Twisted Ginger silversmith grows her business close to home

Silversmith Erin Kandoll has always considered herself an artist.

When the Pilot visited Kandoll's studio, her ginger-color hair sat atop her head in a hair bun while she sorted out dozens of turquoise stones.

Twisted Ginger, the name of Kandoll's silver-and-stone jewelry business, was born from a creative pastime.

"Started from a state room on the Kestrel with my tackle box ... then to the garage ... to selling everything, to quitting, and then to this," Kandoll recalled. "Now, I'm just ... living my dream."

"I started 10 years ago when I was just twisting wire into shapes, and then Twisted Ginger came about from that..."

She was working on the R/V Kestrel, an ADF&G research vessel based out of Petersburg, and recalls carrying a tackle box with her jewelry making supplies, diving into her hobby on the boat during break time.

"It started as a means to kind of cope with grief. I went through a really traumatic event on that boat ... our captain passed away on the boat and I was the one who found him, and it was just really traumatic. I'd read that you could heal PTS with like working with your hands and with metal especially. So that was kind of how it came to be ... although I always loved jewelry ... I really dove in."

From what started as a hobby that helped her to heal, is now a booming business a decade later - but it was not a simple journey.

"During the pandemic, I was pregnant, I had decided to sell everything off and I was gonna quit making jewelry because I wasn't really making any money on it. It was kind of like an expensive hobby..." Kandoll recalled.

But she stumbled upon a podcast from an online business academy, and signed up for one of the bootcamps.

She wanted to make jewelry, but needed to learn how to earn revenue from it because she struggled to justify the time it took away from spending with family.

Kandoll took a leap of faith and joined a virtual course focused on business development.

"I started making jewelry again, but this time ... with a better [foundation]."

She continues to attend the courses through Flourish and Thrive Academy that have helped her grow along with her jewelry business.

Kandoll was invited by the program to a retreat in Arizona after participating in the courses and engaging with their virtual community for a couple years.

"I was in the room with all the people instead of just online, and I was so inspired by all these jewelry designers. And they were all women, and they were all just kicking ass. And I was like, these are my people! Like, I want to be in this community."

Soon after, she joined the year-long program. "And that's when things really started picking up..."

After finding the podcast and enrolling in the classes, Kandoll noticed substantial growth as she learned to have and build an online presence, build her website where she does the majority of her sales, set financial goals and learn marketing strategies. In her first year, Kandoll's sales tripled; this year, Twisted Ginger is about to triple sales again.

Her sales are almost all online, but now Twisted Ginger is on track for growing wholesale - which, in Kandoll's words, is "like a symbiotic relationship with a store" owned by other small, local businesses. Her work can be found at brick and mortar storefronts in Juneau, Petersburg, and Ketchikan.

Her "starting goal" for growing wholesale is to start outreach in "all the Southeast communities first, and then Pacific Northwest."

"And then next year, I'll travel doing wholesale trade shows to try to expand even further."

"The local community here [in Petersburg], from the beginning, has been the biggest supporters," Kandoll emphasized. "They would show up time and time again to my shows ... and now I'm doing a lot of custom work with the stones."

She said locals will pick out a stone "and then we build a piece around what they want to make ... it's really fun."

She has an online process to make custom work for people out of town as well.

Kandoll does multiple things, but she says custom design work is one of her favorites.

"So that's where we intuitively select a stone," Kandoll said, laying out one of her stone drawers. "I always tell them, 'whatever you're drawn to' ... and then we can build a piece around it. And I have multiple styles..."

From standard rope border, shadow box designs to intricate leafy pieces, "all of this starts from a sheet of silver."

She pulled out some recent works from her Twisted Ginger New Signature Line which released in alignment with her 16th year in Alaska, a magenta saw with a broken blade thin as a wire, and a thin sheet of 925 sterling silver.

Leaves are drawn, then sawed, then stamped, then shaped, then soldered. "So every single thing on here," she pointed out the silver leaves on a piece she was working with, "starts from a sheet of silver."

The more elaborate pieces like these can take Kandoll around 17 hours, "barring that nothing goes wrong," from cutting, to soldering, to cleaning, packaging it up and shipping it off.

Her standard pieces usually take up to 10 hours.

Twisted Ginger drops monthly collections of six to eight pieces.

Kandoll sent out a gemstone guide with her recent drop, "so people can look through the stones and understand the properties..."

"Somebody may not understand why they're continually attracted to this certain type of stone, but then if you show them [more about it] they're like ... that makes sense, that totally resonates with me."

When she jumped back into the jewelry business in tandem with the schooling, Kandoll had been collecting stones for her pieces. "I have whole drawers full..."

"I've always been a crystal person and I was really drawn to these stones." Her collection grew from online sales by lapidaries -people who cut the stone- on Instagram. As her drawers filled with different kinds of colorful stones, she started making jewelry "and getting into the more intricate silver smithing, at that time ... and basically built my business around making stone jewelry."

Now, Kandoll has her favorite lapidaries, who have become her friends as well, and hops online for their weekly sales. "The first person to comment 'me' on the stone wins it. It's kind of a rush..."

Rows and drawers of iron maiden turquoise, earth jasper, opal wood, and desert bloom variscite are only a fraction of her collection to choose from.

When a person comes to her studio for a custom work, Kandoll lets the customer go through the several drawers of stones, pick the ones they may want, and lay them out to decide which one will be used for their jewelry piece. "Just pull out what you feel intuitively drawn to," she advises.

According to Kandoll's observations of this process, most of the time the person ultimately goes with the first stone they chose and laid out on the board.

These days, Kandoll works out of an at-home studio made from a remodeled shipping container.

"I'm working like Monday through Friday, eight to five like a normal job, and then some, usually," she shared with a chuckle. "I have two kids and my husband's a fisherman, so I try to balance it..."

At a quick glance, her studio's past use as a shipping container is nearly inconspicuous: a covered porch with stairs, seats and patio lights on the outside, placed right next to her family's home on northern Mitkof Island.

The studio is entered through a door from an old tugboat. Soft light from small lanterns brighten the indoor space along with natural daylight pouring in from custom-installed windows.

Kandoll used to work out of her garage. "It was dark and cold and rainy, and no windows. And it was fine, but it was just starting to grow out of the garage."

On the same day her husband, Matte, suggested the idea of working out of a separate facility, a brown, bare-bones shipping container was listed on the local buy, sell, trade Facebook group - rusted on the outside but with plywood walls and the old tugboat Ocean Prowler's boat door, no windows but still had ventilation and a heat pump.

The Kandolls decided "we're going for it."

They dug out the area right next to their house and layed rock down to drop the container upon. The 19-foot container fit perfectly within the zoning distances on the property, she described.

After summer 2023, the container was transformed into the cozy studio Kandoll works out of today.

Her husband, Matte, did the build-out for the shipping container.

"It came as just a tin box and had the door. And he cut the windows, painted it, did all the interior work ... so yeah, he's kind of like the muscle," Kandoll said. "This winter when he was home, he was ... taking care of the kids and cooking and doing the laundry and all that stuff while I worked. So yeah, he's behind the scenes support."

But as for the silversmithing, "We were gonna give it a try. He came out here for a little bit to try some stuff, but it really just wasn't his thing..."

"It takes time to learn, like even just sawing ... I still pop saw blades all the time because they're teeny tiny ... or soldering. Things will fall off... It's an ever-learning curve," she explained.

"Basically, now [Twisted Ginger is] becoming a source of ... income for our family. I mean, we're still in this transition where we're paying off all the investments that went into it, but at the track that we're on, it's gonna be a ... full 'nother income for our family. And that's important because fishing last year, I mean, the price of salmon plummeted. So ... on those years when it's up and down, it's gonna be nice to have some consistent [income] ... hopefully. We can only hope for the best," she said.

Working aboard the research vessel, she would often be at sea for a week at a time; now her work is close to home - and her heart.

"I went through this whole push and pull about ... giving up time with my kids ... that was really hard for me, emotionally. And this is one thing my coaches at school kind of helped me come to find out within myself ... I want to be a mom, and I also want to have a career doing something I love because I want to show [my kids] that they can follow their dreams and make a career out of what they love."

Most days after school, her two children come to her workspace and check in on what Kandoll is doing. "They see me ... taking art, making it into a career, [and] the hard work that comes with it."

Her hard work dedicated to her goals demonstrates for her two children that they can do something they love and that goals are possible to achieve with effort and hard work.

"The term 'starving artists' doesn't have to be a forever term," she said. "We can change that."

 

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