We spoke to Mackenzie Becker, the founder of bold, feel-good jewelry brand MackBecks.
MackBecks creates handmade wearables in small batches from their Kansas City design studio. Each piece is handmade slowly with multidisciplinary techniques like metalsmithing and industrial design to craft unique and authentic pieces.
Becker’s work varies in style from bold statement pieces, empowering feminist imagery, and childhood memories involving insects and plants. She works between her home studio and Cherry Pit Collective, a group of womxn-identifying artists that promote collaboration and community. She values her genuine and slow-made practice to bring beautifully handcrafted jewelry and heirloom quality pieces to anyone who wears them.
We asked Becker about all things jewelry design and running a busy business.
Tell us about MackBecks – what inspired you to start a jewelry brand?
I knew pretty early on in my education at Rockhurst University that I was more attracted to my studio classes over anything else, and quickly changed my major to most easily accommodate a studio practice since our school did not have an art major. I spent those four years focusing on painting and drawing, with the intention of painting full-time or getting a Masters in Fine Art.
I sourced some really tiny pliers and got to work at my coffee table in 2017
After graduating, I kept a pretty steady studio practice and experimented a lot in fiber work. I made a lot of embroidered and woven paintings while working a lot of simultaneous odd jobs. I started making jewelry mostly because I wanted wearables for myself that I could afford on a budget, after leaving my first not-so-exciting “9-5”.
I sourced some really tiny pliers and got to work at my coffee table in 2017. I had a lot of embroidery floss around from my experimental fiber pieces and began making the trend of the moment – tassel earrings. I was most surprised that friends were actually interested in the pieces I was creating – some of my first clients were good friends from college! (THANK YOU!!!)
As I continued to learn more about jewelry design, I became more enticed by working with metals and less excited by current trends. After my first handmade market that December, I used the funds to get my first jewelry saw and sheet metal. I began taking my own illustrations and taught myself how to cut each by hand. It felt like I could sell tiny drawings that people could wear on their ears and it has since become my favourite form of creative expression.
You call your pieces wearable sculptures, why?
As I deepened my skill set into metalsmithing, I continued finding myself creating tiny sculptures that were more interactive than just a simple earring. My favourite pair, our Cicada Earrings, have riveted wings that swing back and forth! During quarantine, I was really inspired by all of the empty parks and made interactive playground earrings – one was a swing set and another of monkey bars!
What do you want to convey with your jewelry?
The most important concept to me at the moment is creating pieces that make people feel good and authentic to themselves when they wear them. In doing this, I draw upon my own experiences with nostalgia and nature that bring me a lot of personal happiness. Making something that brings me a lot of joy is a huge plus when it brings someone else a lot of joy too!
The most important concept to me at the moment is creating pieces that make people feel good and authentic to themselves when they wear them
I am very concept-driven and am currently really excited about pieces that are either more complex in detail or have a lot of movement – or BOTH!
Do you have a favourite piece, past or present?
One of my favourite pieces to date is a discontinued design that was a pair of brass earrings that resembled hands knitting. They were originally a custom design requested by a client and became a best seller of 2020! That piece was one of the most difficult to make and was a huge labour of love!
How do you go about making your jewelry? What’s your favourite part of the process and what’s the most challenging?
My favourite part of the process is designing, which was a big realization I had earlier this year. I recognized that I did not allow enough design time with how our previous production practices were operating and decided to make some big changes, since we were growing quickly.
After years of hand-sawing every piece of metal, I decided to partner with a company based in Oregon that water cuts our designs, Portland Water Jet. I continue to do all of the metalsmithing and finishing of the raw parts, but this partnership has given me the opportunity to focus on new designs and expanding our business in other avenues!
We also invested in our own laser cutting machine, to produce our designs in a variety of other materials. I have spent much of this year teaching myself Illustrator and new industrial design techniques on the laser! I’d also like to thank my dear friend and studiomate, Paulina Otero for showing me the basics and investing in this machine together!
Now that we have grown, I have been focusing on how I can stay organized for my employees, while also trying to navigate a healthy work/life balance (oof it’s hard y’all!)
When I first started my business I was also hand-making all of my earring cards by embossing each card with gold. As I continued to grow, I wanted to outsource our earring cards, business cards, and marketing materials from a producer that had incredible quality with gold foil that resembled our past branding colours (black and gold.) I chose MOO originally because of the Gold Foil and quick turnaround, but stayed for the incredible quality and commitment to their customers! I now use MOO for all of our marketing materials from earring cards, biz cards, care cards, and Postcards!
The most challenging part of MackBecks today is being an organized/good boss! Since going full-time in 2019, I was very used to being on my own schedule and flying by the seat of my pants. Now that we have grown to two employees, I have been focusing on how I can stay organized for them, while also trying to navigate a healthy work/life balance (oof it’s hard y’all!).
What has it been like setting up your own creative business?
Oh gosh… I kind of can’t even believe it still, to be completely honest! In the first two years, I was simultaneously working multiple jobs during the day and working MackBecks at night and on weekends. I definitely was firing on all cylinders, if ya know what I mean. My favourite part of it all has been the discovery of a new process that shifts the business into different realms, and reimagining and designing our future to pivot along the way!
My biggest issue […] is the duality of imposter syndrome and not overworking myself, which really do go hand-in-hand
My biggest issue (that I am currently overcoming) is the duality of imposter syndrome and not overworking myself, which really do go hand-in-hand. I have been working really hard this past year to create a better balance in and out of work, so that I can enjoy both even more, and experience less anxiety when I am not at work. I would definitely recommend to anyone out there starting out, to always prioritize your time outside of your creative practice, because they are both so influenced by each other, and both need lots of rest and care!
How do your feminist values come into play in your brand? Are there any other values that are important to you in your business?
We truly want everyone to be able to equally interact with our work and feel like the best way to do this is through access! It is important for us to have accessible monthly inexpensive “Sample Box” sales that have a mystery piece of jewelry inside, so most people can shop at a larger discount.
What’s next for MackBecks? Any grand plans?
We are actually making some really big plans to move out West in 2022! We are really excited to be a part of that creative community and to participate in new handmade markets.
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