As long as she can remember, Alicia Goodwin was fascinated with creating. She loved creating things, loved designing things, loved fashion. This love led her to the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology where she earned a degree in both Fashion Design and Jewelry Design in 2003. Narrowing down her creative bent, she focused in on jewelry. And she created her own unique jewelry while also consulting for design houses in New York City.
Goodwin launched Lingua Nigra in 2003 in Brooklyn, NY. She gave the inside account to TNJ.com.
TNJ.com: When did you launch the line?
AG: I unofficially launched the line around 2003, when I was an apprentice for another jeweler. I was her only employee and after I worked on her items I was free to use the bench and torch to make my own items. From there I went back to metal forming, something I was really drawn to in college. I started to reticulate metal, mainly brass, because I loved how uncontrolled the metal became and the process is really beautiful (when it finally happens!). I didn’t officially start selling what is known as Lingua Nigra until a few years later, maybe 2004-2005, when people kept asking me for the bangles I was wearing. I got so many requests, I decided to make those and a few other items and create a wholesale line sheet.
TNJ.com: Why did you launch?
AG: Why did I launch my brand? Why not? Honestly I don’t make my jewelry for anyone but myself. It’s wonderful when I meet a like-minded person who appreciates my work. I don’t have a ton of customers but the ones I do have always show support and love almost everything I put out. I can’t not make jewelry, I just can’t. The commodification of it is hard and easy when you think of yourself as a unique person and only want to make one of a kind things. I can’t do that and make a profit, so when I cast my favorite items I just have to know that whoever purchases it will have their own spin on it, very different from my own.
TNJ.com: Why jewelry?
AG: I was always into fashion and sewing and was so sure I was going be a fashion designer as an adult. I sewed as a child, took high school courses in it and majored in it at F.I.T. It wasn’t until I got to FIT did I realize that it’s not all drawing and fantasy outfits. It’s hard! I mean, I can sew almost anything but the amount of hours that goes into something and the labor….people just don’t know! Then I was thinking if I wanted to sell my own items to people, I would starve! I pulled through and completed the two year A.A.S. degree but didn’t go ahead with a Bachelors because I just knew this wasn’t the road I wanted to travel down anymore. By my second year I was interviewing at different places, large and small and was either offered a pittance of a salary (read, less than $30,000 in NY) or was told my portfolio was “too ethnic.”
I noticed how white the industry was and how nepotism was the name of the game. I also interned for two seasons for a then well-known Australian fashion designer and I must say that experience alone was super eye opening and it was just the extra push I needed to say farewell to fashion. I applied to the Jewelry Design program with no real prior experience in metalsmithing and I haven’t looked back since. I had no game plan for the future, mind you. I just wanted to make my own jewelry and figured I could work just as hard on a small ring as a fancy dress and wouldn’t have to worry about pricing, etc. Plus jewelry is easier to size and carry around!
Looking back I realized that I always loved jewelry. I would sell and make jewelry as a tween to my classmates and teachers, bought tons of amazing jewelry at thrift stores and was always working with my hands.
TNJ.com: What does the name mean?
AG: Well, let’s start with the pronunciation! The first word Lingua is pronounced (lean-gwa) and the second word Nigra is pronounced (Nigh (like thigh) – gruh). There!
It’s a rare disease and it’s Latin for Black Tongue. The actual disease name is Lingua Villosa Nigra (black hairy tongue). It’s a great conversation starter and a lot of people remember the name well after I have met them. I also was looking for something where I knew I would get a domain name! But in all truth I like weird, odd things and found the name in a book of rare diseases and knew that name was for me.
TNJ.com: How did you fund the startup?
AG: I’m a jewelry designer. That being said, I have worked full time for other people while starting my business on the side. Whatever money I have goes into production of items, casting, plating, etc. I still consult but usually work from my home studio so I have more flexibility when it comes to my own line.
I know it would be better to get outside funding, but then you start to lose your voice. I’ve worked for a lot of designers and have seen it happen to all the ones that have given up their rights in exchange for something larger.
TNJ.com: How do you market the company?
Alicia Goodwin: A lot of my marketing is organic. It’s word of mouth or I happen to know a friend of a friend of a cousin, that kind of thing. I also use Pinterest and that has worked out well for me. I was on it from the beginning, so I’m not sure if that same approach would work today. I also go on HARO every day to see if I can help a reporter out with a pitch. But honestly, a lot of it is very random and organic which is kind of nice. I have to be very DIY about things because my marketing budget is…well there is no marketing budget.
TNJ.com: Where can people find your jewelry?
AG: You can find my “jury” on the World Wide Web (linguanigra .com). You can follow me on Instagram (where I am the most), Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook – all Linguanigra.
TNJ.com What were some startup challenges and how did you overcome them?
AG: I still have startup challenges! I can’t give anyone advice because I’m so DIY over here! I started before social media was so large. In the beginning I was doing a ton of craft fairs and shows and was on a team of like minded people. I met them on Etsy and some are still really close friends. One has opened up her own shop. Others do even larger, more exclusive fairs and shows. It’s amazing to see the journeys we all took from wanting to grow our businesses. As for me, it’s a lot harder to get recognized and get funding. 110 percent of what I make goes right back into the business. I have one company credit card that I only use for large purchases, like renewing my website subscription or a booth fee, etc, then I make sure to pay it right off.
When it came to photography, models, website design, I know a lot of talented people and was either able to barter for services or pay a low fee. I always credit those that help me out and always send business their way, because that’s how DIY works!
TNJ.com: Goals for 2016?
AG: I have such a long list! For a while I’ve been wanting to expand into home goods and create large wall hangings that could also be used as jewelry. I’ve wanted to create other items as well, and I don’t want to say anymore because they might never get done.
I want to explore my jewelry as an object more so than just another thing to wear.
I recently put out a call for submissions on my Instagram page for people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. It’s another project, based on mourning and how, as Americans we don’t mourn publicly. With my project, I, a stranger, am requesting a very intimate item of the deceased. I have a form that the person who is submitting the item fills out, with details about the deceased. With that information and the donated article (which can be anything, I’ve been sent teeth, bridges, cloth) I will create a piece of jewelry which incorporates the item. As a thank you to the person for submitting the item I plan to make a duplicate piece of jewelry for them to wear or not wear, it is up to them.
* Photo by Chermelle Edwards (thecoffeetographer).