Ansley Fletcher Schrimsher
A soon as I entered, Sultre, a boutique in Winter Park that hosted one of Dora Mae’s trunk shows, I spotted a necklace piece that I needed. This rarely happens to me in regards to jewelry. What I tend to need is digital watches and over-priced sunglasses. I’m not like most women—I don’t wear much jewelry. I’ll admit, however, that ever since I went to Hawaii, which is the place where I bought my first pair of diamonds, I’ve become a sucker for small, blingy earrings, but as far as owning my own necklaces, rings and bracelets—not so much. I might own one of each, which were more than likely gifts, but I only wear one ring on a daily basis and that’s because I’m too lazy to take it off.
This piece I needed was gold and made of two different chains, a longer one that carried a locket and a shorter one that held what looked like a stick. The locket I immediately loved because it eerily had a bird on it that matched a tattoo on my wrist. Once I opened it, I also found two adorable sepia pictures, each with a portrait of a young boy, one chubby, one not. “What’s with the stick,” I asked Ansley. I liked the locket enough that it really didn’t matter what the stick was, but still I was curious. “It’s something writer’s wore around their necks in the 1800’s to carry their pen or ink.” She had no idea that I had just published my first book that month. The piece clearly belonged to me. Sold.
The bonus was learning that half of my money was going to charity. That’s how Dora Mae works. So I bought another piece for my best friend, Julia. She always wears jewelry. For her, jewelry is more like art in that it adds and changes her already stylish wardrobe. She’s convinced me that I’d probably own less clothes if I owned more jewelry. And if I’m going to start buying more jewelry, it seems I’m going to be spending much more time following Ansley.
Jana: What have you accomplished this morning?
Ansley: This morning I spent time with my three-year-old little girl, Haven. It’s been one of my goals to not to get up and get running if I don’t have to. We call Fridays “Fun Fridays” at my house because we try not to plan anything. Every other day of the week, I’m either working or the kids have scheduled activities, so Fridays are our day for fun.
This morning Haven and I woke up and had nothing to do. My son Cade spent the night at his cousin’s house last night, so we hung out on the couch, talked, and ate breakfast. It was wonderful.
How long have you lived in Orlando?
Since I was born. I’m a native. I grew up three blocks from where I live now in College Park. [Laughs] I know it’s kinda strange to be a native, but my parents were born here and so were my grandparents. My family’s been here for a long time.
What keeps you in this city?
I think community is the best way to say it, both family and friends. My husband’s family lives here too, and he is one of seven kids. Both my sisters live two blocks away, too.
We’ve considered moving several times because of one, Jake’s job, and two, for a change, or what Jake calls “an adventure.” But when it comes down to it I feel like the most important thing in life is our relationships and community. So we’re sticking around. We love it.
Do you want to talk a little bit about Dora Mae and how it was started?
Sure. When my grandmother was cleaning out her house in order to move to a nursing home, she gave me boxes from her attic. I can picture her on the ladder right now. She just started passing them down, box after box. They were old crusty boxes. [Laughs] My sisters and I laid them all out on the floor and just started going through them. We found amazing things, like jewelry she had had for over sixty years and some other antiques that she collected as a young girl. Some of the pieces you could wear as they were, but most of them were out of date, really pretty, but out of date.
Very slowly over time, I started taking the pieces and redoing them. There were two bead stores I went to—one in Maitland and the other in College Park—that taught me the basics, like how to crimp and wire wrap. So slowly but surely, I started playing with them and then giving them back to my sisters, my mom and cousins. Then, um … people started liking them and noticing them. [Laughs] And I started getting requests, especially from people who had their grandmother’s pieces and wished they could wear them. That’s really how it started. I started making custom orders with family heirlooms and it grew from there.
Where do you find most of your pieces now?
I find them mainly at antique shows where there are a ton of dealers. Like, there’s one called the Renninger’s Extravaganza up in Mount Dora. It is three times a year with over five hundred dealers. You’re guaranteed to find some really nice pieces from all over the country there. Then there’s great shows in Atlanta, Charlotte, New York and really all over the country.
Wherever I go, I always stop in antique stores. Small towns are the best. My mom and I have taken a Florida tour, and we’ve gone through Deland, Leesburg, Ocala and all the little, tiny towns in between that have great antique stores, mainly because they have an older population. People tell me all the time, “You can’t find all of these pieces in Florida!” And I don’t. But Florida is a great place to find vintage jewelry.
That’s surprising because we’re much younger than most states. How do you think the vintage jewelry gets here?
I think because a lot of grandmothers live here. [Laughs] There are a lot of estate sales here, too. I try to go to estate sales, but I need such a large quantity of pieces, that sometimes, it’s not worth my time. I wish I could do more of that, cause I do love ‘em.
Roughly, how many hours do you spend combing antique shops?
It’s in chunks, so it’s kinda hard of hard to say. For each collection, I’d say I spend three or four days of concentrated time looking for pieces.
How often do you release a collection?
One for each season, so four times a year.
Where are your local go to antique shops? Unless you don’t want to give away your secrets.
Oh no! No secrets. There is so much vintage jewelry out there, plenty for everybody. I have my own specific style and taste so I don’t ever worry that I won’t find anything.
One of my favorite places, which sadly just closed down, was Two Sisters off of Michigan and Bumby. I loved the owner’s selection. There are many places in New Smryna. There’s the New Smyrna Antique Mall, and Jeff’s Antiques, which I just went to over the 4th of July weekend. There are some great shops in Deland on the main street, but I don’t remember names. Those aren’t hard to get to … and Mount Dora! There are great shops there.
How do you price your jewelry?
I basically double it. So I haven’t yet taken my time into account, which I’d love to do but I’m afraid I’d price people out of being able to buy it. I don’t want to go there. I want to stay in the hundred range and so I price it based on the piece. I try to stay in the $35-70 range when buying a piece. Then I add the chain, the beads and the clasps and so the price ranges between $100 and $200 for the finished product.
My goal, however, is to have a less expensive line called Mae. My grandmother was a crazy bargain shopper, so I feel like she would love it. If she saw the price of my jewelry now she’d go crazy! So the line Mae would be between $50 and $100. I’d just need to buy less expensive pieces.
What’s the most you’ve ever paid for one piece?
I’ve paid $120-130. It was for a piece I loved. Usually, the older the piece is the more expensive it is. So if I love it, I‘ll splurge on it and hope someone else loves it too. [Laughs]
How do you know ages and styles of vintage pieces?
You know, I didn’t know at first. I’ve been looking at them now for five years, and now I can tell from the sheer amount of jewelry that I’ve looked at. I never took a class. I never read a book. I just talked to dealers. Antique goers love to talk about their pieces, so I try to get as much information from them as possible.
That’s the unique thing about jewelry, the real stuff never dies. It just gets passed on. You never know who may have worn the pieces before you. Do you think there’s an importance to that?
Absolutely. I want my jewelry to have the look of age. Some pieces look like they’ve never been touched, or they’ve been kept in a box. I usually don’t want those. I want the ones that have been worn. To me, it makes it so much more fun to wear. I try to include the story of the piece on the back of every price tag. Sometimes I don’t have time to attach them and I often get requests for it if its not there. It’s a big part of what makes the jewelry so appealing.
Yeah, like my piece and the locket. People ask me if I’m going to trade out the pictures of the two boys in it. And I’m like, “No way! Those boys are staying with me.” I do wonder who they are though.
[Laughs] It’s true. Someone else loved those boys so much that they wore them around their neck. I thought that made it really special. [Laughs] But you’re like me. I rarely change pictures or things like that. Sometimes I’ll but pictures over them, but I like to keep the originals there.
I heard you recently spent time in the New York offices of People magazine, how did that go over?
It was so much fun. I had a blast. A friend works there and thought the people who work with her would love my work, and the show went really well. There was such a great response. It was definitely a confidence booster for me, because I’ve only ever had shows in my neighborhood. I’ve expanded to Winter Park, but that’s it. [Laughs] It was great for me to get outside my own environment. It’s inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing.
Is there ever a challenge to selling your jewelry because it’s something that can’t be massed produced?
Yes, there is. So many times I’ve considered reproducing if I could find a quality manufacturer, but I can’t ever bring myself to do it. It’s part of the charm. I personally love one of a kind jewelry. Anthropologie has great appeal because it has that vintage feel and charm, but there is a hundred of them all over the place. Vintage for the masses is wonderful, but there is something extra special about the real thing.
I don’t think Dora Mae is about becoming a big business and mass producing. To me, Dora Mae is a creative outlet and a way for me to express myself and serve our community. At this point in my life, that’s perfect for me. We’ll see where God leads me in the future.
What made you decide to give half of your proceeds to charity?
Honestly, it was what I felt I wanted to do. When people started responding and Dora Mae started growing, I realized that I wouldn’t stay motivated to do it just to have a bigger amount of money in my bank account. That would not be inspiring or motivating to me. It had always been a hobby up until then, so to turn into this business—well, some of the joy was lost in the idea of that. So I prayed about it. I felt like God wanted me to release the business to him and trust him with it. He wanted it to be about loving others. And it’s been such a joy. I’m so glad that’s the direction it’s gone.
More than a jewelry maker, you’re a landscape artist, a mother and wife. How else do you define yourself?
You know, this year identity has been a huge part of my life. We spend so much energy trying to define ourselves, but I believe that God, as our creator, is the only true identity giver. I don’t want Dora Mae to just be “Let me make something beautiful and unique so that others can see and appreciate how creative I am.” That would be all about me and building up of who I am. There’s something empty to that. Actually, it’s not empty, it’s just not ultimately satisfying. You think you’re going to be satisfied from defining yourself by your talents or abilities or by reaching your goals, but it always leaves you wanting more.
It kind of goes along with how I feel God called me to do this for others. More importantly, though, I feel like he called me to do it for him. I’ve created an outlet that I can love both him and others through. That’s been part of my identity: I am his dearly loved child that enjoys creating in order to love both him and those around me. I love that … and to me it’s way better than defining myself based on what I’m good at or what will give me the greatest sense of accomplishment.
I am also a mother, and a wife and a friend. Relationships are what I prize the most.
And what are your plans for the rest of today?
[Laughs] I don’t know. When I go home, we’ll have our huddle. I’m gonna leave it up to the kids. Fun Friday is their day.
*Interview Date: July, 9 2010
Check out Ansley’s Dora Mae line at www.doramaejewelry.com. Also, there is a trunk show this weekend, July 17th, 12-4pm, at Sultre Boutique in Winter Park. Come see us!