For Brandy Thomason McNair, making jewelry isn’t just a hobby; it’s a way of life. The Harrison native — who grew up on a cattle farm near Bear Creek Springs — developed an interest in beads around age 10 and it just took off from there.
“My mom would take me to the little Ben Franklin store on the square in Harrison and I would buy charms and beads and such. I was also very inspired by my grandmothers … they both had tons of vintage jewelry, beads and buttons and we were always making something,” she remembers.
McNair’s mom often took her shopping at Crescent Moon Beads in nearby Eureka Springs, where she developed a lasting friendship with the owners. When she was 14, she began working there a few Saturdays a month, and she also began making and selling her own creations.
“I started making a lot of macramé hemp jewelry because it was so popular back then (circa 1996!). I was 14, in eighth grade or so, and I was selling my jewelry at the local health food store on the square in Harrison. I would go by after school once a month to pick up a decent-sized consignment check,” McNair says.
She continued her small-scale business and working at the bead shop throughout high school, then attended community college in Harrison off-and-on for a few years before enrolling at the UofA in Fayetteville. There, she majored in interior design.
McNair says she loved the interior design program, but was dissatisfied working as an entry-level interior designer in Little Rock. “I loathed sitting in the office all day with not much to do,” she says.
To get her through the stress of a job she didn’t enjoy, McNair turned to the comfort of her old hobby. “I pulled out my old boxes of beads and tools one day when I got home from work and just started making,” she says.
Around Christmastime 2008, she hosted her first show in a friend’s living room. “And people showed up,” she laughs, “and bought things!” Soon, she was selling at local markets and art shows, while also holding down part time jobs at Argenta Bead and waitressing.
Last July, McNair became full-time self-employed with Bella Vita Jewelry, which is a nod to her Italian heritage. Bella Vita means “beautiful life” in Italian. “I love working for myself and running my own show,” she says. “I have always loved being around the materials and the making part. I feel like designs just come to me and I have a special way of arranging and designing and grouping these small beads and other objects together.”
In Little Rock, her pieces are sold at Box Turtle; Paper, Scissors, Little Rock; and The Good Earth Garden Center. She also sets up at the South Main Vintage Market the second Saturday of each month (April-October). And soon she’ll be selling her designs from a studio space at the corner of Sixth and Main streets in the revitalized Main Street creative corridor.
“It will be a working studio, so you will walk in and see our organized mess and us working. I have one assistant right now and am looking for a second studio manager/shop gal,” says McNair, who plans to have open hours Thursday-Saturday, and by appointment. “I have to make sure I have enough time to make jewelry and fill orders,” she adds.
McNair will also have a small retail section in the historic 350-SF space, in which she will sell her jewelry, vintage pieces and gift items, like vegan soaps, lotions, candles and scarves. She hopes to be moved in by mid-July.
“I am very excited to have a retail space that the public can come to. For years I have traveled and done shows, and now I will have a space to call my own to share with my customers,” she says. “But, I am most excited to be a part of the revitalization of Main Street in downtown Little Rock. I think there is a great group of merchants that already exists on Main and South Main, and I very much look forward to being a part of that community.”
More on McNair
Soirée: What are your favorite designs to make?
Brandy McNair: I love making custom pieces for my clients. A few weeks ago I was commissioned to make a set of necklaces to commemorate the passing of a friend for a group of girlfriends. They each got a necklace with three or four little mementos of their friend. I also do a lot of mother’s necklaces and family jewelry. Oh, and bridal jewelry for the bride and bridesmaids.
How do you define your business?
I am a woman-owned and operated, independent, small business created solely by me. My business is art (not a necessity), but a way for people to express their individual styles.
What have been your most notable moments?
I had a nice feature in the Style section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in the summer of 2009. That was pretty cool for a gal just starting out. This past summer I designed a necklace for Korto Momolu. And most recently, I found out that I passed the jury and was accepted into the “Emerging Artists” section of the Atlanta Market in July. Emerging Artists is a small section of 10-15 first-time artists at America’s Mart in Atlanta.