Jewelry Maker Tessa Donolli Sells Funky Accessories Starting at $15
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With a passion for crafting, Tessa Donolli has dabbled in many areas: crocheting and sewing, watercolor painting and ceramic making, to name a few. During the pandemic, jewelry making became a creative outlet for Donolli and she quickly turned the hobby into a growing side hustle. Through her website, she sells one-of-a-kind, statement jewelry that's also super affordable (wire-wrapped rings cost $15 and a pair of earrings are about $20).
The former Good Housekeeping video producer uses polymer clay and other affordable materials to create her stylish accessories. Although her unique aesthetic is near impossible to recreate, she shares step-by-step instructions for those inspired to make their own custom jewelry. Hint: She uses a pasta machine to roll the clay into sheets and cookie cutters to create perfect shapes.
Why are you drawn to jewelry making?
"I love color, and I want my jewelry to reflect that. My favorite part of jewelry making is wearing the pieces afterward. I love simple gold hoops, but it's too fun to not wear a different pair of earrings every day. Friends and customers tell me people compliment jewelry I've made, and that feels really good and keeps me going. I like helping other people feel good about what they're wearing and feeling like my jewelry completes the outfit."
How would you describe your style?
"I like to use the term 'pretty nonsense' to explain my style — it's nice to look at, but it doesn't really make any sense. My pieces are colorful, but they're tasteful. A lot of my personal style goes into making each piece. This is jewelry I would wear, because it’s really authentic to me and it's cool that other people resonate with that."
What is your creative process like?
"Most pieces are one of a kind. If a piece is really popular, I may try and recreate it, but it’s never going to look exactly the same. If I have a specific vision, sometimes I'll draw them out first — but usually, I'll just get into a creative flow and see what happens."
Try It Yourself:
Mix together colorful polymer clays, rolling the clay out into a sheet. Tip: Use a pasta maker for professional, even results
Create symmetric shapes with cookie cutters, or cut out organic designs
Bake the clay pieces in the oven for about 45 minutes at 275 degrees
Sand each piece until polished and shiny
Drill small holes for jump rings or earring hooks
Assemble the jewelry as desired
What have you learned as a business owner?
"It's an ebb and flow. There are going to be low points, but they'll be really awesome high points where you’re like 'I can't believe this is working out for me.' In the beginning, I was going up a slope thinking 'this is awesome. I'm learning a new thing, and people are recognizing it.' Then, there’s a moment where you start to either plateau or decline. I think if you can get yourself out of that initial downslope, you’ll see more success."
What gets you through those downward slopes?
"My love of crafting and making things with my hands. Whether I sell my work or not, at least I'm having a really good time making it — even if it's just to wear myself."
What's next for Donolli?
"I recently started taking metalsmithing classes, so I can start incorporating clay and metal together. There's a learning curve, but it’s really cool. I’m learning about different metals and precious gemstones, and I want to eventually introduce a fine line that’ll be a little more expensive. I’m also trying to go wholesome, and getting items into brick and mortar stores."
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