We've been taking a look at a few of our vendors who have nurtured their products and their craft, all while holding firm to the values they've had from day one. Next up in the series: Summer Ellis.
Summer Ellis is a local artisan who owns and operates a custom jewelry business from her studio and showroom in Waco, Texas. What started as a passion for making pieces by hand at a young age manifested into a business where she and her team now create a wide variety of jewelry styles. Each is meant to encourage women to embrace their beauty and add to the elegance of everyday life.
Summer met Joanna before Magnolia’s original shop (now Little Shop on Bosque) opened, and has handcrafted jewelry for us ever since. Almost two decades later, Summer continues to create timeless pieces rooted in her mission to remind women of their beauty, inside and out.
We recently sat down with Summer to talk about her values and the balance between allowing yourself to evolve, while also holding onto what matters most.
Magnolia: Can you share the story of how your company began?
Summer Ellis: I grew up in Waterdown, Ontario—a very quaint, romantic town. My family was full of makers and creatives, and my mom owned the local craft shop. Even though I had access to fabric and beads and different crafting supplies, I often insisted on buying my own. When I was in the fourth grade, I would take a shoebox of items that said “stock” on the front and sell my beaded creations. It's fun to look back and see my budding, entrepreneurial, creative self developing as a kid. Later, after my family moved to Austin and I came to Baylor University for college, I continued to have trunk shows out of my dorm room and sold to boutiques in Waco. That was around 2003, and I’ve continued making jewelry here ever since.
How were you first introduced to Joanna and Magnolia?
I had seen Jo’s shop (now Little Shop on Bosque) and I remember walking in there with a little display of jewelry, approaching Jo and asking if she would sell my pieces. She originally sold them on consignment, and now I’ve been creating for Magnolia for almost 20 years.
Can you talk about your pieces and what makes them different from other fine jewelry?
A lot of jewelry is manufactured, but I wanted to commit to creating handmade, high quality jewelry with a refined look. Part of what makes my work unique is how rooted I am in it—if we count my childhood and my current business, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. And I think there are parts of my childhood and upbringing that are reflected in my work— the elegant, romantic feel that’s reminiscent of where I grew up.
Another thing I strive for is innovation. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to do a classic style, a hoop or a stud, and how I can reinvent it into something that I've never seen before. When it comes to the design, I either let the materials speak to me first—having a stone or color in front of me that I love and want to create something out of—or I’ll start with a concept, and then go out and find the pieces I need to make it come to life.
When you look back over 20 years, how do you think your pieces have evolved?
When you do anything for a long time, you become more comfortable with a challenge and with yourself—at least that’s true for me. In order to keep growing, I think you have to dig deeper within yourself and hang onto the important things that make you who you are. Nurture the things that are truly, authentically you and be okay with leaving behind things that don’t matter. For people who want to grow creatively, who have that bent toward art or really any field, own what you have to offer the world.
How has your team grown, and what does it look like now?
It was just me for a long time, then my friends and I worked together in my house. We got pretty big because I was doing a lot of shows and had between 80 and 100 wholesale accounts—that was about three years ago. Then I had my third child. We were going through this period of growth, and I realized that I couldn’t have this huge team, manage all these accounts, and go to shows all the time. I shifted some priorities, and I’m a lot more balanced now. I wanted to figure out how to make it work so that me, my family, and my team could all flourish. I decided that if I wanted to give my best to my family and my team, the business needed to be smaller. We still service some wholesale accounts, but we’re not doing the push, push, push thing anymore. I feel like that’s what the world is trying to do right now. But that goes back to being more comfortable with myself—I don’t have to do all the things that people say are required to be a “successful” business person. We’re just going to be more relaxed, streamlined, and focused, and I’m content with that.
What values are most important to you as your business grows?
As far as the product goes, I would say that quality, handmade nature will always be there. I believe in the “fewer but better” idea in fashion, so my hope is that people will wear my pieces for years. I love it when I hear women say, “I bought this piece over five years ago, and it’s still my favorite.” I really do believe that you can have jewelry that both embodies meaning and showcases a strong design aesthetic, so when my pieces carry a deeper story for people, that’s a big deal for me.
In terms of my work and life, I just want to stay innovative and dedicated to the idea of simple beauty. I keep coming back to the phrase, “as beautiful as you are.” Jewelry isn’t meant to overshadow a woman’s beauty, but complement it. Everyone deserves to have pieces that make them feel beautiful, because they are worthy and loved.
What is your favorite piece you have created exclusively for Magnolia?
As far as current pieces go, I love the Wren studs from this spring’s collection. They’re reminiscent of your grandmother’s classic pearls, but with a contemporary look—which rings true to my design philosophy of taking styles that stand the test of time and giving them my own spin.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.