Krista Leben is one of the loveliest people that I have never met. Although I have known Krista online for 8 or 9 years, we have unfortunately never had the chance to meet in-person. Needless to say, I was thrilled to reconnect with my e-friend about a year ago and to hear that her life had taken a creative turn. Since then, I have witnessed Krista’s move to Canada, her ever-increasing involvement in the Ottawa craft scene (through ventures such as The Craft Co-op and Wed by Hand), and the exciting launch of the bold new addition to her urbanite jewelry line; the much-anticipated Rome Collection.
In the weeks since the introduction of the Rome Collection, which features striking pieces in new and recycled ornamental wood, Krista has been one busy gal. I have been dying to talk to Krista about the new line, but with the holidays just around the corner, both of our schedules are showing no signs of slowing down. Before things get too frantic, though, I have called in an old favour to have Krista do an interview via email. Without further ado, here’s Krista Leben in her own words:
You’ve just celebrated one year in Canada and, from what I have seen and heard, it has been a great year. What have been some of the highlights?
Oh man, it’s been quite the whirlwind! Since moving to Canada I’ve participated in my first craft show, landed my first store deal (plus several more), launched a new line and had my jewelry featured in numerous publications and news programs. It’s been so delightful!
When did you start urbanite jewelry and, if at all, how has it changed and adapted to its new home-base?
I started urbanite jewelry on St. Patrick’s Day, 2009. Over the past year-and-a-half the company has grown and adapted in many ways as I’ve grown and adapted both as an artist and a business woman. The biggest change urbanite has undergone as a result of its new home-base is primarily on the business side of things; I’ve been able to plug into the local small business and craft communities really easily, which has been fantastic. Ottawa is a city that’s really unique in that it’s big enough to support a strong small business network but small enough that it’s easy to get connected into that network really easily. It’s been a great experience!
You have just launched your beautiful new Rome Collection. What has been the response?
People have embraced it with open arms, which has been just incredible. This collection was a big step forward for me in many ways, so the response has been so amazing. As an artist, I feel my jewelry is a direct expression of myself and my creativity. So releasing anything new often brings a wave of nervous excitement. Will people love it? Will they hate it? How will it be received? Naturally, releasing the Rome Collection brought even more nervous excitement than usual because it was such a big undertaking and a much more personal expression of myself. I was so pleased when stores started signing on to carry it.
How does this collection differ from your previous offerings?
Designing this collection was a huge step forward for urbanite in many ways, the first being that it marks the first time we’ve released a full line. On the business side of things, this is also the first time we’ve shot pieces on a live model and designed a full ‘look book’. We also took this opportunity to open a Big Cartel shop which gave us more creative control over the shop and makes for a better shopping experience for our customers. It’s been (and continues to be) an incredibly interesting and challenging process and we’re enjoying it thoroughly.
With the creation of the new line, how has your creative process evolved?
Over the past year and a half that I’ve been designing jewelry for urbanite, my creative process has evolved immensely. I started by simply assembling store-bought components, and people were really pleased with the pieces. Although I was creating with commercially-produced elements, people still found my jewelry very modern and unique. However, I found that I was still wanting more creative control over the process. So I decided to take some steps forward to grow as an artist and embarked on creating a collection where I had more control what was going into the jewelry. Consequently the Rome Collection marks the first time we are designing and making the jewelry components from scratch. It’s been an incredibly satisfying experience for me, and while I won’t be phasing out our old way of making jewelry, I definitely believe this new way is the future of urbanite.
It’s obvious to anyone who visits your shop that travel has a huge influence on your work. Where have you been and what inspiration do you take from the places that you visit?
I feel incredibly lucky because I’ve been able to explore the world pretty extensively for someone my age. I’ve lived in four countries on three continents and have actually been out of my home country (the United States) more than I’ve been in it over the past 3 1/2 years (my mom hates this). My explorations have mostly been confined to North America, Europe and North Africa. The world is such an amazing place; I feel lucky to have been able to explore it so much.
I find inspiration literally everywhere when I’m traveling: in old architectural details, in various natural surroundings, in patterns and clothing. I really love exploring cities by foot; it helps me to really get a feel for them and helps me design jewelry that really represents the place well.
Are you planning any more exotic adventures?
Is Toronto exotic? ;) After spending a year traveling through Europe while in graduate school, I got burned out on travel, believe it or not! So I was glad to come and settle down in Ottawa for a while. It only took about six months for the wanderlust to set in again, though. So right now my beau and I are planning a trip to Cyprus (a little island in the Mediterranean) for late 2011.
Tell me about The Craft Co-op. How did it come about? How have local crafters responded?
When my partner and I moved to Ottawa last fall, we searched far and wide for craft shows for urbanite jewelry to participate in. More often than not we were finding out about craft shows after the fact, which left us incredibly frustrated.
We realized that while Ottawa has a craft community, it really isn’t as cohesive as it could be. We decided that in order to make the craft community stronger and to encourage the public to buy local and handmade, Ottawa really needed three things:
1. A central resource for people to find out about vendor opportunities, craft shows, and crafty happenings,
2. More opportunities for vendors in the form of hip, modern, well-managed and well-promoted craft shows, and;
3. A central organization to bring crafters–both professional and hobbyists alike–together to foster a stronger craft community in Ottawa.
So, The Craft Co-Op was born and the response from local crafters has been incredible. Many established people within the community have told us Ottawa has needed an organization like ours for a long time. It’s really satisfying to be able to provide information and opportunities for the local craft community.
To see the entire Rome Collection, visit urbanite jewelry at Etsy or Big Cartel. To learn more about The Craft Co-Op or to attend Wed by Hand, Ottawa’s Alternative wedding show, just follow the links!