Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.
Jessica Birak is one of those mamas.
With three beautiful children under the age of five, Jessica is no stranger to hard work and multi-tasking. A strong advocate for extended breastfeeding, birth empowerment and baby wearing, she cares deeply about other mothers, and shares their unique stories through the custom jewelry she makes by hand.
“I have the honour of hearing the stories behind the pieces I make. Stories of new life, milestones, celebrations, but also of grief and loss. I am so humbled to be making these special pieces. The most important thing that I have learned as the owner of Mint & Birch is not how to run a business or how to make pretty jewellery. But instead, it’s shown me the importance of the people and relationships in our lives. I am in awe of the love that there is in the world.” - Jessica Birak
Set to double revenue in this, their third year of business, Mint & Birch was born out of Jessica’s generous spirit. What started as a way to hand-make gifts for her friends and family soon grew bigger. But even when the opportunity to outsource arose, she decided that this particular entrepreneurial endeavour deserved to be kept under her caring fingers, one necklace or bracelet at a time.
Now, making a six figure income for her family is a reality, but Jessica keeps her down-to-earth roots, hippie-esque outlook on life, and above all, a loving and kind spirit.
This is her story, in her words.
How did you start Mint & Birch?
Jessica Birak: I actually started making just the nest necklaces, and honestly it was a bit of an accident. I was making Mother’s Day gifts, went to the craft store, and threw something together. Once I started giving them to friends and family, everyone wanted them. I loved making them and I loved the reaction that they got.
The eggs in the nest would often symbolize children - living or lost - and was a touching gift to give and receive.
I needed an excuse to make more, so I opened up a shop!
Once you launched, how was your first line of products received?
Jessica Birak: People loved how unique they were. They loved giving them away as gifts. They were sentimental and unique and my launch was timed well so that a lot of people ordered them for Christmas. I had a huge influx of orders as gifts for moms, aunts and grandmothers. The timing was really great because it catapulted me to success early.
How did you expand your product line?
Jessica Birak: Next I launched a line of brass bar necklaces. Stamping custom phrases into metal isn’t exactly easy - it’s definitely a technical skill—so I wanted a material that wasn’t expensive if I made lots of mistakes. We also weren’t in the financial place to invest in gold or the equipment needed to cut it. Brass was affordable, and a low risk investment.
Once I got good at stamping, I decided to add some more luxurious items to my shop, so my bar necklaces are now available in gold-fill, and I actually cut every single blank out of big sheets of gold by hand. The sheets are thicker than average to create a real luxury and quality feel and finish.
What is most important to you as a designer when you decide how to expand your product line?
Jessica Birak: Above all, the pieces need to be versatile. It takes an immense amount of time and energy to design a new product, so I always want to make something that appeals to all different types of people: those who like really simple products and also those who are looking for something more ornate. It’s tricky to come up with designs that everyone will like - sometimes people don’t like them!
But honestly, a lot of times I make what I personally would want to wear. People buy my jewelry because they like my brand and the general feel of our company. I feel that if I put myself into what I make, that I’ll naturally attract customers who are drawn to what I want to achieve. It’s authentic.
Are you led by what your customers are asking for, or by your own creativity?
Jessica Birak: A bit of both. I’m really drawn to trees and nature; I’m a bit of a crunchy mom. One of my dreams is to give birth outside, under the stars, so I like that aesthetic and I recently worked that into my pieces by offering custom stamped moon phases that match important dates.
Why is expanding your product line important to your business?
Jessica Birak: Jewelry is an intensely competitive arena. It’s everywhere and there are LOTS of designers. You need to keep things fresh and constantly evolve. Styles change and trends come and go and if you keep your momentum going with new offerings then it definitely gives you that edge.
Especially now with all the changes Facebook and Instagram have made, you are really looking for those comments and likes. I feel like the only way to do that organically is to keep expanding, keep people on their toes, and give them a reason to follow you.
Is there a difference between having a product and having a brand?
Jessica Birak: Definitely. I started out as a hobby-type shop on Facebook. I didn’t have a website, an email, or any branding at all. I think the worst part of that is that I wasn’t giving a consistent message to my customers and my followers. I feel like a brand is something that tells a story. It’s consistent, coherent, has a mission, is captivating, and it it draws customers in to wonder, “What’s behind the brand?”
Anybody can make anything and sell it at farmer’s markets right? Building a brand takes much more work.
Why do you still make everything by hand?
Jessica Birak: *Laughs* I get this question a lot. My annual revenue isn’t as high as other shops. Last year we grossed $65,000. And this year we will definitely double that number. but by making things myself I definitely limit the brand’s ability to grow indefinitely.
But part of why my brand is so unique, and why people buy from me, is that they know everything is made by hand. By my hands.
Making custom jewelry isn’t easy. It takes a lot of practice and precision to stamp everything perfectly. I’m in such a rhythm now; I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. I can honestly make them better with my eyes closed.
I guess the truth is that I’m kind of a control freak. But I really love doing it, and I don’t want to give it up. I’m actually trying to find a way to slow down our growth. Sometimes it’s about lifestyle and happiness above money. Quality over quantity.
Everything is made one by one. It’s easy for people to see my prices and think, “I can get a bar necklace cheaper elsewhere!” I can’t judge what other shops do, but I can say I stand behind our pieces 100%. I test out the materials rigorously - with my kids, out and about, I immerse them in water and all sorts of rough stuff - to make the highest quality jewelry. I’m really proud of every piece I send out.
How does being a mother affect the way you run your business?
Jessica Birak: I treat my business like a baby. I follow my gut instincts like I follow my mama bear instincts with my babies. I think I’ve learned that there isn’t always a one-size-fits-all solution.
And my kids will always come first. Because the needs of my children are always changing, my business will always be adapting. Being a mother has actually helped me in my business; I know how to multi-task, how to adapt, and how to be flexible.
Is there any advice you’d give to aspiring lady bosses?
Jessica Birak: Always remember what drove you to become so passionate about your businesses. For me, it was to tell special stories - and that’s something I strive to always keep in mind. It’s an honour to be trusted with the innermost feelings of my customers - with the things that are most important to them. That will help you not get caught up in the numbers or the drama.
Make success follow you - don’t chase it.
Be true to you, be true to your brand, and success will follow.
What does “Motherly” mean to you?
Jessica Birak: It means to nourish and to give life to something. To be a mother means to accept and honour the uniqueness of each person and each child. I feel like this world can be exhausting.
We’re expected to behave a certain way, have certain things, look a certain way, accomplish certain things, and this pressure starts when you’re born. As women we’re expected to “bounce back” after having kids, and kids are expected to act as adults.
For me to be motherly is to be a safe place for your child to melt away; a place where they can be completely vulnerable and rest from the expectations of the world.
Haley Campbell is the founder of Beluga Baby, and a regular contributor to Motherly. She is is an avid advocate for entrepreneurs, and for the new generation of mothers making the world their own.