Rooting for everybody black: An interview with Kristina Shields
I fell in love with Kristina Shields’ jewelry the moment she launched Nina Arnell in 2012. The Atlanta native and mom of one launched her jewelry collection shortly after a trip to Bangkok, which she credits with giving her the confidence to launch Nina Arnell.
Though she’s still early in her career, Shields’ jewelry speaks for itself. She carefully hand selects each bead, stone, and metal for her pieces, and handcrafts them by herself. Each piece also dotes it’s own quintessential name, like “Iliana,” “Luna,” “Arin,” and “Irene.” When you purchase a piece, you’ve made an investment in a handcrafted jewelry-maker who refuses to white-wash her advertising and instead explores the beauty of women of color in her marketing.
We got a chance to ask Shields about the scariest part of entrepreneurship, what being a mom and owning your own business are like, the importance of having an accountability partner, and rooting for everybody black.
When did you know you were ready to make the transition from providing customers with curated vintage jewelry to creating your own?
Kristina Shields: I always knew that I wanted to create my own designs. I wanted to be able to fully stand behind a product that I put out and I could only do that by sourcing the supplies and handcrafting them myself.
What ultimately inspired you to create Nina Arnell?
Shields: In October 2012 I was in my early twenties and wanted to stop waiting for life to happen and start manifesting the things I wanted. That month I decided to travel somewhere internationally by myself. I decided to go to Bangkok, Thailand and that experience literally changed my life. Taking that trip alone made me feel invincible and helped me realize that I’m completely in control of my own destiny. Upon my return to Atlanta, I had a newfound sense of self. I felt invincible. I could literally do whatever I wanted. That discovery led me to starting Nina Arnell Jewelry with absolutely no start-up money.
Considering the fierce competition in the jewelry market, what makes Nina Arnell stand out from the crowd?
Shields: The majority of the costume jewelry market is made with low-quality materials that deteriorate after just a few wears. Also, the minimalist jewelry market is comprised of mass-produced products that require little to no design effort. I carefully source quality materials to ensure lasting wearability and I use my original designs. All of my pieces are one-of-one so you won’t see anyone else rocking the same thing.
Are you totally self-employed through Nina Arnell? If so, how long did it take you to get there? If not, do you have plans to make that transition?
Shields: I am not currently totally self-employed through Nina Arnell, however, I have plans in place to make that transition within the next year. Big things coming.
What’s the scariest part about being an entrepreneur?
Shields: The scariest part is relying on potential income. Not everything you put out will sell.
What is something about the jewelry business and being a black female entrepreneur that you didn’t expect?
Shields: I didn’t expect to be told to white-wash my advertising to appeal to a particular customer base. Although Nina Arnell is for everyone, I like to explore the beauty of women of color through my lookbooks and advertising.
What are some considerations you make to get ethically-sound materials or supplies for your jewelry?
Shields: I generally obtain my materials from U.S. manufacturers and suppliers. They plate and select the stones to be cut themselves.
How do you balance your business with motherhood? What’s something you want people to know about being self-employed and being a mom?
Shields: It was definitely challenging at first. From the beginning of my pregnancy up until he was about 6 months old, I did absolutely nothing Nina Arnell related. I had become uninspired and my focus had shifted elsewhere. Once I booked Afropunk Brooklyn last year I had to get back on the grind. I would order supplies, fill orders, and create during my son’s nap time and when he went to bed at night. It’s much easier now that he’s in daycare Monday through Friday. It gives me time to freely explore my creativity without dealing with the demands of an energetic toddler. My partner is also very helpful and supportive too. This would all be much more difficult without him around. It’s extremely important to take time for yourself. By any means necessary. Whatever relaxes you, makes you happy, uplifts you, make time to do that. Children are extremely demanding so you can get burnt out quickly if you don’t make time to do the things you love. If your mental state is not in a good place, you can’t possibly do what you love and raise a little one in the healthiest way. I didn’t know the importance of self-care until I became a mother.
Who inspires you and why? How important is it to have a mentor in the business?
Shields: I’m just rooting for everybody black! But honestly, any woman doing the damn thing inspires me! My Mom, my friends, Oprah, errrybody! But on a serious note, a mentor or at least an accountability partner is a must in this realm. You’re gonna need someone to encourage and reassure you of your goals even when you don’t believe in yourself. And having someone in your corner who’s been there and done that already is a plus.
What advice would you give to black women and women of color about being an entrepreneur?
Shields: My advice would be to make sure you have a good product or service. Nobody wants something that no-one wants. And when you find that thing, be relentless in making it successful! Talk about your product and service every chance you get and remember that you represent your brand.
What do your mornings look like?
Shields: I usually wake up around 7am to get myself together. Then I wake up my son and give him breakfast and get him ready for daycare. After I drop him off I start running my errands. As I run my errands, I usually have a podcast playing through my car stereo. My favorites right now are Girl Boss Radio, Heroine, and The Friend Zone. I have to constantly stay inspired by something. If I have a market coming up that weekend, I’m running around the city getting last minute things to complete my setup. If I don’t have a market, I’m checking my website analytics, updating my Instagram, checking emails, and researching supplies for new product ideas.
What are your thoughts on failure or taking risks?
Shields: Failure is a necessary part of success. You absolutely have to fail to progress in life. This is how we learn things and improve upon them. I feel the same is true for taking risks. Entrepreneurship is a risk in itself. You’re betting everything on yourself and your abilities.
What is your greatest entrepreneurial achievement to date? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Shields: My greatest entrepreneurial achievement to date is getting my designs on Anthony Hamilton and booking AfroPunk Brooklyn. My next accomplishment will be getting my pieces on a popular show (I’m talking to you, Issa Rae) and in a magazine.