Fly Female Entrepreneur
What do you get when you combine natural beauty, unparalleled magnetism and enough positive energy to fill up the largest space you can imagine? A designer on the rise that’s soon to be your favorite household name – Tasha West. A woman of many talents, Tasha West has the ability to gracefully move from jewelry designer to illustrator like none other. Over the past couple years, this Renaissance woman has single-handedly taken her highly coveted jewelry line to new heights and like a true multitasker, even found time to illustrate three of Common’s children’s books – Mixed Emotions, I Like You, But I Love Me and The Mirror and Me.
Tasha West designs can be spotted on the wrists and necklines of some of the hottest artists in the industry and as of just last week, can also be found at Anthropologie in New York City’s Rockefeller Center (additional locations TBA). With the spirit of a cheerleader and that girlfriend who always has your back, Tasha has served as a beacon of light and inspiration to me in all of my endeavors. It is with great pleasure that I present to you this week’s Fly Female Entrepreneur, Miss Tasha West!
In Her Shoes: Please introduce yourself to In Her Shoes readers and tell us a little about yourself and the Tasha West line.
Tasha West: My birth name is Lorraine Natasha West. I was born in Central Islip, New York. I was raised by Caribbean parents and am the fifth child out of six. My parents have been very influential in my life as they are both creative entrepreneurs. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be professional artist as an adult. I’ve always had a passion for art, fashion & design and studied illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I graduated with a BFA in 1998.
During my junior year at F.I.T. I began working with wire and beads during my down time from studies. I gave sculpted one-of-a-kind wire rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets to family and friends as gifts. It wasn’t until I actually sold my first piece that I realized I wanted jewelry design to be an integral medium I used for expression. I had no idea I would soon be experimenting with sheet metal, semi-precious gems and lost wax carving. I thoroughly enjoyed the designing process from beginning to end and by late 1999/early 2000 I was in business!
Because I’m always evolving, my lines have gone by the names Lorraine West and LWest since launching my business. My parents, siblings and close family friends call me “Tasha” at home. Only a small group know me by that name so it always made me feel like I had a hidden side that the rest of the world wasn’t privy to. The evolution to the Tasha West brand was inspired by another side of myself. Tasha West is my alter ego if you will so “freedom to dare to live the fantasy” is the motto that instantly came to mind when describing what the brand represents.
In Her Shoes: What is your design process?
Tasha West: My design process varies. Sometimes I’m inspired by a single shape or form then I’ll sit down and do multiple sketches to see how that one shape can turn into a collection of earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings. I always shoot for collections to be interchangeable with one another.
I’ve always been moved by the shapes of feathers, leaves, flowers, trees. The colors of the changing seasons and tropical locations encourage me to search for stones that glimmer and burst with color.
Following is my 8-step design process at-a-glance:
Package mail out
In Her Shoes: What are your top five inspirations?
Earth (flowers and trees)
The Sun (reflective)
In Her Shoes: What is a day like in Tasha West’s shoes?
Tasha West: Every day is different in my world and I work to make the most of each one! When I’m creating a collection, prep work is required before anything begins. I have to make sure all of my final sketches and patterns are accurate to carve or cut wax models, sheet metal, or chains. I pay lots of attention to details so every piece must be accurate. Without realizing it, I may spend an entire afternoon in a supply store searching for the perfect pieces of metal, strands of stone, findings or chains.
If working on a custom order, I may either speak to the client over the phone or in person to go over what they’re looking for. I’ll create a mini inspiration board based off of our conversation and reference it frequently to come up with preliminary and final sketches.
Once I receive the client’s approval, it’s back to production mode until the project is completed. I really love seeing a piece through from conception to completion. It’s one of the many things that bring me joy in life!
In Her Shoes: Congrats on landing one of our favorite stores, Anthropologie, as a Tasha West client! What advice would you give to jewelry designers working diligently to get their work placed in mass retail?
Tasha West: Thank you so much! It’s a dream come true. As a bit of advice to designers who’d like to get their work picked up by mass retailers I’d say know what market your brand appeals to. Is your brand high, mid, or low end? There are mass retailers that cater to all three consumer levels so you’ll need to identify with the one that applies to your brand. Once you’ve determined which retailers you want to target, research the vendors they currently carry. You’ve got to make sure that the quality of your product can stand next to the store’s most successful vendors.
If you haven’t already, create a website or blog that will allow clients and buyers to view your work. Design a line sheet with high resolution images of your work, style numbers, wholesale pricing and suggested retail pricing.
It’s also important to plan the year ahead. How will personal, business and production costs be covered? Everyone wants to have their work placed in mass retail, but first make sure you can produce large quantities before signing a contract or purchase order. It’s all about supply and demand! Once you’ve sealed the deal, be sure to complete the order on time to avoid cancellation. I’ve learned countless lessons in my relationships, like the importance of completing all Nafta forms accurately to avoid charge backs.
In Her Shoes: What have been some of your favorite pieces you’ve created and why?
Tasha West: I love all of my children equally but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Nipple Bangle from the Nurture collection. I was experimenting one day with wire and came up with an interesting shape. The shape ended up being a nipple on the end of the bangle and it was totally unplanned! What’s interesting is that the Nipple Bangle has been one of my most popular and best selling metal pieces. The bangles represent nurturing, comforting and to some woman, fertility. I wear mine everyday so it’s like my good luck charm!
In Her Shoes: What emotions do you want your jewelry to provoke?
Tasha West: Love, beauty, sensuality, strength, courage, inhibition, and freedom!
In Her Shoes: Tasha West has commanded an impressive roster of celebrity clients. How did this come to be?
Tasha West: I was blessed to meet Erykah Badu back in Fall 1996. I happened to see her at a poetry reading in Brooklyn, (the Sunday Tea Party) so I introduced myself and told her that I wanted to give her a portrait. When I met up with her to give her the painting she invited me to one of her very first shows in NYC. I was enamored by her talent and beauty. We kept in touch through mutual contacts. A few years later I started designing jewelry and she bought a couple of my early pieces. I’ve been designing for her ever since!
My work with Erykah Badu created a trickle effect as my relationship with her led to the development of pieces for other talented artists like Andre 3000, Common, Quest Love and Raphael Saadiq just to name a few. After receiving my first order from Badu, I purchased a professional set of various pliers and cutters that I still use it to this day!
In Her Shoes: Where would you like to see Tasha West (the woman and the jewelry line) in five years?
Tasha West: Well for starters, I’d like for Tasha West to be bigger and better than ever. I plan to be happy, healthy, well traveled and spiritually grounded. I’d like to receive a Masters degree in Design. My work will be sold in select high end boutiques world wide (like Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman). I’d like to own a studio/boutique and have a strong client base and professional network of colleagues. I want to continue to adorn and bring joy into my client’s lives by creating amazing pieces!
Ready to put that final exclamation point on your favorite Spring looks? Visit www.tashawest.com and be blessed!