Vertebrae. The spinal bones of alligators. That’s what originally got Ashley Porter, founder of Porter Lyons, started as a jewelry maker. Fast forward a few years and several collections later and Ashley now finds herself as one of the more notable jewelers in New Orleans with her pieces ranking as favorites among Louisianians and a bevy of Hollywood starlets alike. I caught up with Ashley at her studio here in NOLA to talk about her lavish collection premieres (hot air balloons! snake charmers!), from where she derives her inspiration, and how she ensures each piece she designs gives back to her community and the environment.
What led you to start designing jewelry?
I started designing jewelry by a very happy accident when I was down in the bayou sourcing alligator. I had moved back to New Orleans to launch an exotic skin belt line and discovered these alligator bones along the hornback. Personally, I wanted them as a ring, necklace, cuff and started learning jewelry design. I still do classic alligator belts, as that’s the heritage of the brand, but find jewelry has so much more creative license.
What sets the Porter Lyons brand apart from other jewelry lines?
Our mission lies within three fundamental pillars: Culture. Care. Create. Every piece is designed with a specific story that relates to an aspect of culture and has a special meaning to different people. Nothing is designed by chance, but curated for each collections unveiling. We come out with two collections a year and have dynamic launch parties to debut them. In the past we’ve had alligators, nutrias, fire blowers and a hot air balloon, giving our customers memorable experiences that transcend jewelry. But above the designs and the brand parties we believe in giving back to our community, the city of New Orleans. We give a percentage of our proceeds in every collection to a different cause that fundamentally protects the identity of our city.
What drives your community investment choices?
I think my generation is realizing how removed companies are from their end product. I know when I was employed by a large organization I felt like my job wasn’t important and was saddened by the disconnect with everyone in the company. There is a strong movement in America to favor products that are inspired by local artisans and that have a focus that’s larger than profit. The level and quality of my business is greater and people feel more connected to their community when they can see a product that also gives back. Life is richer and better for it.
Each non-profit we work with relates directly to a collection theme, or it’s an issue I want to be more proactive about. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana was our first partnership and a natural fit since saving our wetlands is fundamental to New Orleans culture. When I heard the statistic that we loose a football field of wetlands every 30 seconds I was shocked. I shared this sentiment when learning Louisiana has the second lowest literacy rate in the nation. It drove me to design a pair of light bulb earrings in which 50% of the proceeds when to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Prime Time reading initiative. With out latest collection launch, Deco Bohemia, ticket prices whet to the George Rodrigue Foundation which supports art programs for lower income children throughout the state. It’s always been personally important for me to help my community and to build my business with this in mind.
What’s a typical day at the studio like for you?
Everyday is different. I’ll spend one day researching a specific type of feather, another might start with a meeting for a non-profit, then a womens’ networking luncheon and managing a mini-photo shoot. There’s a good amount of traveling involving trunk shows, and I love meeting customers and seeing them year after year.
Describe your work style in three words.
Passionate, analytical and systematic.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
The best career advice I’ve ever received came from my father. He told me success in business comes from two things, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.
What’s next for you and Porter Lyons?
Next up for Porter Lyons is our Spring/Summer 2016 collection; the Creole Wild West which explores the Mardi Gras Indian culture. There will be a few limited edition dreamcatchers and some fun jewelry. Get ready to shake your tail feather at our launch mid April!
This post originally appeared on A-Little-Happy.com, a website I founded that served as a site to inspire creatives & entrepreneurs to obtain a better work-life balance. The site garnered over 78,000 views. It has since been discontinued.
*all photos by Dominique Ellis