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Authentic Artistry

Belle Brooke Barer finds down-to-earth studio and retail space in a former stable.

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Belle Brooke Barer Santa Fe, NM

URL: bellebrooke.net / OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017  /  FOUNDED: 2005 /  LAST RENOVATED: 2018 /  AREA: 750 square feet / EMPLOYEES: 2 /  ARCHITECT: Couty Design Studio/Nicholas Couty /  BUILDOUT COST: $12,000 /  ONLINE PRESENCE: E-commerce-enabled website for selected pieces.


 

Belle Brooke Barer will tell you she is an analog person living reluctantly in a digital world.

She doesn’t have a Facebook page, believe it or not, and she is torn about her participation in Instagram. While she has an e-commerce presence on her website, she doesn’t push or promote it.

“I’m not into using computers or social media; I just do it so people don’t yell at me,” she says. “I’m thinking of dropping Instagram completely just sort of as a stance or a viewpoint, just to be different. If I’m endorsing something I don’t actually believe in, that’s not the most authentic way to be. I want to go against the grain.”

Authenticity is her mantra.

It extends from her space, which is in a former Santa Fe horse stable, to her handmade work, which is true to her conceptual vision and uses sustainable materials.

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She once seriously considered photography as her career but changed her mind when she realized that the art form was moving out of the darkroom and into the digital world. “I could not imagine pursuing a career that would be mostly computer-based. I made a decision to put more of my efforts into jewelry and see where that went.”

She began her career in wholesale but had always considered opening a retail location. “I never knew when I’d get around to it. I always just thought it seemed kind of charming.”

When she was looking for a new studio in Santa Fe in 2016, she came across a former horse stable that would suit both purposes. The first year had its ups and downs, but in the second year, sales quadrupled, even before the summer tourist season started in earnest.

She credits advertising in part for the increase. She’s taken out a regular print ad in the Santa Fean, a local magazine with a national following. And also in the Catalog, a shopping guide with a magazine format that’s reprinted quarterly.

She stays in touch with past customers by sending out an e-newsletter quarterly herself, but refrains from approaching anything that could be considered spam frequency. “I personally don’t want to get a lot of junk emails and I don’t want to contribute to that e-junk. People can pick up the phone and call; they can email us.”

Santa Fe visitors are usually the type who either return regularly, stay for an extended period of time, or do both. So Barer doesn’t feel compelled to put too much of her inventory online.

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“I’m not 100 percent sure that having options really helps, or if it delays a purchase. It can be an excuse to leave and not buy anything. I could spend hours and hours updating my website and not seeing much return.”

 

She wants visitors to her store to feel a bit of situational pressure to buy now, while they are in Santa Fe, as part of the experience.

“The whole experience of coming to Santa Fe and seeing something unique you’re not going to see anywhere else is starting to disappear. I want to bring that experience back for people, the feeling that ‘I cannot order this anywhere else and there’s never going to be another one made like it.’ Everything’s becoming so ubiquitous and so available that people don’t have that experience anymore.”

While she will maintain a wholesale presence, Barer has decided to focus her business’ growth on creating more unique pieces. “I feel like I’m doing a lot of production and that’s not necessarily something I want to take up more time than the time I already spend on it. I want to grow in a different direction.”

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Step into her adobe-walled habitat, and authenticity is the theme here, too. The space is heated with wood in the green kiva fireplace and the jewelry is all made on site in an attached studio. “Customers love the authentic charm of our space, and to have the opportunity to tour the workshop and see the process adds value not only to the jewelry itself but provides the total experience people are looking for when they come to Santa Fe,” Barer says. “We are very old school, meaning we don’t design or fabricate with the use of computers; we have a small workshop with very basic tools. We are totally committed to keeping the techniques of traditional craftsmanship alive, and the customers can sense that spirit as soon as they walk through the door.”

When she first furnished the space, she inadvertently created a path in and out of the door. Since then, she met a neighbor with a background in marketing who suggested she create a more comfortable, lived-in environment, as if people are coming into your living room and getting to know you. She followed that advice with the idea it would have an upscale yet funky vibe. “I feel like I achieved that,” she says. Clean, minimalistic, yet homey, and inexpensively furnished, with the exception of the showcases.

“For the weary (walking all day at 7,000 feet ain’t easy!), we have a couch and a chair, and a coffee table with The Book of Stones and Vogue Jewelry. I want people to be at ease, warm up by the fire, not feel pressured, and get to know us.”

All in all, Barer is enjoying the retail lifestyle. She’s cut out exhibiting at shows, other than an annual pilgrimage to Tucson.

“People are buying the experience,” she says. “Some jewelry is just metal and stones; some jewelry has power behind it, in how it’s made and produced, who made it and why. I don’t want people to just buy a piece of jewelry, I want them to buy their favorite piece of jewelry.”

At first, she preferred that her associates talk to shoppers and handle sales, but lately she’s been more outgoing in that regard. “People want the experience of meeting the artist. I think that’s valuable to them and I want to make the whole experience well-rounded and meaningful.

“I think I do like interacting with people. Even though I hate interacting with people. It gets kind of boring to do wholesale all the time and have all these pieces stowed away in a safe. And I like not traveling as much to shows, especially retail ones because it’s really hard to make a living that way, it’s expensive and there’s a lot of competition. This is more relaxing.”


(PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES) 


Five Cool Things About Belle Brooke Studio & Gallery    

1. BRING THE KIDS: Barer set up a kids’ art station in her courtyard to entertain children while their parents shop in her studio and in four neighboring galleries. “There’s absolutely nothing for kids on Canyon Road, and people come to Santa Fe with their families and drag their kids through the galleries. The kids are bored and the parents want to look around.” People of all ages are invited to make art there with paper, glue, scissors, crayons and markers. Some of the artists leave their work behind and Barer puts it on display.

2. ACCOLADES: Barer has recieved the AGTA Spectrum Award, the JA New Designer of the year, Halstead Business Grant, Niche Award, and the JCK Rising Star.

3. ETHICAL MATERIALS: “We practice the principle of right livelihood by being totally eco-friendly in all the ways a jeweler can be. We use 100 percent recycled metals, all certified conflict free diamonds, and 75 percent of our semiprecious gemstones are cut by New Mexico lapidaries. Our studio uses non-toxic chemicals.”

4. HER MOM, THE PHOTOGRAPHER. : The gallery also features photographs by Cara Barer, Belle’s mom, who recycles books into sculptures and creates digital images using the ethereal images that pay homage to the printed word.

5. TRUE BRANDING: “We now do our own Southwest version of ‘branded packaging.’ We have wooden boxes that we actually brand with a torch-heated branding iron that say ‘Belle Brooke – Handcrafted in Santa Fe’ with little Western looking swirls around the edges,” Barer says.


JUDGES’ COMMENTS:

Jimmy Degroot: You and your individuality are your story and you tell it amazingly well. The concept of creating art from recycled materials and naturally sourced gemstones….. you’re gonna start a movement! Brilliant!

Lyn Falk: Love Belle’s story and philosophy — well-stated, good niche. Her brand comes through loud and clear in website and interior. The tribute to the history of the area, sustainability, and handcrafted is well-reflected throughout the store.

Tiffany Stevens: Grounded and strong look and feel, yet also inviting.

Mia Katrin: High concept, striking photography! 

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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