If you haven't heard, there is a new jewelry brand in town and they go by the name of Oru. Earlier today we met Megan of Oru. Tonight we are meeting the other half of Oru: Agnieszka Zoltowski. As we read about these two ladies talents, we can't help but crush hard and feel proud to share their story.
What is your background?
My parents were Polish immigrants, both of whom had art and design backgrounds, and who eventually started a home-based fine art and antique restoration business. I was raised surrounded by art and antiques, art books, and also a strong sense of entrepreneurship.
I studied Art History and French at Whitman College and upon graduating, started studying metal smithing at a community college while I worked as a custom fine jewelry designer in Seattle. That experience eventually brought me to Portland, where I attended Oregon College of Art and Craft to study metals and design. I had designed, constructed, and sold jewelry from an early age (see my parents’ influence above), but this art school was formative for me in sharpening my skills and learning how to think about design. After a tangential exploration into food, I eventually I landed a position as a production coordinator for a Portland-based jewelry company where I met Megan and haven’t looked back!
How did you get into jewelry design? What was life like before jewelry design?
I was obsessed with beads and jewelry from age 8, when I visited my first bead shop…I spent my entire savings of $25 on a few items that could fit entirely in the palm of my hand. I remember being shocked, and simultaneously totally hooked! My family used to go on daytrips around Seattle, where I grew up, and I always managed to find the bead shop in any new city and drag my parents there to pick up a few new gems for my collection. I had always been a bit of a rock hound, and had a semi-precious stone collection that I liked to show off to all the boys in my 4th grade class (they were jealous). So to see those same stones formed into beads that could become wearable objects was just the coolest. Before that? I was obsessed with books and - get this - miniatures. Yes, armoires, roll-top desks, handkerchiefs – all on a 1:24 scale. Go figure.
Do you make anything other than jewelry?
Lots of stuff – I love knitting, sewing, bookbinding, drawing…anything that involves color and using my hands – which also includes food. For about 5 years, I owned and operated a raw-vegan food business and it was such an amazing learning experience on a personal, business, and spiritual level. It was my first step in learning how to consciously access my intuition and creative flow when I started developing recipes, and it was an amazing experience. I have since been able to cultivate that flow in my own life and work with the support and expertise of my teacher, and I think that’s what helped me transition back into making jewelry, which feels so awesome and challenging at the same time.
Did you always think you'd have your own business?
When my sister and I were little, when asked what we wanted to do when we grew up, my sister’s answer was a consistent “I want 5 kids!” and my answer was always a variant of “I want to own a (fill in the blank) shop.” But oddly enough, as I got older, owning a business wasn’t something that came to mind as a viable option. I studied liberal arts, and was basically on the path of being a teacher.
Looking back at my home environment, upbringing, and natural inclinations, I’m surprised I didn’t consider it more seriously. I was totally that kid selling hemp necklaces on the Pier steps in Seattle, making and selling hand-bound books in college, and always investing my money in tools and materials knowing that I could make a return on them. I love the variety of challenges that come with managing a creative business, requiring a full set skills ranging from the academic to the practical. I love this question - it feels fun to connect to how amazing it is that I’m getting to do something that I always wanted to do!
What inspires you? Who is your biggest inspiration?
That’s an interesting question. Plants, color, shadow, sky, Portland…sometimes it’s simply the materials themselves that inspire me. In terms of people who inspire me, I have to say that it’s other makers and artists following their hearts, including Megan, and other entrepreneurs who take calculated risks to create something new.
Tell me about the different pieces in your collection. Do you have a favorite?
We have two collections available at this time – one that is more playful and designed around two-tone colors and another more refined collection that uses just one color per piece. The first has classic pieces such as the Alki Necklace and Shushumna earrings (both faves) but also more delicate pieces like the Tiny Bena Earrings that I wear every day. In the second collection we added more dimension, and even a noncircular curve to one of the styles – the Persephone – which is definitely my favorite.
Can you describe a day at Oru? How large is the Oru team?
I can easily sum that up by saying there is no regular day at Oru. We have a studio on the East end of Burnside Bridge in Portland, where we spend a good amount of time filling orders, weaving beads, participating in planning meetings, and designing/prototyping. While there’s plenty of space in the studio to do computer work, we end up working at our home studios fairly often as well – it’s so nice to have the variety! Currently, it’s just the two of us, but we often reach out to friends for help and guidance. We feel super lucky to have a community of people around us that believe in us and our work so much.
What's your favorite music to listen to when you work?
When we’re both in the studio, we listen to KEXP (a rad Seattle-based indie radio station) or if we want to hear some talking, we go to NPR…alone, I love Beyonce, J5, and Macklemore to get s#@t done, and Mt Eerie and Hammock for more contemplative studio vibes.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running your business?
Um, can I name ten? It’s funny, because we both have a solid amount of academic and professional experience in this field, but sometimes it still feels like all we do is learn lessons. I think something I’ve learned to do more is to research and make more calculated risks instead of impulsively taking action, and Megan has definitely played a part in that evolution. In the past, that’s what I felt I needed in order to move forward and just do it, but now it seems like I get to make more mature decisions the more experience I get. That’s pretty obvious in retrospect, but it has taken some time to learn that. Ultimately, I use my intuition as a guide, but it works way better when there’s a foundation of information to build upon.
What's next for Oru?
Everything! We just finished re-branding, and this is one of the first places it’s being launched – we’re so excited! We’re also in the process of creating a new collection that reinterprets our current materials in a more wearable way, which you’ll totally understand once you see it (Soon!). And down the line, we’re planning on opening a retail space in Portland where we can sell our own work as well as that of other amazing makers we have met on our journey. So much to enjoy now, and also to look forward to!