Giovanna Ngai: Simply Giovanna: Behind the Scenes
After months of trying to get a hold of this week’s campus celebrity, I finally had the chance of meeting Giovanna Ngai. Seriously guys– months. Between being a don at UWP, a 3rd year Fine Arts major and Psychology minor in the Arts and Business program, a health conscious figure skater often seen at CIF, and the owner of her own jewelry brand, Simply Giovanna, it’s no surprise as to why it would be so difficult to sit down and chat with Giovanna. So it’s only fair that I got access to some of the behind the scenes footage of how she does it all. ( I’m still trying to figure it out, to be honest. )
Nice to finally meet you! How’s it going?
It’s going well. It’s busy. I probably committed a little more than I probably should’ve but; I’ll be fine.
Tell me a little bit about your business.
Simply Giovanna is a jewelry brand created in 2010. I initially started making jewelry in 2008; when I was in the 8th grade. But 2010 was when I first started selling. I did a consignment at a local department store where I actually started learning everything. The store manager there taught me how to do invoices, pricing, bar-coding, photography; everything, really. It was after that when I started building my brand. School eventually took up a lot of time so I moved my business online and did local shows over the summer. That’s the back-story.
What types of shows do you take part in?
I do a lot of festivals. I’m from Markham, so I participate in the Unionville festival. I’ve also been in a few exhibitions but mainly to showcase art instead of jewelry. I try and do festivals with vendors so I can sell merchandise and also just be present in the community. I think that’s really important. I do so much stuff online that I don’t have a concrete store front. So being present at shows will benefit me. Waterloo is harder because with Co-op I’m not always in town. When I am here, especially in the spring, I look for events in Uptown Waterloo like Jazz and summer festivals. I find they really focus on fashion in the spring which really aligns with my brand.
Explain the inspiration behind your pieces.
I think altogether, I identify as an artist. Jewelry is just something that I do as a hobby. I picked it up and its working for me. But I don’t see myself just as a Jewelry Designer. I see myself as an artist trying to express the beauty I see in the world as best as I can. And that’s through art. Whether it’s making things, even singing and dancing — I thoroughly enjoy all sorts of art. Jewelry designing is just something that I’ve been doing for a long time and I enjoy it a lot. It’s providing the means for gaining more exposure for what I do. It’s also nice to have money to support myself.
Would you consider your business successful?
It’s really difficult to talk about success while being a student . My sales vary per term. Last term, I did E Co-op, so I focused on learning more about business. I don’t have a business background so a lot of it was about seeing where everything goes. I’ve never had the training of keeping track of everything; especially numbers. Last term was about building those foundations and focusing in on goals. The goal was to hit $5000 in sales. I started in October and aimed for the Christmas season but I also had the goal of receiving the grant from E Co-op so I can participate in the upcoming pitch competition. I don’t expect that much from this term because I’m so focused on school, so I haven’t spent that much time on my business. I don’t look at numbers to assess value at this point because I’m still doing a lot of exploring.
What’s most important to you when it comes to your business?
Doing what I want to do, the designs I come up with, and taking creative liberties. It’s not a matter of numbers but more about the types clients that approach me. It’s about whether or not I want to take them and work on the design they’re asking for. I want to explore different ways of designing my pieces and choosing my clients, especially when taking creative liberties into consideration. Sometimes it’s hard to work with clients whose fixed on something very specific. It’s equally difficult to work with clients that think they know what they want when they don’t. But there’s also wonderful things that come with these collaborations
Can you explain the process of how you make your pieces?
People usually come with me with an idea. I do a lot of custom work. They’ll email or Facebook me with a picture and say ”this is kind of what I’m thinking but a little more like this.” I’ve had people sketch me drawings of what they had in mind. So I’ll take that and play around with it. This is part of the behind the scenes not a lot of people see. I might make a jewelry piece and set prices for that but what you don’t see is all the prototypes, ideas, and materials used before hand to try and get to that point. In terms of making it– I do some beading, but I mainly focus on wire working. In the last year or so, I’ve done a lot of metal stamping. In the future, I’m looking to do a lot of soldering but it’s a big investment so I’m working towards that.
What are your goals for the future? Do you hope to continue your business?
My end goal is to become an Art Therapist to work with children with mental and physical disabilities while running a local boutique, going to trade shows, and shipping internationally. That’s always what I had in mind, so I don’t think I want to push my business to be a really big thing. As an artist, it’s really hard. The moment you focus just on pushing the numbers, profit margins, revenues, etc– you lose your artistic integrity. That’s something I’m coming to hold as more and more important. So to be honest, I would be happy with a small store on a main street wherever I live; doing shows on the weekends or on my days off.
Entrepreneurship has its risks. Have your friends and family always been supportive of your business?
Relatively, I would say, yes. I was very young when I first started– I was in grade 10. So I think at that age, it’s more like ”oh that’s cute.” It’s kind of like how kids are into arts and crafts. They do it to just have fun. So I don’t think I was taken seriously by my family. My mom has always been supportive. She would take me shopping for supplies but we wouldn’t tell my dad, because we’d usually spend a lot of money. It really wasn’t until recently that my parents and friends were saying ”she’s still going at it, maybe it is something she wants to do.”
What are some obstacles you face with managing your own business?
There’s a lot more pressure of managing your own business when you don’t have a business background — so i wasn’t very good at the numbers. That’s something my dad looks at very carefully. I had a lot of bad habits business wise that I had to clean up. I spent last term really focusing on that and really trying to educate myself in that area of weakness. My family said we’ll see where she goes with this, as long as it doesn’t intervene with school. But, I think I do it mainly for the people that I meet and the stories that I get to encounter. That’s why I do shows as well. A lot of the times, people come to me asking for custom jewelry for a special event so it’s nice to hear their stories. It’s really sweet hearing about it and then being able to share in that experience. Seeing people face to face and interacting in that kind of experience is really meaningful and encouraging.
How do you manage your time?
I don’t think I do it that well. It’s a learning experience and I’m still learning. Ever since I was young, balance has always been an area that I’ve needed to improve on. In high-school, at every parent/teacher interview, my teachers used to say ”she needs balance, don’t bite off more than you can chew!” I’ve been learning and getting better but I don’t think I’m there yet. The way I see it, you always make time for things you love and the things you think are important. That has always been true for me. I’m currently a don and actively involved in Fashion for Change this term. So definitely, it’s crazy at times. I don’t know when I sleep or how I’m alive sometimes but definitely at the end of the day, if I truly am passionate about it — it will always get done.
What advice do you have for people who want to start their own businesses?
I know its cliché– but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. There’s so much pressure in society to be put together. But it’s always different. The way you see yourself differs from how others see you. I don’t think people give themselves enough credit, so that’s hard. I think it’s honestly just taking those risks and making sure you have the support. Talk to people who’ve had experience in the field so that when you do make mistakes, you can get back up and be better than you were before.
Visit Giovanna’s website: http://www.simplygiovanna.org/