We invited the talented and charming Gay Isber of Sugar Gay Isber Designs to be a featured artist for our October fashion segment. In true Sugar fashion she is hosting a Zombie Pub crawl October 12 at her Koenig lane location to celebrate an early Halloween with you. There will be a costume contest with the winner receiving a special one of a kind design to add some sparkle to your costume. She arranged a Monday morning brunch with some “friends”and we shot some images of her Halloween sparkles. If you have not had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Isber you will understand what we mean when we say she is a take charge, entrepreneur, no bullshit kinda lady. She said “Ok, I can do it. Let me write it”. We asked her to tell us how she got started and what is her inspiration for her creations. Here is her story….
I first started making jewelry 12 years ago after moving to Canada. I had married my husband after knowing him for only a week (long story), only to find out that he was a hard core TV addict. I had to keep my hands occupied while we watched TV, so I took out my little bead box and went to work making memory wire bracelets, just for the fun of it. I still wear those first bracelets today.
After receiving a C- on an art project in 7th grade, I had shunned all formal art classes until a core art class in clay at Texas Christian University unlocked my artist brain. At my mid-term review, my professor, Mr. Nichols, expressed doubt at my seriousness to the craft. I took that as a challenge to not have a 7th grade repeat of not pleasing my art instructor.
By end of the session, I had created over 70 pieces, pushing first clay and then porcelain into art which showed my progression from beginner to advanced in one semester. I earn an A and fell in love with making art. For the next dozen years, I always had something cooking in a kiln.
When I moved to Canada from Texas, my kilns did not make the trip. Always the poor artist but wanting to create, I started painting the biggest pieces of foam core that I could get into my car, as they were cheap – cheaper than canvas.
I painted in our very small laundry room, sitting on the dryer or the floor, as the floor there could be cleaned. The first paintings in Canada curiously all looked like hurricanes, but they were good enough to get me into the most prestigious art show in Toronto.
Always trying to market myself, I wanted another item to sell along with my paintings.
I envisioned making tassels out of beads that I could make while watching TV – back then it was always about the TV to please him. The problem came in sourcing this glass circle that were essential to my design and vision.
I talked this glass crack pipe maker into creating the circles for me. He made about a dozen and when I went back for more, he was never able to replicate them. Why I thought a crack pipe maker was reliable, I have no idea, but I was determined to have my glass circle for the tassel top. I remember being reduced to tears and pleading with him to please try harder. So funny. He made crack pipes! What was I thinking?
A friend, of a friend, of a friend had a friend in Vancouver, who sister made lamp glass beads. She swore sight unseen, that she could make the circles for me. I sent her $100 to get going. When I opened the package, out poured these tiny glass circles that would never work as my tassel’s top. Yikes!
I put those expensive babies all on some random fencing wire and made a crazy bracelet to catch the attention of the passersby at my booth. If Mariquita Masterson back home in Texas could melt Tangueray bottles and make it into jewels, then I could make jewelry out of tiny handmade glass circles.
The bracelet was a show stopper. I could have sold it a hundred times.
Since I had no jewelry making skills at the time and I needed to be able to make stuff while watching TV with my TV addict husband – I made pieces like I was hand sewing. Whipping wire into bracelets and crowns that were elaborate and juicy was fun. eBay was new and the world was my oyster on buying beads.
I had no idea how to even make simple earrings for the first year or so as that seemed so mundane. Anyone could make earrings. My bracelets were bold and big like the Texas gal that I was.
My early bracelets were unique, addictive and all over-achievers. So lovely were they, that they caught the eye of the head of international marketing for H&M. He bought an amazing bold red bracelet, befriending me. Later, he commissioned me to create a chandelier based on my bracelets in bright red coral, rich green jade and sparkling chunks of purple amethyst for his chalet in Switzerland. It was stunning enough for a king. I added chandeliers to my forte.
My first big client was Proctor & Gamble. Someone saw one of my bracelets, ask who made it and a few weeks later, I had an order for 9000 necklaces for a Cover Girl giveaway at Christmas. It was a big project. The necklaces each had three lobster claws with a different colored bead dangling on it, all strung on a velvet ribbon with a real metal closure, all perfectly packaged on printed card stock and in a plastic zip bag.
All three beads on the necklace could be worn together or they could be removed and worn separately. For that order I needed at least: 9,000 lobster claws and barrel clasps, 27,000 glass faceted beads and head pins, several football fields lengths of velvet ribbon, 9,000 printed cards and zip baggies, dozens of tool sets and glue guns.
Even the biggest suppliers in the US choked when I called to place my order. I had a vision of some little village in China cheering. I sold the necklaces to P&G for $3 each or $27,000. Since my workers knew that they would not get paid until I got paid, we were all motivated to complete the order fast. It only took three weeks. Some of those workers and I are still friends today.
I was hooked on wholesale manufacturing. By this time my marriage was long over and done. If you are an entrepreneur, you are part crazy by definition. I have given up so many outings and events and fun just so I could work longer to take myself to the next level. My friends would always invite to bring my work, as they knew I had to make every minute count.
Still, my days off are rarer than rain in Austin but I do love making jewellery! I love scissors, paint, markers, beads and wire so much that I better be buried with them.
It is the hardest job in the world if you are a single mom, determined to just to work harder to create your business’s next level. I have many success stories, have made over 20,000 unique designs, have many fun failure stories, many fans wearing my jewels, many shitty client stories, several press books, and over 10 million beads.
The journey is a blur but it is great to be back home in Texas. I just still cannot believe that I do not have carpal tunnel!
I now have a 3000 square foot studio/store – The Secret World of Gay Isber and Her Sugar Factory in Austin, aka The Sugar Factory. Easy to find with glittered ‘Bubbles of Joy’ painted on the outside of the building, 1800 West Koenig near Burnet Road. Come on by. I will gladly make you a pair of earrings or, if you need, 9000 necklaces!
Want to shop Gay Isber online? Check out a special collection for Electric Frenchie, an online boutique that features Austin Designers.
The Secret World of Gay Isber & Her Sugar Factory on Koenig
1800 West Koenig Lane
Austin, Texas 78756