VBC

Coastal Chains

Nature, The Forever Muse

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If you set a goal, and it doesn’t make you nervous, it may not be big enough.

__Keri Rowe Tooke

Throughout the ages, many things have been said of her. She’s a force to be reckoned with, a beauty beyond human imagination, a gust of unpredictable brutality, and a solace to souls wearied by the ways of men. An inspiration so whole and universal, she stretches across boundary lines, continents, class, and culture. She is Nature, the the forever muse.

So many makers past and present have looked to nature as a guide, an instruction in elegance and strength. Just as nature invents herself according to her surroundings, many demonstrate that influence by sourcing only local materials or ingredients to create their work. Nature, too, is a model of resourcefulness, creating with whatever comes her way, a dewy garden, or the wonders of a desert. Our feeble hands can make nothing without her help.

An avid pupil of Nature’s lessons, Keri Rowe Tooke is a learned adventurer, duly humbled and emboldened by the vast curiosities and glory of her surroundings. Her delicate craft is the embodiment of some of our most treasured values: community, ingenuity, and a commitment to what her heart beats to do. She’s also the first international maker we’ve met, bringing a unique perspective to creating meaningful work in Vancouver, BC. Canadian by birth, she possesses a naturally adventurous spirit, with balance and grace marking her stride. As for her craft, I think that Keri tells it best. “I believe that everyone is creative. For me, I am a jeweler.”

Like most independent makers, Keri loved working with her hands from the very beginning. “I was always that crafty kid, whether it was beaded necklaces, or friendship bracelets, so I feel like I always had that in me since I was a child.” Ah, friendship bracelets. An indisputable rite of passage. Simple in form and execution, but for so many young girls they are the first symbols of their creative ability, to bring forth something unique into the world, and above all, represent the unmatched loyalties of girlhood. For Keri, these bracelets were a natural juncture of creativity and community, a powerful combination that would later lead to the creation of her burgeoning brand, Coastal Chains.

The origins of Coastal Chains are somewhat unlikely compared to the average maker we meet. While so many in the culture of shopping small feel pressured to hide their day jobs at the risk of looking under-committed to their personal work, it was her day job that she credits as much of the inspiration to begin her own company. What sort of company might encourage such adventurous moonlighting, you ask? None other than Lululemon, a Vancouver based producer of the highest quality run and yoga wear, and a community of creative world-changers.

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From their beginnings in 1998, Lululemon has proven dedicated to hiring a passionate staff, willing and able to inspire and educate their customers and communities. Not to mention encouraging their employees to live out their dreams at work and away. “At Lululemon there’s so much emphasis to live your best life, and get out there and do the things that you love.” As a recruiter in their head office, Keri has been deeply influenced by the company’s mantra. While her job requires a special kind of ingenuity, the culture of her day-to-day prompted a return to passions she had long since abandoned.

She quickly discovered that jewelry making for her peers would be a bit more difficult this go round. “I kept trying [to make things] and I would give up because I didn’t know what I was doing, or not know what direction to go in. So I would put it down. But I knew that I really wanted to do it.” In her determination, she continued investing in materials, sporadically trying out new techniques. Her efforts were improving, but not quickly. Like so many voracious learners trying to do too much at once, she would wind up with little to show at the end. All too often I find myself in those shoes. Down but not defeated, she convinced herself to try a new strategy, one that would be the key to her progress. “Instead of trying to do so much at once, figure out one thing, nail it and then let it grow from there.” And it did.

Her first project on this journey was a necklace aptly named The Bullet. It’s an interesting design, comprised of a bullet shell casing nestling a faceted crystal. “I’d seen [the design] before; it’s not something that I created on my own,” she tells us, an honest and empowering reminder that the best way to learn is still to emulate the masters. Her personal take on The Bullet necklace was the beginning of learning to curate her own voice in jewelry design, and continues to stand out among her collection. “I kind of like that it’s a little bit gritty looking. A lot of my other stuff is sparkly and beautiful, whereas it’s a little bit more raw.” Yin and yang, not unlike Keri herself.

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An athletic creative, Keri is a career woman who also happens to be crazy about surfing; just as comfortable in a wetsuit as she is in the office. Keeping the balance between her day job and Coastal Chains would seem enough to keep even the most ambitious among us busy, but for Keri there is yet another dimension of life she isn’t willing to let slip away in the hustle: play. “Although I have a full time job and this is a side project, I still have other things I love doing.” Despite friendly pressures from customers and friends, she’s unwilling to relinquish her time spent in the company of her wilderness muse. “A lot of people have ideas about where my jewelry should go into stores, but the reality is that in order to keep the balance and lifestyle that I have, I need to make sure I’m growing it organically and not too quick, or I’ll lose my weekends in the mountains.” For now at least, Keri loves that jewelry is only a sparkling facet of her schedule.

While she’s pushed to make the most of what she’s found at Lululemon, she’s also supporting her coworkers in their own off-the-clock pursuits. “My team at work, we are so supportive of each other. We’re like a big family. They in particular were so encouraging, and they still are.” Her community acts not only as a support, but accountability to sticking to her personal goals for Coastal Chains. “We talk about that. If you’re setting a goal, and it doesn’t make you nervous, it might not be big enough.”

Another virtue of Keri’s position at Lululemon is the cross-pollinating creativity inherent to that balance. Not only does she daily interact with talented individuals of all kinds, the time away from her personal passions improves the quality of the time she gives to it. “That’s one thing that I love about having a business, is that you’re always sort of thinking about it. When I’m not actually at my bench crafting jewelry, it’s always in the back of my head. I’ll get inspired by things at work and I’ll jot them down, and get excited that when I go home I can incorporate that. And when I am at my bench, I’m fully in it. I’m never just kind of doing it but also doing laundry or whatever. When I’m there, I’m so focused.”

For many makers, their studio is a sanctuary; a space devoted to work, dreams, visions, and creative inhibition. For Keri, this space is her bench, a rugged, wooden antique, designed to fit a jewelers’ pivots and posture. Nestled in a windowed corner of her high-rise apartment overlooking the Vancouver Mountains, it houses her tools, works-in-progress, and an array of tokens that inspire her. “That’s where I spend my time. It’s such a beautiful piece, and it’s such a smart design for jewelry. And that’s where I can keep my space. I don’t have to worry about clearing it off, or even what people think of what’s there. It’s mine, and I have it set up in a certain way that is useful for me.”

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While it’s quite clearly been a huge part of the genesis of Coastal Chains, Keri’s work community has been a wellspring of continuous motivation and opportunity. “At first I thought people were just being nice, and buying it because they were my friends and supporting me. I had a bit of a fear that people didn’t actually like it.” But collaborations within the Lululemon community have quieted her self-doubt, particularly one just completed alongside Jacki Carr, a friend and fellow company recruiter. The partnership with Jacki was to benefit imagine1day, a nonprofit that builds schools and supports education in Ethiopia. To help raise support to send Jacki to Ethiopia, Keri designed a trio of geometric earrings, each of individual significance. “The three are a triangle, circle, and a line. The triangle is to show change. Change is the most constant, and it represents being open to change, especially in this day and age when we’re growing so quickly, things are changing to fast, just being able to adapt to it. The circle means unity and collaboration. We’re all part of one. […] The pathway is choosing your own path in life, not letting others disrupt what you want to get up to. It can be winding, it can be wide, it can be narrow; it can be anything.” While much of her jewelry finds it’s home on other Lululemon employees and friends, pop-ups and craft markets have given her even greater confidence in her customers’ earnest taste for her designs. “I have to remind myself that people want to support it, and they won’t get it if they don’t want to. You’re not forcing anyone to pay for it.”

For Keri, the symbols incorporated into her work echo her truest inspirations, and the character they instruct her to embody. They’re inclusive and adventurous, placid and balanced; a little glam, a little grit. Even the name she’s chosen to host her line encompasses her past, and hopeful future. From a life spent on the coast, she’s more salt than the rest of us, a personal make-up that harmonizes with her love of the mountains, represented by a simple triangle in almost all of her pieces. Lastly, the chain. So essential it’s possible to entirely overlook, but for Keri it is the anchor, a simple element connecting all others. Together, the evolving combination of this pair represents her drive for cultivating depth in her community, and a devotion to that ageless muse, beckoning just beyond her cozy windowed corner.

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