Sydney Ziems didn't always love jewelry. "I used to be a minimalist,"the Serendipitous Project designer shares on a call from her home in New York City. She jokes that the fabled Coco Chanel quote ("Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off") traumatized her. "I hated accessorizing," she laughs. "I got scared away from it." It wasn't until Alessandro Michele took the reigns at Gucci that her aesthetic made a pivot. "I was just like oh. This is me and I didn't even realize," she says. That unexpected learning drove her to launch her label in 2019, and to finally embrace the art of bold accessorizing.
If you're not already acquainted, Serendipitous Project is a sustainably minded jewelry brand that offers affordable, eco-friendly pieces. To reduce waste, everything is made-to-order and the selection is a mix of one-of-a-kind pieces, vintage items, and more traditional seasonal collections. Ziems draws inspiration for the line from both classic art and nature, informing both the design and material choice for her pieces. Most recently, she's focused on the Rococo period, as is evident by the lace and pearl-encrusted 'Marie' face-covering she launched a few weeks ago. "I love that aesthetic," she explains. "The frills, the romance, the volume."
Ziems grew up in Virginia, pursuing degrees in psychology and women's studies in college. But, after a brief stint in administrative work post graduation in 2014, she sensed that something was missing. "I knew I needed to find something to channel my creativity," she says. Her appreciation of jewelry was spurred by a move to New York in 2015. "When I moved here I was stressed a lot of the time and my weight was fluctuating, so I was having a hard time finding clothes," she shares. "I also got a really bad haircut, [laughs] so I started using jewelry as a way to deal with the bad haircut and update my outfits." Through this personal transformation, she realized she wanted to launch her own jewelry collection.
From the beginning, Zeims made the quality and ethicality of her materials core to the brand. "About 70 percent of our items are designed with materials bought from sustainable wholesalers in the US who I've found. They produce natural materials and work with artisans in Peru, Italy, Japan, the United States, and so on," she explains. "I'm making sure to work with wholesalers who aren’t exploiting factory labor." The main focus of her initial set of offerings was centered around seashells; a motif that she continues to include in her new seasons. "Anything shell-related people seem to be obsessed with," she explains, adding that she'll mix them with stones, pearls, beads, and metals.
On top of her handmade seasonal collections, Ziems also sources vintage pieces for her site and creates one-of-a-kind upcycled baubles. "I’ve always been a big thrifter and in Richmond, Virginia there are so many thrift shops, so I really got into it there," she explains. "It’s such an adventure to find those pieces, but COVID has forced me to do it online." Ziems often takes thrifted or vintage finds that may not otherwise sell and reworks details to modernize them. 'Oftentimes I'll find a piece that has potential but is outdated so I’ll take an element of that and make it into something new," she explains. "Upcycling makes it one-of-a-kind and special."
Just like other small businesses, the 2020 pandemic has impacted Serendiptious Project, but Ziems' business model is proving to be a benefit, not a burden. "I don’t have as much overhead as other businesses, so the model has been working for me. It’s kind of COVID-proof in that sense." She also attributes BLM conversations surrounding supporting Black-owned businesses as a positive moment for her brand. "People have been advocating for me and my business and that’s brought me organic exposure and provided me opportunities that I’m so grateful for," she says.
Though the future remains uncertain, Ziems continues to adapt and create. "I want everyone to see themselves in this brand," she says. The name — Serendipitous Project — speaks to this openness. "It's all centered around the idea of finding things you weren’t expecting to find, but that create a joy in you. Just like serendipity."
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