Designer Interview: Nina Berenato
IN DISCUSSION WITH NINA ABOUT HER NEW COLLECTION ‘MOTHER’ AND ALL THINGS EMPOWERING.
Interviewed by: Jasmine Ariel Branam
Nina Berenato is a force of nature. The Austin based jewelry designer knows a thing or two about honing in on a vision and making sure everything surrounding her is in alignment with that vision. After college, she moved to Brooklyn and stumbled across the opportunity to become an apprentice jeweler, the experience that granted her the platform to learn ancient metal-smithing techniques. From there, she spent five years working for her mentor, eventually debuting her designs in 2008.
Nina is a bonafide craftswoman who has become a fixture in Austin’s growing community of makers. With a flagship store currently housing her showroom and production studio, every piece made in the shop still passes through her hands. “My team and I do the best part to preserve traditional metal-smithing as both an art form and a way for us to sustain ourselves financially.” Employing only women at her company, is another way to spark change by lessening the wage gap. On average, women make 80.5 cents to every dollar a man makes.
With most brands obsessing over 'the next best thing.', Nina Berenato is all about allowing her real-life plans for the future (she has a spread-sheet called Nina’s master-plan— storing all her cool ideas) guide her creativity.
JB: Nina, I’m so excited to speak with you today. Could we jump start this discussion with a bit about your background and what inspired you to start making jewelry?
NB: I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. I went to school there and studied fashion design. I never thought I’d make jewelry. I always thought I’d do apparel. I didn’t study metal-smithing in college. I eventually moved to Brooklyn and ended up working as a jewelry apprentice.
Wow, that’s so cool. How’d the opportunity to apprentice come about?
Through my styling job, I met a jewelry designer. I told her that I didn’t know anything about making jewelry, that I wanted to make apparel. She convinced me to come into her green-point studio, and it was just this amazing place. Basically, it was a community studio where jewelers shared their tools and tricks of the trade.
I ended up diving right into the process. I worked really hard for my mentor. To the point, when she left New York, I was producing her line.
We became like best friends.
Incredible, it seems like the perfect opportunities present themselves when we are ready. The best things in life appear to have an organic flow to them.
Definitely, another great thing about being in the space was that there were all these designers, with different expertise, who could help me out anytime I ran into a problem.
My first collection was all these little boxes, and I didn’t have that much metal-smithing knowledge to know that my designs were going to be impossible to make. So, I needed a lot of help and I just had all these people there to give me ideas. I had access to all this equipment that I never would have been able to afford in the beginning.
It kinda just fell into my lap in the most amazing way.
Wow, that’s great. I noticed that your design process is very intuitive. How do you go about creating modern designs that over-ride fashion trends and speak to your personal vision?
I don’t really look at what’s happening in the fashion world. I don’t follow anybody that is a jewelry designer. I stay off my Instagram feed. I post what I want to post and try not look at what anybody else is doing. That helps me stay true to my own creativity. Sometimes you may see something, and it sticks in your mind, then when you’re in your creative process it resurfaces. It feels like an original idea, but really, it’s just something that you’ve already seen.
I try to isolate myself from a lot of that and instead saturate myself with modern art. Things that I can derive ideas from versus unintentionally copying something.
Almost everything I make is constructed from pieces of rod, or base metal, to form all these geometric shapes. I’ll just start soldering and allow the shapes to form.
Your pieces have a defining element of armor to them. How important is it for you to empower women?
It started with me making things inspired by mythology because it was something that I was interested in.
It wasn’t until I moved to Austin, that I had the opportunity to get face to face with my customers.
I had the chance to have people off the street come into the store and tell me how the jewelry made them feel. That made me realize the feeling that I could give through my jewelry. Hearing people’s comments affirmed to me that these pieces do feel like armor to them. That I was executing what I felt about the jewelry. It made the mission really clear.
Right, that’s what it’s all about. Being that vessel for woman-hood, for creativity, and allowing that inspiration to grow.
American made-manufacturing is dear to the heart of Casting de Khrysopoeia, how vital is it to you that your designs are manufactured in the USA?
It’s something we’ll never compromise on. I get asked the question all the time, about how we’re going to scale, and I think about it constantly. At the end of the day, I’m not sure the way that we produce is scalable to that level. I’m okay with that because it’s more important that we continue to produce the way that we do, and touch every piece of jewelry.
I’m not someone that’s super driven by money. It's great, but it’s not my end goal. There are bigger things for me. Like, giving the women that work for me jobs and being able to make things that bring me joy. No amount of profit, we could potentially make, will be worth sacrificing that.
Definitely, you are big on giving back and adding to your community, with initiatives like “A Year of Good for Girls”, where you’ve partnered with 12 Austin based charities to accept donations on their behalf all year long. To reward the community for doing good, each donation is matched with a Nina Berenato jewelry store credit. What does it mean for your company to be a fixture of creativity in Austin’s maker’s scene?
I’ve always said we’ll never say no to charity. We’ve been so lucky to get where we are in such a short time. In Austin specifically, we came here, started in an airstream bambi, and grew to a flag-ship in the biggest shopping district. Seeing that growth, that came from the support of my community, I don’t see how someone could take that and not immediately want to put it back into the community. It’s just our duty to pay that forward in whatever way.
Just the other day, I did an event that benefited the milk bank. I’m not a mother, but it’s really interesting all the things that happen to a woman’s body while pregnant. I got to sit there and listen to women tell their stories about what it was like to nurse and the different feelings that came from motherhood. Being able to be a part of moments like that is so gratifying for me.
With your new collection denoting to mother-hood how important is it for you to represent the archetype?
It’s hugely important. With my therapist, I’m personally working through the idea of gender roles, because I am fiercely independent, and don’t believe in any of it. I grew up with a mom that is very loving, nurturing and self-sacrificing. Sometimes I am a little bit irked by that kind of woman. I’m working on being able to accept help, and love from a partner, which doesn’t mean that you’re weak. It doesn’t mean that you’re falling into a gender-role. It just means that you are having a relationship where you can accept support from another person. We can strive way too far into independence, where we can’t accept anything, and then it’s not even a partnership. You’re not allowing yourself to be a partner.
Those types of things were coming up and I was having to do appreciation work for my mom. Some of the things that I’d observed about her personality, that I thought originally were negative, I was realizing perhaps were strengths. I just kinda wanted to feel all the feels and that always comes up in my work.
Wow, in terms of well-being, nurturing, and connecting to ones-self what does self-love mean to you?
When it comes to self-love, I feel like a lot of my self-love rituals are doing things that make my soul happy, but a lot of those things happen at work. So it’s been a struggle for me to discover my self-love outside of the store. I’m not somebody that goes to the spa or whatever. I think a lot of the stuff that I’ve been trying to do is going to be my new self-care rituals. Taking time to clear my mind of excess thoughts. Finding a place in my day for meditation.
That’s amazing. At your flagship store you offer comprehensive jewelry-making classes and craft work-shops to the public. What does the art of craftsmanship represent for you as a designer, maker, and a business woman?
The whole jewelry making scene is very ancient. It’s getting a little bit lost in the clutter of things being manufactured oversees and digitally. It’s super important for me to show people what goes into a piece of jewelry. When they take a class with me they leave shocked that they made this thing. Realizing what goes into the process, they have a whole new respect for American hand-made.
Letting people work with their hands to realize their own power. Being able to offer them that is hugely important.
You’ve had some incredible women wear your jewelry, from FKA twigs, to Alicia Keys and Ruby Rose, who are all very vocal about their personal missions. Is there anyone else that you would love to see rocking your line?
Omg yes! Do you guys know Ashley Longshore? She’s a pop artist who makes these amazing paintings, like funny one’s with Lil Wayne. She was basically told by the art world that she wasn’t the type of artist that they wanted, and a lot of doors were shut on her. I’m sending her a bunch of jewelry and I’m so excited to see her wear it.
Honestly, seeing real people wearing my jewelry is just as exciting as seeing a celebrity. I fangirl out. It’s so weird. When I see other jewelry designers wearing my stuff, that’s like a huge nod to me.