Late at night, when her husband and two-year-old boy are snug in their beds dreaming, Jill Skinner works to make her dreams come true by creating beautiful jewelry.
She gathers turquoise and metals from her favorite dealers to create unique, custom pieces for her clients. Every piece is different, and several are one of a kind. Her hand-crafted items are special, popular as gifts and the growing number of orders keeps Skinner awake at night. But she doesn’t mind.
Skinner owns The Classy Trailer, a jewelry business in her hometown of Napa Valley, California. She began making a few fun pieces for family and friends. Her jewelry was popular among them and requests came in for more so Skinner set up a shop on Etsy.com. Then, about two years ago a friend requested a brand pendant. After Skinner finished it one night and posted it on her Etsy site she went to sleep.
She woke the next morning to thousands of likes for The Classy Trailer on Facebook and Instagram. Shocked, Skinner and her husband couldn’t believe the popularity of her pieces. All of her previous orders had been fulfilled through word of mouth so the overnight success of her online post was startling.
“The business kind of outgrew me,” she says.
Skinner’s interest in jewelry began when she was single and working for a large animal reproductive veterinarian. She did some beadwork on the side to keep from going stir crazy at home. After marrying her husband, she began to dabble less in jewelry and more with horses and cattle. For several years Skinner also has helped a local family with their club calf herd including feeding and fitting their heifers and steers.
Skinner grew up showing horses and was active in 4-H and FFA in high school. And though her spouse was not into livestock she convinced him to buy a bred cow so Skinner could raise a few club calves. Currently she has five cows, two of which are calving this winter, and this show season will feature two of Skinner’s heifers and a steer exhibited by juniors.
Her love for animals inspires her designs, and The Classy Trailer has now designed thousands of pieces including southwestern cuffs, rings and pendants designed from her home then shipped to customers across the U.S. Most recently a piece was mailed to a cattle dog customer in Finland.
“Because I have a large livestock customer base I am pretty geared toward western style of jewelry,” she says. “They are my inspiration. I don’t look at other artists’ work because it’s easy to get distracted. I try to focus on my conversations with customers and what they want or like.”
In order to get her work done, this wife/mom/jewelry designer has a strict daily routine. In the morning she and her son go to her friends’ ranches to check waterers, feed heifers and other morning chores. Next, while her little boy plays Skinner can accomplish a bit of work like responding to emails, and later while he naps she takes care of online duties like posting photos and comments. After evening chores of caring for her two geldings and a donkey, Skinner makes dinner for her family and puts them to bed. Finally it’s time to make jewelry, a task that goes late into the evening.
“I have to sacrifice something and right now it’s sleep,” Skinner says. “There are times when I have to get this piece done or else. And sometimes I might have to walk away and do something else then come back to it. As long as it’s not an engagement or Christmas order I’m not so deadline-oriented. My clients have been great and patient.”
The next venture for Skinner is to decide if The Classy Trailer should take a leap of faith and hire employees and potentially build a shop to house the business. She is also considering taking her products to trunk and trade shows in 2016.
Currently when clients orders jewelry Skinner listens to their description then works to create it, emailing them back and forth to make sure the piece will meet their expectations. Looking back to how her business began from scratch, Skinner says utilizing social media and creating orders online is a much bigger deal than if she’d started even ten years ago. Her advice to anyone looking to begin their own business is to “just start.”
“You’ve got to start someplace,” Skinner says. “I always wanted to do this before I was actually able to do it. You really have a small chance of time to get going, and you should go for it and see what happens.”
Skinner hopes to grow more than The Classy Trailer this year. She would also like to expand her cow herd and continue to work with the local show family on their projects. And she has some big jewelry projects to complete, one being a large sterling silver cuff with three ranch brands and three pieces of turquoise. The other project is a belt buckle, which requires partnering with a shop that does leather work.
Though sleep is hard to come by for Skinner she makes sure to make the time she has to work on jewelry really counts. She says being creative and managing her own business is possible because it’s where her heart is. Skinner loves her livestock and agriculture customers and feels there is a special connection when she’s working on a piece for a fellow show ring enthusiast.
“Sometimes it’s hard to stay creative and it feels like no amount of coffee can make me think of something good,” she says. “When that happens I just go see the cows and play with my toddler. My advice to others starting a business is to stay true to yourself. Your brand is reflection of you, and if you love what you do it will show.”