Loren Barham’s handcrafted, vintage-inspired jewelry business, Loren Hope, started nearly ten years ago at her dining room table overseas, long before she ever dreamed she would one day wind up living in the Ocean State. It was Loren’s love for the history and close knit quality of Rhode Island’s once-booming jewelry manufacturing industry, as well as her commitment to keeping her products American-made and sourced, that convinced her to put to down roots here in 2012.
Loren Hope jewelry is inspired by vintage costumes, but with a contemporary twist. “I love antiques, specifically antique jewelry,” says Loren. “As a child, I enjoyed going to flea markets and yard sales with my grandmother. I was drawn to all of the sparkly stuff. The jewelry I design now is inspired by vintage costume jewelry… it’s all soldered by hand, but I also try to add a modern element to it. I like to think of our stuff as heirloom-quality jewelry, so I try not to go too avant garde. I aim to be classic while still being fashion forward.”
Loren got her start studying fine arts at East Carolina University in North Carolina, where she found she had a passion for metalworking. She began to play around with jewelry while living in the United Kingdom and North Carolina with her husband while he was in the Air Force. She saw some success in selling her designs to local retailers and, with business growing organically through word of mouth, she was able to quit her part time job in 2012, and even enlisted her husband, Aaron, to help out with the business.
Just over three years ago, Loren had started ordering certain beads and materials from Rhode Island and having parts of her designs made here. She started visiting twice a year and learned about the state’s rich jewelry manufacturing history. After a particularly successful and excessively busy Christmas season, Loren found that she was way behind on her Spring 2013 collection. She and Aaron drove up to Rhode Island on New Year’s Day to oversee the construction of designs that she was putting together on the spot. As they made the rounds locally, the idea of relocating to Rhode Island became more and more appealing, and they eventually made the move up here in February of 2013 – first to a 750 square foot studio in an old mill in Pawtucket, then upgrading to larger spaces as more employees came aboard, and finally relocating to a 3,200 square foot space in an East Greenwich mill this past January.
“We choose to work in old mills because they’re kind of like a beacon for American manufacturing. We love occupying spaces where Americans were making things, as well as the natural light and aesthetic of the mills. They have a nice creative energy to them.”
Loren is the Creative Director for the company in every sense, designing all the jewelry, carrying out all of the photography and overseeing the brand direction. Aaron relies on his military background to spearhead the operational and logistical side of things. “Basically, I do the dreaming and he does the execution,” laughs Loren. “We balance each other out.”
Of all of the jewelry components, including all settings, links and most chains, logos, and boxes, 90% are sourced out of Rhode Island. Certain stones are imported, but all of the pieces are assembled and put together in the Ocean State. “I’m committed to keeping things made in the US,” says Loren. “Overseas manufacturing undercuts our pricing, so we’re constantly having to explain to people why our items might be more expensive. It works though… our customers want to be individuals. One of the ways a person shows who they are is through fashion. It’s also really rewarding to connect with the local jewelry scene; I love hearing stories from all of the makers here. It’s a connection to the past. Loren Hope could easily go to China with our product, but I would rather connect and have meaningful relationships in the jewelry making community.”
With a homespun connection to the history of Rhode Island’s jewelry industry, and with a thoughtful marriage of classic and modern, Loren Hope speaks directly to the glittering beauty of the old in the new. Be sure to check out the Loren Hope website to see her designs and find a list of retailers, or sign up for their email newsletter to learn about upcoming studio tours and other events.