The following article is a guest blog post from our dear friend Adam Denais, who is an active contributor to the NEXT Architects Facebook Group. He originally wrote this post for the group, which he let me publish as a guest article. Feel free to send this blog post to your friends and coworkers.
Jeanne, I get inspired by seeing people like you pursue their passions, so I am excited for our readers to learn more about you. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career journey so far?
I was born in the Philippines and immigrated with my family to New York City when I was seven yrs old. We lived in Rego Park, Queens, until I got accepted to Pratt Institute School of Architecture, in Brooklyn. I survived those five years and graduated in 2009 during the worst economic recession of our time. That’s when my architecture journey really began.
I started working for a one-man firm earning $7 per hour (with no health insurance!) and eventually climbed up the ladder with a salaried job in my dream firm. I have ten years of varied experience in Healthcare, High End- Residential Design, and Workplace Interior Architecture. All the perks and all the stress involved in working for a prestigious architecture firm – I was overworked, stretched thin, full of ambition, yet I still love my job.
But when the pandemic hit New York City in early 2020, everything went upside down. Millions of Americans were losing their jobs, and I lost mine in May of 2020 (a week before my birthday). Just like that, my career, gone.
I am currently unemployed, but that has become a blessing in disguise. I needed that break. I wake up every day not knowing what to do next during quarantine, I felt empty… so I created my own “NEXT” (Side Hustle). I can now pursue those things I have set aside for a long time. “When one door closes, another opens” is a false saying during this pandemic. There isn’t another door for you unless you create one and open it for yourself. I am now taking this time to finally study for my architecture exams, and on the side, to help with expensive study subscriptions, I make jewelry and sell them on my Etsy.
Where did you begin, and what motivated you to start Jemini Designs?
I have been making jewelry and folding origami since High School. I learned the basics with my mother through books we bought in Barnes & Nobles. I still own these books. Even though they are super old, they are still my reference and inspiration.
During my lunch break at Pratt, I used to sit outside the dorms and make jewelry (for myself). One day after a horrible design-crit gone wrong. I sat outside beading, just to decompress. A fellow student approached me and said she liked my bracelet. I ended up giving it to her (I can make myself another one anyway). The smile on her face uplifted my spirit, and suddenly I didn’t feel so depressed. A few days later, I was making a necklace and she found me again! This time she came with other students asking how much the bracelet was. I ended up selling my necklace on the spot for 60$ cash! I also offered to make the bracelets for 25$ each… whoa! I started an Etsy account that night. JEMINI DESIGNS was born.
As my full-time job became very involved, I stopped making jewelry and forgotten the website until… I was studying structures a few years ago and became fixated on rebar tying knots. It looked like a clover to me and I wanted to try it with some crystal beads. To my shock, the “Seedlet” design was born – four crystals held together with a single knot – and it was so pretty! I just made a module! my lucky charm. These became bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and I wear them proudly all the time. At work, I became known as “that girl who makes those clover earrings”.
Each year I participate in about 3-4 industry holiday fairs from October to December. I sold at 3Form, Allsteel, Allermuir, Knoll, Carnegie Fabrics, and West Elm showrooms. With showrooms, I learned to mass-produce, set up a table, and sell in-person – which I genuinely enjoy. This environment is what I look forward to even if I am stressed out and busy with architecture. Recently, I fixed the website, and Jemini Designs has been doing great!
How would you say your culture or personal experiences influence your art?
I am a proud mix of different ethnicities. My nationality is Filipino/Spanish-Chinese. I recently married a Scotch/Hungarian-Polish/Irish man and currently living in a Caribbean/West Indian neighborhood. All of these cultures shape my everyday life from music, architecture, jewelry design, and cooking! My nickname as a kid is also “Jem,” and I am a Gemini sign. Put them together: my alias is “Jemini.”
In Filipino culture, a butterfly represents the spirit of your departed love one watching over you. For me, that’s my grandmother who believed I could do anything in this world! It is also a symbol for transformation, growth, and rebirth for the Philippines (my native country). I fold an origami butterfly with every piece I sell. This origami is my lucky charm that I share with all my customers. I also integrate them into my displays as earring holders and scatter them around my display table.
Origami is versatile, lightweight, and cute! I recently folded fifty origami peacocks and one hundred origami butterflies for my wedding. Each one is a name card holder for each guest. I also made the bridal party jewelry and my own wedding necklace using stones and colors from the country we had our ceremony in – the Dominican Republic.
When I travel around the world, I try to bring back native stones from these countries that I can incorporate into my new pieces. Larimar from the Dominican Republic, wood from Costa Rica, corals from China, and pearls from the Philippines are just a few of my favorite stones to work with. I also name my pieces to give them life and meaning.
Check out my Etsy shop for each of their descriptions. Each listing has a unique story.
What are you doing to build a career/life that is healthy for you?
I am taking a break right now but still keeping to a schedule during the quarantine. The Pandemic has forced my life to reset – a blessing in disguise.
Even though I had a career in architecture, I was stressed out, overworked, and became sickly. Just like many of us, I tried to study for my A.R.E.s in between and kept failing these exams! There was just not enough time for everything. Eventually, this became my dreadful routine. Losing your job really hurts. You never realize what you had until it’s gone, but it’s also not the end of the world. You can begin again and look at your life to add some color and spirit and to find that balance.
Right now, I am finally focusing on studying so that I can emerge out of this pandemic as a licensed architect. I recently joined an amazing virtual study group, so I regularly meet other people within Architecture – building our network. After a few hours of studying, I work on Jemini Designs.
Doing what you need to do and doing what you love is the best balance. In the meantime, being healthy also means cooking more since you now have this time. Last but not least, take the time to do the things that keep you happy. No explanations are required – even if it means binge-watching Netflix with your husband till three in the morning!
This pandemic took away much of what we had, but it gave us back our time, so I want to cherish that as much as possible.
Any tips for someone who is looking to pursue a passion of their own either inside or outside of architecture?
Make time for it. The reason we got into architecture is because we are visual, creative, and technical. Architecture is our bread and butter, and we can always add more flavor!
Sometimes, the best ideas come out of being stressed out. Listen to yourself, and when a creative idea hits you, don’t dismiss it. Create it and share! Chances are because you love it, others will too. By sharing our talents, we are all empowering one another.
We are fortunate that being in this field trained us to have a variety of skill sets that branch out into other areas in the creative field, so give it a shot. Maybe it’s photography, graphic design, or even cooking! Don’t be afraid to pursue another passion, this will also give you a new sense of positive energy at your architecture job. Having experiences outside of architecture also helps bring diversity and variety to our industry, and that is how our field flourishes.
Where can people connect with you and learn more about Jemini Designs?
Thank you for reading my story and following my journey! To learn more about me:
- Linkedin: Jeanne Chiang-Elliot
- Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JeminiDesigns (Jemini Designs – Jewelry by Jeanne Chiang)
- Instagram Handle: @jeminidesigns
- and finally, my Etsy page to shop! www.jems530.etsy.com