Around these parts, we like to learn about and from people who are running their own businesses – business we love and admire, and the women who are running shit behind the scenes. This week’s interview is with Rebecca Li, and artist and jewelry designer in California whose work is truly a beautiful, thoughtful extension of her own creativity and positive outlook on life. In this interview she explains why play is at least as important as work, tells us about “conscious engineering”, and describes the “aha” moment that brought her to designing jewelry.
Mind your Business: Tell us a bit about your background, previous work, etc. Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?
Rebecca Li: Every artist is an entrepreneur. I never considered that working in an office 9 to 5 is a lifestyle I wanted, so I had to start my own business.
Rebecca Li Studio isn’t the first company I started. After I graduated from a Masters program in fine art, I started two businesses that are far from the art world. Financially they were doing OK, and I gained a lot of business experience from those adventures, but they diverted me away from art, and I learned that doing something I don’t have a passion for doesn’t make me happy.
One thing that didn’t change in those years – I never stopped observing my world through the lens of an artist. An interesting observation I had was that we tend to repeat patterns in our lives. We move from place to place, we meet new people, but it seems like the same problems follow us and happen to us over and over again. When I took a closer look at myself, I saw a pattern too. I realized that I have been very lucky. When I run into difficulties, an unexpected solution might present itself; when bad things happen to me, I don’t see them as particularly unfortunate events, and sure enough, after some time has passed by, that particular “bad thing” actually leads me to a very good place. These experiences deepened my curiosity, and I tried many times and many ways to find out why they happen. During the process, I got into mediation, learned a concept called consciousness engineering. I was so thrilled to discover that there is a growing community of like-minded people, wanting to discover new ways to play in the world.
I realized that my own positive patterns of thoughts made me lucky, and I often wonder where this phenomenon comes from. Is it from my parents? They are very positive people but we often disagree with each other; they would never believe that thoughts can create reality, because they are both science professors. However they did give me a jade talisman when I was little. They said it would protect me and bring me good luck, and I believed it. When I think back, and I notice when things have started to go wrong, my talisman can ease me into a place of good feelings, then things slowly move in another direction. This trick was my “aha” moment, it brought me to where I am now, creating fine jewelry talismans that inspire people to be open-minded.
MyB: With your fine art background, were you always interested in jewelry? If you weren’t designing jewelry what do you think you’d be doing?
Rebecca Li: My mother was a gemologist. When I was about seven or eight years old, one of my favorite things was to go to work with mom, staying in her lab, playing with all sorts of beautiful and mysterious rocks. I never imaged myself becoming a jewelry designer at the time, but the beauty of the rocks that were billions of years old left an unforgettable mark on me. Now I live a multifaceted life just like the gemstones I work with. Designing jewelry is one side, but not the only one, I always keep my mind open to all possibilities.
MyB: What is the most challenging part of running your own business? What’s the best part?
Rebecca Li: Things happen for a reason. When I meet tasks that are challenging, I tend to see them as exciting opportunities, because it only means that there is something new for us to discover. The most challenging part of my business so far is finding time to do marketing. I enjoy the jewelry creating part, so I end up not spending enough time and effort on marketing. But again, I believe ideas are coming my way. I know I won’t see any solutions by focusing on the problem.
The best part is the joyful surprises I experienced along the way. I try to inspire people to be open-minded, to explore new ways to play, which in turn makes me happy. That’s enough reason for me to keep going.
MyB: I love your Six Senses design – what’s the story behind that piece?
Rebecca Li: I truly believe we do have a “sixth sense.” The sixth sense is our intuition. I want this piece to be an effective tool to help us trusting our inner self more.
The hexagon is a shape we see in nature very often – honeycombs, water crystals, diamond crystals, epithelial cells in our eyes, even Saturn’s north pole. It’s also sacred geometry in many human cultures. This shape resonates with me so much that I wanted to give my central stone a geometry that is constructed from a basic hexagon. As you can see, six is my message in the collection, which represents the six senses we have.
MyB: If you could only bring one piece with you on a desert island, which would it be?
Rebecca Li: I would bring my largest Six Senses Talisman with amethyst and rock crystal. I want to be very lucky out there for sure, so a talisman is a must, also my birth stone is amethyst. Purple lights me up.
MyB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Rebecca Li: Philosopher Allan Watts advised us to be completely engaged with what we are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. Children get it, but we adults often forget. Play is the keyword, because life is supposed to be fun, and our purpose here is to experience joy.
MyB: Can you give us any insight into new collections or designs on the horizon?
Rebecca Li: My original Six Senses is a relatively large pendant. It’s bold, but it’s not for everyday wear. I had collectors asking me to make it smaller, because they want to wear the talisman all the time to feel at their best every moment. That’s a great idea, so I made a series of mini Talismans. They are tiny, cute, and it come in seven different colors with various gemstones. It is something we can wear both day and night; plus, good things last forever–pass it to the next generation when the time is right, and see the magic flow through time.
MyB: What advice would you give someone who is looking to go into a similar business for themselves?
Rebecca Li: Identifying who you really are and what you stand for is the first thing a business owner should establish. Once this is clear, other things will be much easier to identify. We are essentially creating products that add value to our collectors. Without knowing the answers to the first two questions, it will be difficult to know the type of products we should make, the type of collectors we are serving, and where to find them. Our goal is to build a unique business that is true to ourselves yet creates value for others at the same time, so I think that knowing ourselves plays a big role in helping us to figure out a way to be unique in this highly competitive industry.