Where Sweetpea Began
In essence, Sweetpea began in the fall of 2002 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on a futon couch. I was living in a railroad apartment with a friend from college, working as an art Intern at Scholastic Inc.. I was fortunate that my internship paid, but it was just enough to cover my half of the rent. Frivolous spending was limited so we enjoyed the little things. We'd walk across the street to Peter Pan Bakery and buy donuts every Sunday morning, engorge ourselves with pizza from our favorite joint in the East Village every few weeks and I bought art supplies to keep my hands busy at night. Having majored in Printmaking I knew I wouldn't be doing much of that considering the space and hazardous materials it required so I kept myself busy drawing and making little watercolors. It wasn't until the night I decided to recreate a pair of earrings I had once admired in a shop when everything changed.
I remembered someone telling me about a hidden place in the Fashion District which was packed floor to ceiling with every bead, metal bit and doodad you could imagine. If they didn't have it, they could probably invent it right in front of your eyes if you asked...and they liked you. I had been forewarned the employees yelled a lot and it was likely they'd be rude but this didn't stop me. When I arrived to location of the mythical store I must have walked back and forth, passing it by at least ten times. I finally walked into a bodega and they told me it was the next door down. I walked outside and saw the door. It was open and it led me into a depressing, empty room with an elevator and a small hidden staircase. This can't be it I thought. I stood there deciding whether to press the elevator button, explore the staircase or neither. It was only until I heard a woman clunking down the stairs with a bag bursting at the seams with colorful treasures that I knew this was the place. I continued to go there for the next seven years and by the seventh, they finally acknowledged my existence. The ultimate task, achieved.
Returning to my couch in Greenpoint, my inspiration to make those earrings came from the day I spotted a set of intricately beaded, gold earrings encased by four walls of bulletproof glass. I wanted them. I wanted to be able to wave over the lady who ignored me when I walked in and tell her, "I'll take those. Thank you." Like anyone who was a teenager in the 90's might understand, I wanted to have my Pretty Woman moment, but that was the deal of working in Soho. It was the land of architecture, beauty and most notably, the unattainable.
I spent every free moment I had working on those earrings and on that final night of completion, I held them up against the bright light of my work lamp. They looked like a big old gold ball of a beaded mess. The light was barely able to shine through it was such a tangled disaster. I was disappointed yet hardly surprised. I had no idea what I was doing. This being before the time you could whip out your smart phone and google, "how to make a five layer cake under 30 minutes," I promptly went to the book store and bought a book on how to make jewelry.
I spent weekends cranking out necklaces and earrings. I signed up for flea markets and local art fairs selling my wares where I quickly became accustomed to being ignored, judged and haggled with. As the winter holiday seasons approached each year, my art director at Scholastic let me set up a display in a conference room. I even managed to get my pieces in a few stores in the East Village and when Etsy made its debut I signed myself up. Eventually Etsy became over saturated with people making the same stuff I was. I realized I was fully immersed in the never ending race of creating something new, unique, one of a kind and cheaper than everybody else's. It was and still is a struggle. The feeling of deep sadness when you think you've created the perfect unicorn, then discover through the great wide internet that 800 other people have already made it, are selling it and are giving free demos on YouTube how to make it may be the worst feeling. But there are plenty of positive moments that drown out those downers. Sweetpea coming to fruition being the biggest one of them all.
When those two East Village shop owners gave me the chance, the opportunity that had taken me years to gather the courage to even ask for, that was when I knew I wanted to be them one day and help other artists pursue their dream.