In a 3,400-square-foot studio in East Greenwich, R.I., Loren Barham creates her colorful and eclectic collections of necklaces, earrings, brooches, and rings under the moniker Loren Hope. The studio, located in a vast restored mill building, serves as headquarters for the young but quickly expanding business. It still has its original factory wood floors and 12-foot-tall windows, which flood the space with so much natural light that Loren has to wear sunglasses indoors on occasion. The large space is divided by a partition, which separates the creative-administrative and production teams, who handle every aspect of the design process.
Originally from North Carolina, Loren, the founder and creative director of the brand, chose to move operations north after a sourcing trip revealed the manufacturers, resources, and materials that the Providence area had to offer. Loren and her husband, Aaron – co-owner and director of operations – were sold. Here, Loren talks about the history of jewelry-making in the Ocean State, her commitment to manufacturing in the U.S.A., and her love of vintage style.
Why did you choose East Greenwich and Rhode Island?
We really like being in the mills and in such an industrial space; it’s very cool to occupy an area where American manufacturing was once booming. There’s a rich tooling, metal, and textile history in Rhode Island that most people might not be aware of.
Providence used to be considered the jewelry capital of the world back in the late 1700s, and the person who invented electroplating lived in Rhode Island. Costume jewelry was huge in Providence until the early 90s, when the whole country started [outsourcing manufacturing] to China. In my entire life, I really never thought I would end up in Rhode Island, but we really want to be a part of preserving American skills and artisanship as well as supporting American-made goods. It’s a priority for us to honor that ideal.
Tell us a little bit about your design process.
Up until three weeks ago, I had designed every single thing in the collection. I recently brought someone on with design experience. It’s great to have a second opinion. Second guessing your own designs or ideas can be really stressful.
What kind of materials are in your studio?
We have jewelry building components on both the creative and production sides of the studio. We also have an archive room that houses a lot of components and vintage stones that we’ve accumulated over the years. It’s a wonderful resource for pulling different colored and shaped stones. You’ll also find lots of different sizes of rings, clasps, and connectors and boxes of chain samples. Chunky chains too.
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How does your creative process start, and how does your office play a part in it?
I have a room for myself where I can close the door and think if I need to. In front of my desk I have a gallery wall of art and favorite photographs. Behind my desk I have two project-height design tables where I can lay things out in person. Besides the gallery wall, I also have my inspiration area. I’ll start taping different inspiration pieces on the wall with washi tape and make that collage as big as I want.
What inspires you?
I’m really inspired by vintage jewelry, and I have a ton of books on it. I love thoughtful details not just in vintage jewelry pieces but also in interior design. I tend to pin a lot on Pinterest – things like rooms and furniture, architectural lines, and color combos that I see in really great rooms. A lot of times, though, I’ll follow along with the trends from fashion week and pin and clip some of my favorite looks. I’ll see if I’m noticing overall themes that feel important and relevant and that resonate with me. I want to make sure each collection doesn’t just feel fresh but also feels relevant. It sets the tone for the season. So it really is a mix of pulling apparel looks, flipping through vintage fashion magazines, finding things online, browsing pictures of antique jewelry — really just going through all of my points of reference.
What happens once the design is finalized?
Once we finalize a design, we put all of the pieces in stackable bins with a sample of the component taped to the outside. That way you can see it and reach inside to grab what you need. The stones we order in bulk. Depending on the construction of the piece, all cold connections with wires and beads as well as soldered pieces using a torch are done in-house. We have three full-time people on our production team who do the stone setting.
How did you get started making jewelry?
It happened very organically. I have a fine art background, so I’ve always drawn. I always loved glass, marble, gemstones, and minerals. My aunt gave me a beading kit when I was 10, and my grandmother owned a thrift store in North Carolina. We’d go to Sunday dinner and play in the thrift store and she would let me take home whatever I wanted. I’d take the jewelry apart and reassemble it and give it to my friends. After high school, I decided to study fine art in college. That’s when I learned how to manipulate metal, and there was something amazing about transforming it and about the dirty process of working with metal. Humans have been doing it for hundreds of years. I love the grit that goes into it and then the polished final piece that adorns a beautiful woman.
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When was the idea for the jewelry business born?
I married my husband, who was in the ROTC, and he got assigned to the UK. I left [college in North Carolina] and moved with him, took my tools, and started ordering different [jewelry] components. I started making stuff at my dining room table. As a military wife, I knew I was going to be uprooted a lot and that I was going to have to get creative with my career. All of a sudden I had this idea: What if I sold these pieces I was making? It was a light bulb moment!
All images courtesy of Loren Hope.