Business shines for Bend jewelry maker

By Joseph Ditzler The Bulletin
Published Apr 4, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Apr 4, 2014 at 05:26PM

Jamie Israel went from homeless to successful business owner with thousands of online followers in the space of five years.

Trying to sleep in her car one cold night in Bend, she searched for an idea she thought would make her enough money to get by, she said.

“It dawned on me that I always wanted to make jewelry,” she said Thursday in her workshop on Northeast First Street in Bend.

She said her own willpower, her boyfriend, Andrew West, and the ability to market her jewelry online helped her build an expanding business, despite suffering from Lyme disease. She started with a hammer from Home Depot and a small metal hand-stamp set she bought for $50 online, she said. She sold her pieces on social media sites like Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage merchandise, and Facebook, earning $200 or $300 a month.

“To me, that was like gold,” she said Thursday. “I remember just crying.”

In February, she moved from a small studio on Southeast Scott Street into a 1,200-square-foot space, bringing with her one full-time and five part-time employees, and thousands of dollars of orders to fill each month.

Today, she said, she has customers around the globe, from Finland to Saudi Arabia to Australia. Already, she said, she realizes she needs more space and two more employees.

“It’s really surreal. I can’t believe people work for me,” she said. “It’s cool that I’m providing jobs.”

Israel, who does business as James Michelle, still sells most of her necklaces, bracelets and rings online, through her own website, http://jamesmichelle.com/. She also displays her work on Instagram, a free app and website for photo- and video-sharing.

That’s savvy marketing, said Garrett Hampton, digital manager for 1859 magazine and formerly with Nike.

“Instagram, for me, is a platform to showcase amazing, artsy content,” he said. “It’s a great platform for brand awareness, and it really sounds like she’s doing well there.”

He suggested another site, Wanelo, that allows users to purchase the items they find posted there, an Instagram with an option to buy, Hampton said.

Israel achieved online synergy when Clare Crawley, a reality TV star from “The Bachelor,” wore and then raved on her Instagram site about James Michelle jewelry. That exposed Israel’s work to thousands of Crawley’s fans.

Another site, Lunchpails & Lipstick, a trendy blog for moms, mentioned Israel’s jewelry and the following month she received $8,000 in orders, Israel said. That sort of word-of-blog marketing continues to generate sales, she said.

James Michelle jewelry is also available in boutiques like Vanilla Urban Threads in the Old Mill. Owner April Lawyer said Bend has many jewelry makers, but she made space for Israel’s work.

“One, she’s a complete angel to work with,” Lawyer said. “And, obviously, her stuff is amazing and stands out.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version, the last name of Clare Crawley was spelled incorrectly.

The Bulletin regrets the error.

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Jamie Israel, owner of James Michelle jewelry, moved into a new Bend showroom and workshop on Northeast First Street in February. Israel has gone from selling her work online for a few hundred dollars a month to having six employees.