry the bulk of the work myself. Over the last year, I’ve been working on getting systems in place so that I’m not solely responsible for every aspect of the business, which will allow me to grow.

BCAM: So you plan to expand?

DeJoseph: It’s often assumed that one day I’d like to have my own store or sell my pieces in a department store. Actually I’m not interested in doing either. I like that my business is small; it allows me to be very flexible. I travel a lot for fun, and it’s important to me that I’m able to come and go as I please. Obviously, I am always striving to grow my customer base and increase profits, but I want Queens Metal to remain a small, independent company.

BCAM: What has been your challenge as an entrepreneur in this economy?

DeJoseph: Queens Metal just started to grow as the economy began to tank, so honestly I haven’t felt a hit from the economy since I don’t have a pre-recession frame of reference. However, the prices of silver and gold are directly related to the strength of the global economy, and in the past few years, I’ve seen the price of silver quadruple. It makes it very difficult to make the big, heavy pieces that I love, because the materials cost is sky high.

BCAM: How do you differentiate your product from all the other jewelry out there?

DeJoseph: The jewelry world is completely saturated. It’s tough to keep creating products that distinguish you from the rest. I work hard on creating a look that is distinctly “Queens Metal.” My customer is the kind of woman who has a little bit of an edge to her: she might wear a delicate necklace, but she’ll pair it with a huge pair of earrings or a badass ring. To sum up my aesthetic in four words: mixed metals, no gemstones.

BCAM: Who were your first customers?

DeJoseph: My first customer was my boyfriend. He bought a necklace for his sister. I tried to just give it to him, but he insisted on paying for it. After he passed away from leukemia, I created a necklace that raised money for a scholarship fund that is awarded annually in his memory. So my next paying customers were all the people who bought the fundraiser necklace—thus essentially launching my business.

BCAM: How have your designs changed over the years?

DeJoseph: Initially, I was selling simple, inexpensive pendants. As my collection evolved into more complex and unique designs, my customer base evolved too. I have a lot of customers in their twenties and thirties but also older customers who are interested in buying one-of-a-kind pieces.

BCAM: Are there any other jewelry designers you admire? Do you wear any pieces other than your own?

DeJoseph: I love jewelry created by Thomas Mann, Janine DeCresenzo, and Fred & Janis Tate. These days I wear only pieces I’ve designed; I’m a walking billboard!

BCAM: Which famous person would you love to see wearing your jewelry?

DeJoseph: I’m not picky—I’ll take any celebrity or pseudocelebrity who wants to wear Queens Metal! I get excited when I see regular people wearing something I’ve made. It’s not uncommon, when I’m at craft shows, for people to come up to me wearing something of mine that they bought previously. I’m always excited when that happens. It’s great to see that something you’ve made has a life beyond your workbench.

Check out Queens Metal.

Queens Metal’s Love/Hate Ring. “It’s my favorite. It has feminine curves, but it has an edge to it too–sort of like me!” Krista DeJoseph (MPA ’08 ) says.

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