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Meet Trailblazer MK Byrne

Today we’d like to introduce you to MK Byrne.

MK, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
As a small child, I loved to be outside and explore, collecting flowers and rocks. As I got a little older, I started helping my Dad with his building projects, learning how to use tools and take a design from a concept to a finished object. I was always collecting and tinkering and starting all sorts of projects but I never really locked in on one type of craft in particular. So, when I was trying to decide “what I wanted to do when I grew up”, it was hard to narrow it down. I decided to study business. It was a background I could turn in many different directions, and I thought eventually, I would like to start a company. Truthfully, though, I had no idea how all my tangents could come together.

By my senior year in college, the picture still didn’t look much clearer. I needed a job and I thought it would be a good idea to learn about sales, so I took a job at a jewelry boutique. Suddenly, everything was clear. I loved the feeling of creating a space to welcome customers, building relationships with people, the creativity of the displays, the game of merchandising, and the thrill of a great sales day. I was promoted to manager after I graduated, and helped the owners grow their business over the next few years. It was such an invaluable experience!

Eventually, however, I realized I didn’t see myself working for someone else 5 or 10 years down the road. I saved enough money to take a few months off and started working on my first designs. It was a very slow process, teaching myself jewelry making techniques and selling my work at local farmer’s markets where I would barely make back the booth fee. Financially, it was stressful, but I knew I was moving in the right direction. I opened up a new credit card (yikes!) and kept going.

One day, I met Elaine, the owner of the fine jewelry gallery Gladstone in Manchester by the Sea. She offered me a part-time job and I felt like the stars were all aligning to light my path. I was able to keep my bills paid while having time to develop my skills and designs. Most importantly, I continued to learn from an enormously talented creative entrepreneur. In my role as her assistant, I did everything from photo editing, sales, correspondence, to bookkeeping. I soaked up her impeccable taste and was constantly inspired by the beauty of the store.

For two years, I worked every single day, for as many minutes as I could squeeze in. I would make an inventory in the morning, go to work at Gladstone, then come home and make more inventory. On the weekends, I sold my work under a 10 x 10 tent at SOWA in the South End and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. By the end of the summer in 2017, I couldn’t make enough pieces to keep up with sales! I calculated that it was now costing me money to keep my part-time job. I was reluctant to leave my mentor, but I knew it was time to fly.

WILD & FREE is now my focus, full time. It has been an adventure to grow it from a dream to something that sustains me, and the journey has blessed me in countless ways. My family has been tremendously supportive, offering free labor and encouragement whenever it was needed. We’ve been able to spend so much more time together and share some really beautiful moments when we were stretched thin, then celebrate the milestones. I’ve met beautiful, inspiring makers and customers through the markets. The small business community around Boston is incredibly strong, driven, and inspiring! Looking ahead, all I know is… that I can’t really know! I just put my best work in, try to make “good mistakes” and trust the process.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I’ve learned things going “smoothly” is just a matter of perspective. I consider the day went smoothly if I was able to handle the unexpected and have a laugh about it later!

My biggest struggles seem to center around managing my finite resources – time and money. As a creative entrepreneur, you’re wearing all the hats, and you have to juggle when and how long to wear each one. You have to be a font of originality to design, a machine to produce your product, and use your business head to keep a leash on the artist and make sure you’re actually profitable!

But no matter how tired, frustrated or confused I get, I remind myself that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. It’s the struggles that make it rewarding and the unpredictability that keeps it interesting.

The advice I’d give someone just starting is to be brave enough to make good mistakes. This is a little mantra I’ve told myself over an over again as I made a lot of mistakes growing my business. To me, it means taking action using the best of your knowledge and motivated by what you love, rather than letting fear dictate waiting for the “perfect” time (it never comes). Then, you try to objectively look at the results of what you did. That way you can make a smarter mistake next time.

We’d love to hear more about WILD & FREE.
I hand make 14k gold fill and sterling silver jewelry. I specialize in what’s called cold connection techniques – jewelry fabrication that uses only a hammer, drill, and pliers instead of heat and soldering. I’m known for simple, delicate designs and a natural aesthetic. I am very influenced by the balance of Japanese temples and ikebana flower arrangements.

I’m most proud of having a close connection to my customers and providing the best service I can for them. It brings me joy to meet the people who will live their lives wearing my work. I consider my customers like extended family!

WILD & FREE is distinguished by the durability of the pieces I make. I learned to build things from my Dad, who over-engineers everything to outlast a lifetime. My pieces are designed to be worn daily and enjoyed for decades. I guarantee my craftsmanship, but I very rarely have to repair anything.

We’re interested to hear your thoughts on female leadership – in particular, what do you feel are the biggest barriers or obstacles?
I am incredibly grateful to be born into a time when women don’t have to ask permission. I think one of the biggest barriers to female leadership is something anyone can struggle with – sometimes, we get caught up asking ourselves for permission to do what would make us most fulfilled.

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Image Credit:
MK Byrne

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