OUR DESIGNER: WENDY MINK
Like jewelry, every story is crafted from a combination of things: an initial idea; some basic raw materials; a few skills and maybe a dash of experience; a little rethinking; some hard work and finessing; and, if all goes well, the final polishing. Some stories, however, aren’t so easy to craft: they present challenges; they assume their own lives, coming into being despite initial intention. They write themselves, so to speak. Our life stories are often like that, forming organically from experiences strung together like beads but without an immediately obvious design.
Wendy Mink’s story is one of these. It is to some extent a story of the unexpected, an example of how things that come out of the blue can shape our lives, lead us down paths we didn’t know were there, introduce us to people whose roles are not immediately apparent, to learning and experience that we are later able to apply in shaping our careers.
Wendy, newly qualified with a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University, had just signed the lease for a new art studio in the Meatpacking district of downtown Manhattan. She was excited about embarking on a career as a painter. And then a call from an old friend changed her life. Did she want to go to Nepal and work on a World Bank project? Help local people build the skills necessary to help make themselves financially independent? Experience a different part of the world, giving back at the same time?
For Wendy, the answer was yes, and it was a yes that changed her life path. Over a period of five years, she worked and traveled in Nepal and India, a phase during which—unknown to her at the time, but clear in retrospect—the idea for what would one day become her business germinated from a tiny invisible seed into a solidly rooted reality.
It is impossible not to be influenced by the stark difference in the way of life in countries like India and Nepal; few people return from such travel without their worldview having shifted, often fundamentally. Wendy recalls the poverty, the lack of resources, the breadth of challenges facing people in those regions. But equally she was touched by the sense of community, the benign influence of the Buddhist religion, the prevalence of rich, vibrant color. Always interested in and inspired by creative things, she began to learn the craft of jewelry making from a German friend who was a master jeweler. She had no idea that what was essentially a hobby, begun as a way of passing time creatively, would become the foundation of her career as a jewelry designer, a career that would take her back to New York, introducing her to other people who would become equally influential in her career.
Wendy sees the magic in encounters: how a casual suggestion, a random connection, the influence of a friend can create opportunity and change someone’s life. Wendy received her first significant order from Barney’s via an acquaintance (later a close friend) made at a trade fair. It was a moment of exultation, but equally daunting in its scale. Wendy remembers calling her father to tell him the amazing news, but panicking too: how would she ever raise the funds necessary to realize the order?
Every problem, however, has a solution and like so many entrepreneurial women, Wendy rose to the challenge and met it with apt resourcefulness. It is entirely befitting that the sale of a Tibetan prayer rug raised the money necessary to enable her to hire and train a small number of Tibetan women, living in New York on visas granted with the support of the Dalai Lama. Wendy shared the skills she herself had learned in Nepal to create new opportunity, something that fused traditions and transcended borders, that provided direction and meaning to women trying to create new lives for themselves in a place far from home. Over the years, Wendy’s team grew to the point where she had twenty women, all of whom sat around a large wooden table in Wendy’s studio, and crafted the jewelry for which Wendy is known.
Through a combination of creativity, vision, and an open-mindedness derived from her experiences living abroad, Wendy combines two very distinct traditions—the Indian and the Victorian—into something unique and beautiful. The Indian tradition furnishes exotic ornamental detailing, fine filigree, and rich, bold color. The Victorian tradition, one which has captured Wendy’s imagination since she was a young girl, provides romance and sentiment, a heritage of storytelling and association, and superior craftsmanship. Together, these two styles create a world of form and texture, color and delicacy that is as distinct as the journey that led to its creation.
It is commitment to high quality work that drives Wendy today. She believes that quality craftsmanship speaks for itself, that an eye for quality is one of the most invaluable skills that can be taught and learned. Perhaps typically, because so often we don’t see the narrative of our own lives, Wendy doesn’t see her own life as a story worth telling, that it’s her jewelry that counts. But her journeys, choices and commitment, her dedication to and passion for beautiful, well-made things that have a meaningful origin, are inspirational and together craft a story that speaks clearly for itself and the character of its author.