Sofia Ramsay is an independent jewelry designer living and working in Brooklyn. She finds inspiration in the materials she uses to make the necklaces, bracelets, and earrings that shape her namesake line. I chatted with Sofia to learn more about how her business began, hanging out in the Diamond District, and how tequila factors into her self-care practice.
How did you get started?
I studied jewelry design at Pratt Institute, and after graduating I got a job in the costume jewelry industry. It wasn’t what my degree was based in, but it was typical for a first job and I wanted to work. I was designing pieces with plastic beads and sending off designs to be mass produced to sell in department and chain stores. On the side I was making my own pieces, things I could make with limited resources.
A friend from Pratt was hosting a pop-up shop in a space that her uncle owned, and I made eight necklaces to sell. A buyer from Fab.com came and liked my stuff and that lead to doing some flash sales with Fab. I bought materials to fulfill these larger orders. I kept it on the low as I wasn’t supposed to be making my own pieces as a full-time employee, but as I was producing more product it began taking up more and more of my time. Around this time I met a woman who had a table at the Brooklyn Flea and I began selling my jewelry at her table on the weekends. I was sweeping up scraps wherever I could and making them into items that I would sell at the flea. I felt very lucky that I met this woman and was able to have this coveted position—I was getting my business card out there.
I would be at the flea on the weekends and have the Sunday Scaries when I thought of going to work. The flea carried me out of that job. From 2012 until I quit in 2014 I was living a double life—I had a studio in Gowanus that I would work in at night. I’d take the F train from Herald Square after work to Gowanus, and then the G back home to Clinton Hill. I did this for two years.
I’m now at the flea full-time and have been trying different markets, selling online and getting into wholesale.
What does a day in your life look like?
My workflow is similar to someone with a regular job—my week gets started on Thursday afternoon, and by Friday I have my ducks in a row, getting ramped up for the weekend. For most people, Friday afternoon is when they turn their brains off. Saturday and Sunday I work indoor at the market, and if the flea is outside I trick an Uber into letting me throw a table and my supplies in the trunk.
During the week I have my reconciliation days and I’ll go to 47th Street, which is where the Diamond District is. Most people hate it but I love going, and I have great connections and suppliers who help me with certain jobs. I’m able to shop around this or that job because of my connects. Sometimes when I’m done there I’ll go and have a seat in Bryant Park and have a coffee, read a book. I’m on my feet running around the city constantly, Wednesday through Saturday.
Who or what are you inspired by?
As a maker, I’m inspired by my materials and by the capabilities of my materials. I’m always thinking along the lines of, “How does this tool cut this material”, and how that translates into the things my hands like to make. I want to make a product people feel comfortable in and want to buy.
Social media is a full-time job and I wear a lot of hats trying to create content, like a still life that showcases a piece. I’ll be in the studio and if the light is really perfect for creating a really nice moment, that excites me. I’m always thinking about how to get people to engage and be excited about this brand, so I’ve been playing with photography and light.
How do you unwind/practice self-care? I’m drawn to working energies, to women who are working, taking care of shit and on their grind. I moved in with my boyfriend in January, and it’s nice to find quality time to spend with him. He owns his own business and is a DJ, so I like to spend a night at the club, get a tequila and dance around.
I sneak down time, steal moments for myself. My mom would say “Nobody knows where I am? Okay, I’m gonna get my nails done!”
What's some advice you were given or wish someone had given you?
I was given so much advice that I didn’t listen to. I spent a lot of time thinking people didn’t understand what I was after—I was afraid of someone getting in. Now I have a better sense of marketing and the importance of the customer and how to retain a customer.
I say stick to your guns, do what you feel proud of, sustain and build the brand. I’m having more engaging conversations and building my email list. I’ve been at the flea since 2012 and when I started I was stoked to make a sale. I was having fun and forgot to have more meaningful conversations with the customers. I’m here to serve them, so I should learn what their experience is with my website, experience with my earrings on.
One thing I wish I did sooner was putting my jewelry on Etsy—it’s a huge platform for makers like me. I thought Etsy would dilute the brand, and I was subscribing to this idea that it wasn’t where I should go, and stuck with that. I learned more about Etsy and how it works, and put my stuff into the context and it doubled my revenue. I have the same product available, I’m telling the same story.
What's up next for your business?
More collaborations with my customers, and looking to head into fine jewelry. Look out for sparklier stuff in the future.
What's your sign & how do you feel about it?
I’m a Scorpio sun, Cancer rising, with a moon in Gemini. I don’t know much about the other two but I am a Scorpio head to toe. I feel misrepresented because Scorpios get a bad rap, but I am honest and candid. If you see me brooding in the corner at a party it’s not because I’m plotting against you—I’m processing my emotions!
What's the last book you read & what are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Love in the Time of Cholera and I love it. I just finished Swing Time—it was a birthday gift from my aunt. I grew up dancing, so ballet was my whole life. I loved the female protagonist, the story, the dialogue. I was trying to find an event that happened in the book and I went back to it and started re-reading passages, and there was so much symbolism throughout that referenced something that happened in the end. It made me want to re-read it.
What are you listening to?
Podcasts—I listen to The Daily from The New York Times. I also listen to Hello from the Magic Tavern. It’s this fictional narrative, an ongoing story set in a medieval realm with elves and all that. It’s improv based featuring comedians that act as other characters. Another one is Change Agent by Charles Duhigg, who wrote The Power of Habit. I loved S-Town and Serial—I sit and work with my materials all day long and can burn thought one of those series.