We had the good fortune of connecting with Serena Saltzman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Serena, what do you attribute your success to?
I started my jewelry business, SJLA, in the first month or so of the pandemic when times felt shocking and frankly quite hopeless. I wanted to do something creative that would give me a way to connect with people while still being stuck at home, and also to help keep me sane while bringing others joy through my pieces. It felt important from the start to emphasize the small business “slow fashion” aspects of the brand, because SJLA represents the exciting, new, positive side of fashion today. A brand surpassing seasons and trends, with a focus on intention and design to mean something special and empower customers through self-expression. For me, the success of SJLA is measured in pushing creative boundaries with myself, while also inspiring others to celebrate self-expression and experience a sense of joy through my brand.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
SJLA is so exciting to me because it’s really a labor of love. Each piece is entirely handmade and they all come out different. I’ve always loved drawing and painting, and in college I developed a passion for sculpture work and working with metal too. I studied pre-law and public policy in school, but always squeezed in different art classes every year in my schedule. Once I graduated I pretty much realized I didn’t want to go to law school or become a lawyer, but instead I wanted to pursue art and my creative side. I feel like with SJLA I combine sculpture, painting, and even some things I learned studying law like creative problem solving and having developed a rigorous, determined work ethic.
One example of applying this technical problem solving comes to mind when I was designing my last collection. I have a few earring designs where I paint directly on pearls, but I had to figure out a way to paint 360 degrees without touching the wet paint. I basically invented a little contraption where I’m able to loop an earring through a finger on one hand, which is connected to the pearl, and through the other side I have a large bead that I can hold onto with my other fingers so that the pearl is suspended, like being caught in a web. I think that this problem solving side of the design process was really influenced by my academic years in college.
Aside from painting on pearls, I also have an upcycled collection where I paint on pieces of recycled glass for earrings and necklaces. I really love the variation in my pieces and the enchanting idea that no two pieces are the same. Sometimes the colors vary a bit, or the paintings are a little different, or even the glass itself has a unique shape or hue. This really goes hand in hand with the mission of SJLA, which is essentially empowering individuals through sustainable fashion and meaningful self-expression. The idea that each piece is different reflects the uniqueness of the individual.
Creating and navigating a small business this past year has certainly been a journey. I’ve experienced creative breakthroughs and artistic joy, but I’ve also hit walls and felt burnt out. In a year I taught myself how to not only make jewelry but market, advertise, photograph, package, sell, and more. It has been amazing and also one of the hardest, most ambitious endeavors I’ve ever taken on. I’ve learned so much about business, but also about myself. The most important thing I’ve learned (and am still learning) is to check in with myself and keep a steady flow of creativity, productivity, and also play. It’s important to have fun, even when you’re managing a million things at once. I’m really trying to incorporate creative play into my work every day, especially on days where it feels like I have no time for that.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve lived in LA my entire life and one of my favorite things to do is show off this city. I love our art deco architecture and winding canyons. Some areas of LA are so charming it feels like you’re in an old Hollywood movie from the 1920s. I’m a huge museum nerd so we’d have to go to both Getty museums, the Villa and the Center. I love the atmosphere of the Gettys and they also have incredible views and gardens. In the summer I try to stop at the beach a few times a week for a swim, so we’d definitely pack up some beach towels, find a spot on PCH, and cool off in the ocean. Some of my other favorite things to do in the summer are comedy shows at the UCB, or also the free comedy at Best Fish Tacos of Ensenada in Los Feliz, where you can grab a bottle of wine at the liquor store on the corner, pick up a couple tacos, and enjoy some pee in your pants funny stand up every other week.
Another amazing summer gem is the free Shakespeare at Griffith Park put on by the Independent Shakespeare Company. They put on incredible performances almost every night during the summer, and you can just set your blanket down and enjoy. The Hollywood Bowl is a must too. It’s one of my favorite things to do in the summer, especially for the classical season with the LA Phil. We’d also have to go to the Griffith Observatory, see the view, and watch the film in the planetarium. And speaking of movies, the film series at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery would also absolutely be on our list.
For nighttime fun, I some of my favorite bars are Melrose Umbrella Company, La Poubelle, AOC, Davey Wayne’s. I also love the dance parties at The Echo on Saturday nights. For food, I love having dinner at the Little Door or Rosaline, an incredible Peruvian ceviche spot on Melrose. I also grew up getting burgers at the Apple Pan, an LA staple that would absolutely be on our list. And of course some frozen yogurt at the Bigg Chill to top it off.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This is a hard one, my friends and family have been so incredibly supportive of SJLA — it’s been really wonderful. My dad in particular has been so supportive of this business venture and is mainly the reason I’ve been able to start it and see where it goes. I feel very lucky to have such a strong support system surrounding this business.