Raised on the West Coast, Christine Rio is a rain-loving Vancouverite who always had a passion for art and design, but chose the corporate world for the first half of her life. After dabbling in other mediums, and with a life-long love of jewelry, she discovered her passion for metalworking. The ability to take a sheet of metal and manipulate it into something no one has seen before. To create a piece of wearable art that is infused with history, with movement, with beauty – in all its imperfections. She tends to forge her own path with techniques and collections, and follows her intrinsic sense of design to create artful jewelry rather than fashion accessories. Her collections are known for intricate details, whimsy and contrasts. Historically, jewelry has always been about identifying oneself, making a statement about who we are at our core. This is what Slate Jewelry is about – women choosing pieces that speak to them and sharing those conversations. We thoroughly enjoyed our conversation with Christine digging a little deeper into her story and her business.
If you had to describe yourself in one sentence what would you say?
An artistic introvert who seeks to connect to the world by making beautiful things.
How and why did you begin your career?
I left my job in the corporate world to become a stay-at-home-mother. I had been commuting/working long hours, and my husband travelled Monday to Friday so our live-in nanny was raising our kids, and none of us were happy with the situation. I took over the hot lunch program at their school, making everything from scratch, but purchased an earring kit at Michael’s on a whim because I needed a creative outlet. I’ve always loved jewelry. I was hooked instantly, and signed up for a craft show in a retirement home within weeks. It just felt right from the start.
Describe your business – what makes it unique?
My jewelry is fairly distinctive on the Vancouver scene. I want to infuse each piece with a myriad of details so that there is always something new for the wearer to notice. I do everything by hand as well. I don’t use presses or rolling mills to cut out pieces or pattern them. I may not make a great volume of pieces, but each one is made with my heart and I think it shows in the finished work.
Where did your business start out and what did you do to get it to where you are today?
I started out at the kitchen table, and doing little craft fairs – the kinds with catnip mice and teapot cozies knitted by the grandmothers. Now I show my new collections at Vancouver Fashion Week, and have been noticed by Switch Magazine in Italy and Elle Canada. I’ve learned a lot in the past 9 years about the different techniques in jewelry making, but what has been most important is finding my own voice and sticking to that vision. What I make may not appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. What matters is that I am true to myself, and that is more important than how much I sell right now. My audience is out there, and we will find each other.
What do you love most about what you do?
What is there not to love? I’m so lucky to have the support to be able to go into my studio everyday and pick up a hammer, or turn on my torch, and create something. Honestly though, the feedback I get from people when they look at my work is so humbling and really fills me with joy. I love sharing what I do at events, and it inspires me to keep going.
Where do you see this business in 5 years?
I want Slate Jewelry to be a recognized brand across Canada and internationally. I would love to sell my work in Holt Renfrew or Nordstrom’s, and see it in editorial layouts in fashion magazines?
What is a passion project you are working on?
Does it sound vain to say myself? Since turning 50, I have finally recognized that I need, and deserve, to put my selfcare in the forefront. I’ve not always been to kind to myself, and I want to be around for a long time. It sets a better example for my children, and I’m enjoying feeling healthy and content.
Tell us about one/some of the most exciting projects that you’ve been part of!
Being invited to show a collection last spring for FW16 at Vancouver Fashion Week was such a thrill. I had never really designed with the idea of having a cohesive style around my jewelry so it was a new challenge to work to a theme. It’s definitely changed the way I approach my work overall, and now each season I am so excited to create new collections based on a central idea, and have the opportunity to tell a complete story.
What are a few of your must-haves?
Cuffs. I feel empowered wearing my metal cuffs. (Maybe because I was a fan of Wonder Woman when I was growing up). Otherwise, a simple black jacket, well-cut white t-shirts, a fabulous pair of heels. I’m pretty simple when it comes to fashion. I’m fairly monochromatic in black, white or grey, but I do love beautiful shoes and have a great collection of Fluevogs, Jeffrey Campbell and Sam Edelmans.
Who inspires you?
People that are true to themselves, and work against the grain. People that are open to imagination, wonder and curiousity. Dali, CS Lewis, Tolkien, Stephen Hawking, Julia Child. People that recognize it’s never too late to reinvent yourself when you are always open to new experiences.
What’s the number one value that you take with you through your personal life that extends into your business?
To be proud of one’s individuality. Sometimes it’s not easy, especially when I know that I could likely make more money by just giving in to follow trends. But that’s not being authentic, and I couldn’t be happy if I just caved to what’s popular. It’s a lesson I instill in my children every day.
What adversity have you faced in business?
Being taken seriously as a jewelry designer. I think because I came into this so suddenly, without any training, and just putting my work out there from the very beginning, that it’s been a challenge for some people to look at me as a legitimate designer. I understand that. It’s part of the reason why it was so important to rebrand myself last year, to separate that eager amateur from who I am now as a maker.
What would you like to say to young women with similar career goals?
It’s worth it – no matter the roadblocks. Find your voice and stick to your vision. Not everyone has to like what you do, but you have to love what you do. The rest will come.
What is your best promotional tool?
Instagram has been great for me. I’ve reached an international audience and keep getting followers everyday.
Why is the Lower Mainland a great place to live and work?
There is such support for the handmade community here. We have a diverse variety of makers who are producing such quality work that the general public is really growing to appreciate our efforts. From the food truck festivals, to the co-operative retail shops, to the many respected markets that are now found year-round in the city, the people are so receptive to those of us who are creating our paths.
“We are all worthwhile: every thought, every age, everyday.”
– Christine Rio, Founder of Slate Jewelery
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