Zoe Cope and Ashley Lagasse met while in a small metals casting class at San Fransisco’s Academy of Art University, and started Birds N Bones Jewelry on October 31, 2013. Ashley grew up in southern Louisiana, surrounded by nature and being known as the girl who, during recess, would go dig for bugs. Zoe studied advertising and marketing for a year but felt unfulfilled academically; since she had always been interested in film, photography and art, she decided to go for that in college, which is when she met Zoe. They both felt themselves creating pieces inspired by bones, birds, dead things and natural textures… and sharing pizza… and the rest is history. Bones are used in other products too such as wedding bands for men; Manly Bands sell dinosaur bone wedding bands on their website and are available in a range of colors and designs – https://manlybands.com/collections/dinosaur-bone.
Even though Cope, 26, currently resides in Portland, Oregon (with her boyfriend and two roommates) and Lagasse, 30, in Brooklyn (with her husband and their amazing dog and cat), the two happily shared the ins and outs of their successful brand, Birds N Bones Jewelry!
CURIO DRACONIS Collection
Where do you find your inspiration?
Zoe: For us it comes directly from nature. Even though we do make molds directly from the natural specimens we collect, there is still plenty of design work that goes into our pieces. We manipulate the pulled waxes or sample castings, to then better refine them so they actually work well on the body. We create collections based around specific themes like bugs, dragons, or our first collection which was a myriad of our favorite bones that we were working with in school.
We source our bones/animal parts/specimens from stores like Paxton Gate, Natural History Museums shops, or online. We only need one of the item because we make a mold of it and then do the lost wax casting process to make multiples. Our pieces are fully metal. On a personal level, I get much inspiration from reading books involving magic, strong female leads, historical fiction, and art history. I like to infuse our designs with power that takes them from accessory, to adornment. We want our clients to feel like they are wearing amulets that have been created with intention and mysticism.
Is it difficult to collaborate, when you work on opposite sides of the country? (Zoe’s in Portland, Oregon and Ashley’s in Brooklyn!)
Zoe: Luckily, since we built our business while together in school, we have a great understanding of each other as business women, designers, and friends. So now that we live apart, our process still works for us. I do a lot of the initial specimen sourcing in person and online, and then Ashley does the mold-making in her studio. We then figure out the changes that need to be made to the sample, and then we do a never-ending back-and-forth dialogue over texting, Skype, and emails. We send each other sketches, links to materials we might want to use, and other inspiring elements. We do as much planning as possible, but we also leave tons of room for innovation. So many good ideas happen once you start working with the castings that initial ideas grow and morph into new designs.
I then handle our branding and social media, and Ashley is our finances and inventory wizard. We create systems so that in case one of is sick, traveling, or unable to work for any reason, we can continue as a business. We work as a team, but we have to prepare for worst-case scenarios to be able to make sure our company can manage if one or both of us, for some reason, were out of commission.
On average, how long does it take for you to finish a piece of jewelry, since it’s all handmade?
Ashley: Each piece really varies, but we try and have individual customer orders ship out within a week or two of ordering.
Is it hard to get bones and parts for your pieces? Any interesting stories about tracking down that perfect deceased animal?
Zoe: We are actually dealing with this now as we prep for our next collection, which will be ocean inspired. We really want to use fish bones, urchins, and other items that we will probably get at our local fish market to collect and treat ourselves. Ashley has a young cousin who is really into taxidermy, and sometimes he surprises her with boxes of cleaned animal bones from his projects- that’s how we go the armadillo vertebra for our Xenthra designs!
Ashley: There are definitely rarer species that are either illegal or too expensive to get our hands on but wish we could. Sometimes the best specimens are the ones you find yourself. One of my relatives living in southern Louisiana is the reason we have our Xenarthra pendant, because he found an armadillo skeleton and sent it to me.
The hard part isn’t so much the sourcing as it is to make a mold without crushing or deforming the specimen. We want the piece to stay intact with all its glorious details as much as possible. I’ve picked up a few tricks here and there over the years on how to mold difficult specimens.
We know you love the bones, the bugs, the magic and the moonstones (so do we!); will your brand stick with these themes, or can shoppers expect other styles from you?
Zoe: We are where the dark and the beautiful collide, so we will certainly continue to create designs that have a macabre, magical element to them. A long-term goal is for us to one day do an engagement and wedding ring collection that would use gold and platinum and be designs that speak to the less traditional lovers of commitment. Even with our next ocean-inspired collection, we won’t be going beach boho – we’ll be keeping it dark, moody, and really evoke the essence of mythological sea sirens.
Your jewelry exists to empower people and add a little mysticism into life; what makes each of YOU feel strong and powerful?
Zoe: I personally get strength from reading Tarot cards and learning more about animals, astrology, plants, and mythology. I use them as meditation and guidance tools, but also because I find them inspiring. I like to volunteer with horses and also read actual books. I feel like my dreams are more vivid and my thoughts more interesting when I take the time to not just read things on my phone but to fall into a story. So much of what we do is because we love the story and facts behind the animals we choose to work with.
Any big projects, shows or news you’d like to sign off with?
Zoe: We really loved our process of doing mini collection for our latest Entomology Collection so plan to do that process again. We offered three mini collection starting this past summer and created our final collection based on the purchases and feedback from the limited releases. It’s like how bands put out a single before an entire album drops, just with jewelry instead. We were able to better connect with our customers and offer pieces they actually desire. It’s a longer process at the front end, but it really lets us know our products and clients even better in the long run. We love doing collaborations with fashion designs and other makers, so we look forward to doing more projects in 2017.
Ashley: Creating and expressing that creativity through physical form is what really empowers me. Whether it’s making a really special jewelry piece at my bench or finally building that IKEA bookshelf. Seeing my accomplishments make me feel like a fierce, unstoppable boss lady.
Photo Attributions: Classic Collection – Cherise Olvera, Curio Draconis Collection – Autumn Rose Northcraft & Entomology Collection – Aubrey Janelle Photography