Monday, March 08, 2010

Family Jewels

Two heads are always better than one, and with sisters Tara and Courtney the proof is in the design.

            Twin sisters Tara and Courtney Neray started their company Slashpile Designs two years ago selling their intricate and imaginative jewelry designs. Now, a mere two years later, these ladies are experiencing success through online sales at the Slashpile Designs website and through word of mouth from their customers. I got a chance to interview these two masterminds as they were getting ready to design their latest collection for their site.

E: When did you both realize that jewelry was what you wanted to do? Was there a specific moment you can remember?

T: I realized in [the] second semester of my second year at OCAD. My program (material art and design) had three streams; fibre, jewelry and ceramics. I thought that I would major in fibre, but after one semester of jewelry making I realized it was more challenging and fun, so I started taking more classes in that.

C: I studied industrial design at OCAD. In the long term, I would like to be an industrial designer, but in the meantime, we realized that we’d make a great team of jewelers! I can use my product design skills (the user/market needs, branding and design) in the field of jewelry and learn about running a business and bringing our products to market.

E: What does jewelry mean to you?

T: Jewelry is a personal expression – wearable pieces that tell stories about an individual.

E: Is it hard working with each other all the time?

T: It can be hard, but for the most part we get along really well. We have divided up the tasks of running our business so that it is clear what each of us is responsible for. This has made it much easier – we are siblings after all, and sometimes we argue over silly things. For the most part, we get along really well and our areas of study compliment each other very well. Some of our jewelry lines we work on as a team, while others we work on separately.

E: Is there a certain talent that each of you specializes in to make your company successful?

T: Yes. Because of our education backgrounds, Courtney specializes more in the business stuff (she built our website, and does most of the graphics and packaging), and I specialize in the craft of jewelry making, although we both do both. We collaborate on most of the designs, and we both give input on everything. We also both do silversmithing and fabrication.

E: Who is your market?

T: Women, aged 21-50. People who have a sense of humour and like to wear fun, quirky and clever jewelry.

E: Do your designs reflect the current trends in the fashion industry or are they more synonymous with how you both are feeling at the time?

T: Our designs follow some fashion trends, but are more synonymous with current events. For example, our H1N1 pendants that we came out with over the holiday are more of a reflection of world events. We definitely have our own style, but we try to keep up with current trends in colour and theme.

E: Where can we buy your pieces?

T: In stores: Six in Toronto, one in Ottawa. On the web at Also at Upcoming craft shows and from our ebay shop or by emailing up directly at

E: Where do you see your company in five years?

T: In five years, we see ourselves possibly selling from our own storefront. We would like to have so much demand that we need to hire people to help fill orders.

E: Were there any moments when you felt like giving up? What would you say to someone who is trying to start their own line but feels like giving up?

T: We never felt like giving up, but it’s tough starting a business. We had originally hoped that we could do this full time and be able to support ourselves with this. After a year with no other jobs, we both got additional part time jobs to help out. Now we’re not as stressed out about it  My advice to someone starting out is that you should go for it and stay persistent. It’s ok to have another job that allows you to continue work on your own business – we have been making profit, but have found that its better to put the profit back into the company so that we can continue to grow to a point when we can support our company and pay ourselves proper wages.

E: What inspires you to design your pieces?

T: Our inspiration comes from personal experience. Most of our designs are based on concepts and stories that we have been a part of. For example, the Slashpile pieces we use as a kind of trophy for completing a season of tree planting. I worked at a planting camp for two years and had to stop because of a shoulder injury (the inspiration for our Injury Series) and Courtney was the best planter in her camp last year.

E: Will you try to sell your brand internationally?

T: Yes, we plan to participate in wholesale shows in the future, where buyers come from all over to seek out new designers, and would like to expand as much as possible. Currently, our work is available internationally through Etsy (ebay store).

E: Does the Canadian market support your pieces or are you finding more and more buyers are from the States, etc?

T: Most of our buyers are from Canada (customers in stores or at craft shows), however most of our customers on Etsy are from the United States. We even had one customer from Ireland purchase on Etsy!

E: Finally, can you give us a hint at what your designing next?

T: Upcoming for spring, you can look forward to our “Plant a tree series” our “What I want to be when I grow up” necklaces, and more molecules!

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