BABE #105: BLISS LAU,
Owner + Designer @ Bliss Lau
Raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and currently based in New York City, Bliss Lau is a Parsons NYC alumna, celebrity-loved designer, artist, and entrepreneur. Inspired by 'sensuality yet structure,' she specializes in elegant, edgy, direct-to-consumer jewelry design. Spoiler alert: Beyonce wore Bliss' body chains in the 'Drunk in Love' video; see also: Yonce and Formation. She also sold her very first handbag design to the one and only Kelly Cutrone. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your career, Bliss! You are, of course, a total Babe.
Babe you admire and why?
Christy Baird of LOHO bride. She took the plunge and started her bridal shop in San Francisco with a strong strategy and a clear plan, and she’s executing all of it in stride. She takes time for herself, her business, her friends, and her partner and on top of it all, she just opened a second location in Los Angeles. Love it.
How do you spend your free time?
I just bought a sewing machine and have been looking into fabrics to start making some of my own clothes again. I’ve always done yoga regardless of where I am in the world, and I love to make my own juice.
Favorite app, website or blog?
My most recent favorite news app is QZ (Quartz). It’s an interactive, texting-style app that actually has the kind of news I’m interested in hearing about. My morning ritual starts with NPR and then I check The Business of Fashion. But more than anything, I’m a podcaster. I listen during my morning walk, usually to something funny or interviews of people whom I admire.
Biggest pet peeve?
Bad design. Be it a wine opener, chair, or hotel room, I just look at it and want to redesign it.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Really bad Sci-Fi TV shows… don’t tell!
What’s something most don't know about you?
I used to be a tandem surfer in high school.
Tell us about your hustle:
I am the owner and designer at Bliss Lau, a jewelry collection designed with futuristic vision and endless possibilities.
When and how did you decide to start your business? What has that journey been like for you?
I design proactively and reactively; that’s how my company has grown and gone through three full transformations. I launched at age 21 with my senior thesis collection from Parsons, a line of handbags inspired by musical instruments. Then, because I had actually studied fashion design at Parsons, I started making body chains, which became my primary business. Now, I make custom fine jewelry, which was sparked by my clients’ reactions to the wedding ring I designed for myself. I believe I still have many more transformations awaiting!
Have you always had a love for jewelry and plan to build your career around it?
I have always had a passion for creating experiences through design. Few objects in this world are hundreds of thousands of years old; what I love about jewelry is just that. The starting place is a gemstone. It holds so much history, energy, and meaning, and oftentimes I spend weeks or months searching and hunting for the perfect one. Then, from there, I get to create an encasement for it to live in that will be worn everyday by my client. I consider that opportunity to be a unique honor.
How would you say your past academic career prepared you for your work now?
I prepared for customer service by working as a hostess at a hotel bar, for design by going to Parsons, for work-life balance by growing up in Hawaii and swimming in the ocean, and for business by just diving in, making mistakes, and learning from them. In my experience, you just have to take action, jump into the fire, and make it happen.
What does your typical workday look like?
At 6:30 a.m. I wake up, make tea, practice yoga, and drink a protein shake. I then walk to my design studio, and sometimes I will start the day with sketching. I always sit with a paper and pencil and make a list of achievable goals for the day, and if it’s Monday, I try to make a simple list of targets to hit for the week. Then, emails, team meetings, client meetings, or a visit with any of our local fabricators and artisans who make the jewelry. I try to take a break mid-afternoon; a 10-15 minute walk to the South Street Seaport near my studio is always refreshing. Finally, I sit by my collection and just absorb what we have completed recently, review some gemstones, sketch ideas, and think about what creative endeavors are to come. Then, I head home or meet with friends for dinner or a drink.
What is your work environment/office culture like?
I have a fantastic design studio in lower Manhattan. The energy in the room is positive and inviting. I’m happy to report that we all enjoy working and creating together; my team is hardworking, efficient and easygoing. We love having people come by the studio, and all the walls are covered with design inspiration, archival pieces, tools, and drawings.
How do you choose the right people to work for your business? What do you look for in your associates?
Focus, a good attitude, and aesthetic. I find people wherever I can. If a person presents themself as committed to their own vision and it aligns with ours, I’m always happy to interview them!
How do you manage to stay on top of things?
As a visual person, I put up a calendar in the studio with all the deadlines for us to reference every day. Each of our fabricators gets a unique deadline per project that aligns with what we need, and all of those dates are decided immediately once we receive a commission. My team and I invest a lot of time into streamlining our internal processes whenever we have a quiet week. In this business there is a definite high season and a mellow season, so we make sure to utilize the quiet time for good.
How would you say your gender and/or ethnicity has affected your professional experience?
Being of two cultures is very much at the core of all my work. That dichotomy (i.e. duality, i.e. tension and juxtaposition) lies within each design and gives me an understanding of how to work culturally with people. I think it gives a sensitivity to working with people of all cultures that is helpful. I’m always learning.
How did having your jewelry's appearance in Beyonce's music videos affect your business? Have there been any other major milestones/turning points since then?
Doing “Drunk In Love,” “Yonce,” and “Formation” really changed how the average person respected me as a designer. Interestingly, I am the same designer I was before anyone knew the collection, but the day a celebrity wears your work everything changes! Those designs are still some of my best-sellers online. The Dark Lady Bodychain from “Drunk In Love” is still a favorite for sure.
How has your design taste evolved over time?
Daily! I’m a bit addicted to change. It’s the mark of a fashion person. My team always laughs, because every once in a while I will come into the studio and decide one of the designs is tired and needs to be retired. Literally almost every time I take it down from the website, we get a call within a week from someone who wants to place an order! Aesthetically, I think I am getting more and more minimalist as the years progress, although one rule lies true: I will always love an analogous color scheme.
What are your favorite types of jewelry to design and work on?
Custom jewelry of any kind. Right now we’re designing custom wedding rings, full-gown body chains, earrings, and a necklace! All of them work a different part of my creative being, so it’s ideal.
Do you ever struggle to come up with new ideas? How/where do you get inspiration for new designs
Inspiration comes from so many places. I like to think about an esoteric inspiration like a feeling the piece should evoke, as well as a design inspiration such as an era of art.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
That I am cartwheeling through the world just being creative and never dealing with difficulty.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
As is true with anything, we run into speed bumps here and there. Our saving grace is personal jewelry insurance. It has saved so many of our customers when something happened to their jewels. Nobody wants to think about the dark side, but if there is a fire or a hand gets slammed in a door, trust me - you’ll be thrilled to have that policy.
What’s one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
Being copied by a famous person/company was one of the most difficult obstacles I have faced. At the time, it was early in my career and I couldn’t afford a lawyer, so I petitioned for a pro bono lawyer from Volunteer Lawyers for The Arts and was very lucky that they chose my case and helped me protect my intellectual property.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
How much I love what I do.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
There is so much more to learn about everything. I will always be a student and keep researching new gemstones, techniques, technology, and of course, mindfulness.
Is there a celebrity or brand you’d love to partner with/design for?
How do you find a work-life balance?
I treat my time at work like any other job: I give myself hours and try to stick to them. Then, my free time is my own. It took me a while to learn how to impose definitions on my time. I’m not razor sharp with myself about it, but that has helped me keep a wonderful balance. I have also learned not to make myself a martyr. I used to force myself to work long hours and be self-hating when I didn’t get everything done. I wouldn’t give myself realistic goals, and then I’d live in a daily cycle of disappointment. In the end, that internal monologue was terrible for me and everyone around me. Now, I let it go, give myself achievable goals, and give myself a break if something takes a bit longer than expected. Keeping positive thoughts has been the key for me.
What are your goals for the future?
I think I’m living in the future. We will soon be expanding to a larger design studio with a larger by-appointment shop inside. I’m also planning to buy a home and maybe grow the family. That, of course, will mean a broader spectrum of jewelry offerings. More to come on that, too!
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Pay your dues with grace and patience, and you will get there. I’ve found that situations always arise where someone challenges your ethics; remember to be true to yourself.