How One Woman Created Her Own Green Dream Job

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Artist Tia Kramer works on one of her many eco-friendly projects in her studio.

We are hearing a lot these days about green jobs and green entrepreneurs. What emerges as a theme in most of these stories is that innovation and imagination are necessary components when exploring the next wave of sustainability.

So, what if your dream job doesn’t yet exist? What if you have an idea for an incredible new product? Where to begin?

Tia Kramer, a Seattle-based artist, became interested in papermaking while taking a textile course as an undergrad. Little did she know that her newfound passion for papermaking would evolve into a career as a paper jewelry maker.

As a student, she seized opportunities to study the relationship to nature in her work, as well as the many complex issues surrounding sustainability.

Kramer has always been interested in integrating her artwork with her values, and an art installation that featured her papermaking first sparked the inspiration for her jewelry.

“As I was trying to figure out the color scheme for the sculpture I was building, a professor and a classmate both commented on my sculpture models exclaiming, ‘Wow, I want those for my ears.’ In this way, I feel like jewelry found me,” Kramer says.

Kramer decided to take her colleagues up on the challenge, and her earrings were so popular that she soon realized she had the potential products for a start-up company.

Curious about the workings of a sustainable business, Kramer worked part time with Noon Solar and assisted them in teaching a course called “Sustainable Forms.”

Her business started small, and she sold her jewelry at local shows and to friends and colleagues. After a stint working as science support staff for climate change scientists in Antarctica, Kramer decided she had saved enough to pursue jewelry full time and relocated to the Pacific Northwest.

While the first thing you are likely to notice about Tia Kramer’s jewelry is that it is a stunning combination of artistry and color, when you delve a little more deeply, it is clear that her art has a deep connection and respect for the natural beauty that inspires it.

In addition to fine craftsmanship, Kramer is also committed to running a sustainable business, and she is constantly examining other sustainable small business models that work. To that end, her efforts include:

Kramer's designs feature recycled sterling silver and other sustainably sourced materials.

– The use of primarily recycled sterling silver

– All paper is made using all-natural, biodegradable pulp

– Packing supplies, gift boxes, shipping boxes and papers are recycled or reused

– Paper and other raw materials are sourced from companies with eco-friendly practices

– Production uses very little electricity or machinery

In addition to her manufacturing processes, Kramer takes a whole-system approach to sustainability. She tries to model these values with the lifestyle choices she makes.

“I pack a healthy, homemade lunch, bicycle commute to work, donate jewelry and money to local causes, patronize other sustainable businesses, build and retain relationships with the community and fellow jewelers, and try to maintain a healthy balance between my work and my personal life,” she says.

For artists like Kramer who are considering starting their own business, she encourages them to find mentors who are doing similar work.

“Don’t hesitate to work for free if the job that you are doing is something you want to do […] Learn how to be a multi-faceted person,” she explains. “Being creative isn’t just art; how you manage your resources, how you pay your employees and yourself, as well as how you manage your personal life are all important factors in being a successful artist.”

Kramer’s designs can be found on her Web site as well as at museum stores and galleries nationwide. Look for her work at The Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Shop, The Seattle Art Museum Shop and The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Annex Store.

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