SYLVIA TENNANT ON DESIGN, SIZE INCLUSIVITY + THE BUSINESS OF STORYTELLING
Sylvia Tennant is on a mission to create content, media, and jewelry that celebrates, represents, and includes bodies of all sizes. She is the designer, creative director, and owner of Zaleska Jewelry and has grown her team to include 30+ artisans and staff in Bali who help her produce her gemstone-focused designs.
Her passion for size inclusion in her industry has cemented Zaleska at a forefront of this industry. Known as a community-minded entrepreneur, Sylvia also works as a curve model and consultant in the fashion industry and has shot campaigns for brands like Penningtons, Addition Elle, and Brunette the Label. Her previous work as a luxury travel writer and accessories columnist has taken her all over the world.
I remember asking myself this question: Will you regret not finding out if you can do it? And the answer was a wholehearted, “YES.”
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE JEWELRY WORLD? WHY DID YOU START ZALESKA?
Sylvia studied Fine Arts in college. She discovered the art of wire-wrapping in her early 20s during a shopping trip with her mother and realized it could solve a problem she had experienced her entire life: not being able to find rings in her size that reflected her personal style. Her best friend at the time was also making jewelry, and together they started Zaleska. The mutual love and adoration they share for one another forms the foundation and ethos of the brand today.
CAN YOU SHARE MORE ABOUT THE TRANSITION TO OWNING ZALEKSA, AND WHAT ZALESKA IS TODAY?
Sylvia and Zaleska co-founder Danielle transitioned into their respective paths organically, deciding to have sister businesses working alongside each other. Zaleska is now based in Vancouver. Sylvia credits her friendship with Danielle for the success of Zaleska today and points to the value of having support when going into any niche industry.
LET’S BACK UP A BIT MORE. YOU WERE TEACHING ART TO HIGH SCHOOLERS AS YOU WERE GROWING THE BUSINESS?
Sylvia received a degree in Education along with Fine Arts and began working as an on-call high school art teacher in the early days of Zaleska. Eventually, she parted ways with teaching in order to dedicate herself entirely to her business. With a dash of sincere humor, she thanks the Universe for pulling her away from her educating days, and considers it a meaningful “leap of faith” that led her to the path of forging the life she’d always dreamed of.
CAN YOU SHARE MORE ABOUT YOUR DESIGN PROCESS? WHAT CURRENTLY INSPIRES YOU?
Due to the pandemic, Sylvia is designing from home for the first time in a long time (she usually designs in Bali). Currently, she finds her inspiration in the items in her own closet. Customers will see her love for vintage, texture, and color injected into her upcoming collection.
WHAT WERE YOUR INSPIRATIONS WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED DESIGNING?
There has always been an undercurrent of mysticism and the unknown in Sylvia’s work. She likens her design history to an autobiography of all the things she’s found interesting throughout her life. Sylvia also explains how important it was for her to design pieces she had never seen before in her ring size or chain length so that they could be enjoyed and experienced by anyone.
WHAT’S THE STRATEGY BEHIND YOUR RELEASES?
Perhaps unconventional for the industry, Sylvia doesn’t adhere to any specific launch strategy and considers accessories truly seasonless. She shares that her shift toward becoming an Ecommerce brand has afforded her much more agency over how she releases her work into the world. In terms of pace and development, she relies on her intuition as a compass.
Figure out what you really love about your business, what lights you up, what you want to do when you wake up every single morning. Whatever that isn’t: Give that job to someone else.
CAN YOU TALK MORE WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO LAUNCH? ANY TIPS AND TRICKS ABOUT PUTTING YOUR PRODUCT OUT INTO THE WORLD?
According to Sylvia, if a maker can’t tell a story with their product, they’re going to inevitably struggle. She considers launching a creative’s ticket into telling the best story possible. Sylvia also spends a lot of time engaging directly with her customers, gauging interest and sharing teasers of upcoming releases, as she very much values and relies upon their feedback.
TELL US ABOUT FINDING BALI. HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO INCLUDE OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR MANUFACTURING PROCESS?
Sylvia started taking annual trips to Bali in 2013 and discovered the exceptionally talented artisans who live there. She felt completely comfortable stepping back into the role of creative director as she understood that she would not be able to create the business she envisioned on her own. Today, Sylvia doesn’t miss the maker’s bench and finds fulfillment in her role as brand visionary.
TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU RELINQUISH CONTROL AND MANAGE A TEAM.
Delegation came easily to Sylvia, because she knew she couldn’t hold onto everything. More importantly, she didn’t want to. Her advice to other business owners is to figure out what they really love about their business and step fully into that work; the rest can and should be made into jobs for someone else. Sylvia also shares that at the present time, she doesn’t feel overwhelmed, because all of her systems are optimized. (Hello Virgo!).
LET’S TALK ABOUT SIZE INCLUSIVITY. WHY IS THIS A CONVERSATION BRANDS NEED TO BE HAVING?
As Sylvia points out, people who don’t have “standard size” bodies exist in abundance. She started making jewelry because she saw a disheartening gap in the market and wanted to create a brand that included and served everyone. Moreover, she points out that size inclusion is a powerful way to grow a business, as it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Sylvia shares that stepping into her personal story of struggling to find jewelry that fit her body has dramatically enhanced customer response over the years and credits that authentic storytelling as a big part of Zaleska’s success.
HOW DOES YOUR MODELING WORK COMPLEMENT YOUR BRAND?
In September 2020, Sylvia sought a creative outlet to get her out of the house and found modeling (a byproduct of her stepping into her story with Zaleksa). She now feels very called to be a visual example of a different body type in the media. This sort of visual storytelling has only served her brand positively as Sylvia continues to demonstrate her values of inclusivity and personal style through her modeling.
WHAT SHOULD BRANDS KNOW WHEN THEY’RE THINKING OF EXTENDING THEIR SIZES?
Sylvia encourages brands to ask the people they’re serving what clothing and accessories they’d like to see made and how they’d like to style them. Along with sourcing direct feedback from the customers they’re extending their size range for, Sylvia thinks brands should prioritize photographing different body types in the clothes so that people know these new sizes exist for them. And for major retailers, Sylvia insists they start stocking extended sizes in stores to boost accessibility.
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