Making Mud Beautiful

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Wikoff creates unique clay jewelry in her West Greenville studio

Lily Wikoff expected to be a potter in New York City, but a series of random events led her to become a Greenville-based jewelry designer with pieces in 62 stores across the United States. She also has a studio and shop in West Greenville, and at 29 has found a growing clientele for her earthy pieces made of hand-stamped and fired clay.

A crafting magazine recently referred to her necklaces, bracelets and rings as “jewelry for tomboys,” a designation she enjoyed. “It’s not glitzy or glam, but it’s pretty,” Wikoff said. “It’s cool that we’re literally taking mud and making it beautiful.”

You started out focusing on pottery. How did the switch to jewelry come about?

I didn’t think I would be making jewelry. I was a potter and taught pottery at the Greenville Museum of Art. But then I made jewelry for my mom and sister, and someone saw it on Facebook and asked me to make it for her bridesmaids. I made them and they loved it, so I did a couple of home shows with just necklaces and sold out. So I thought, “Wow, I might have something here.”

How long has Lily Pottery been operating, and where do you sell your products?

It will be six years this fall. We sell to a lot of independent boutiques, organic spas, yoga studios and resorts. I also have a studio and storefront in West Greenville, in what’s called The Village on Pendleton Street. We’ve recently started having regular retail hours Thursday through Saturday, so we’re not just a working studio, we’re also a store. People can also shop online anytime (at lillywikoff.com).

Where are you from and what brought you to Greenville?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and most of my family is still there. I came to Greenville to study art at Bob Jones University. I didn’t think I would stay here, but it’s been so good. Greenville is so supportive of the arts and so good for grassroots businesses.

You sell your jewelry in your store, but you also sell wholesale to retailers. What’s the benefit of going that route?

0614UBJJumpStartLilyWikoff6GregWe do the international shows in New York and Atlanta, and we’re hoping to do Los Angeles and Paris next year. Stores order in bulk but at half the price, so I had to figure out how to make my price point so that I could still make a profit. But they sell in bulk and they also do the marketing and have a clientele. It’s a market I otherwise can’t reach, to expand beyond Greenville, because we don’t want to saturate the market here and I can’t constantly come up with new things.

Mast General Store was our first wholesale account. I wanted to sell there because 70 percent of their customers are from out of town. I had to go pitch to their accessory buyer for all seven stores, and they really helped me understand how wholesale works.

How has your location in West Greenville changed since you moved in?

I absolutely love it. It is a cool, trendy part of Greenville that is gaining some serious steam. There are more than 40 artists and creative businesses here now. It’s a little under the radar, but I could have never supported retail hours five years ago and now I can. It’s just a minute and a half from (Fluor Field), but people always walk in and say, “I never knew this was down here.”

You have had several mentors as you have developed your business. Has that inspired you to mentor young artists?

I have had some amazing mentors in this area that saw me as this young, hungry soul who wanted to learn. One is Michael Watts, my landlord and my friend. We always talk about business and West Greenville.

I now have two girls on staff and six interns, and they just come to us. When I started, I had no idea what I was doing as far as business goes. I had a degree in art but I had to learn from the school of hard knocks. So I love helping them, so they can get a feel for what it’s like to own and operate a creative business.

What’s next for Lily Pottery?

I am working on a line of men’s jewelry, not under the name Lily Pottery, because that’s geared toward women. I’m working on it now – rings, necklaces, and I’m also getting into leather goods: wallets, belts, and a few other cool things for guys. I feel like there is a market for guys’ jewelry. I make cufflinks now and they are a big hit.

So we’ll keep this storefront for Lily Pottery, and have another location geared toward men, and then I don’t want to give too much away yet but we have a couple of other things up our sleeve.

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