Paula Wheeler can thank her grandfather for her success as a jewelry maker.
He didn’t make jewelry, but the special moments they shared walking the beach searching for agates when she was a young child planted the seed for the eventual launch of her business Aspirations by Paula.
Now more than two decades after starting her business and selling her intricate pieces at art festivals and farmers markets, Wheeler reflects on the impact those walks and visits with her grandparents had on her life.
"My grandmother taught me a lot about glass from her world travels and glass collection,” the Gig Harbor resident said.
At age 6 Wheeler taught herself to make jewelry using a miniature jewelry tool kit ordered from the back of a comic book.
“I started making jewelry again in my late 20's, early 30's,” she said. “People liked what I was doing and started offering me money for it."
Making jewelry as a hobby is one thing, turning it into a small business is another.
Add to the complexity being laid off from her corporate job, and Wheeler was left without a lot of extra financing needed to get the business off the ground.
It took shrewd business skills to jump start Aspirations. But Wheeler thought if she could succeed in the corporate world, why not with her own business? She went to work and it soon paid off.
"I used my customers to grow my company," Wheeler said. "I gave them discounts when they brought me people."
Wheeler offers her customers more than just jewelry. She crafts pieces with individual history.
She doesn’t go to the hobby store for materials. Instead she seeks pieces that are not replicated today like glass beads with large quantities of manganese or 24k gold dust made before World War II that were found in 1995 in an old German factory.
"The glass was made so much more superior than anything made after the war," Wheeler said. "The ingredients in old glass reflect light whether you have long hair or short hair, or are in a dark room or standing in sunshine.
“The old glass makes fantastic earrings if you like your earrings to show.”
From the materials she uses to her customer service, every aspect of Wheeler’s business is personalized.
When customers order online, Wheeler makes the selection simpler by asking a series of questions about the buyer or the person that they're buying for. Then she sends suggestions along with a photo of each piece.
"I'm trying to feel a person out, what they're heading towards and where their personality is going," she said.
Wheeler enjoys the vendor lifestyle and loves the people she meets, but admits it is hard work. Still, to anyone who wishes to try, she offers this advice:
"Patience. Listen to customer's feedback. Listen to other vendor's advice. Trial and Error."
Meet Paula and see her one-of-a-kind pieces every Tuesday in Towne Center at the Lakewood Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.