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Ohio State grad ditches career to pursue handmade, vintage jewelry

Items of Poor Sparrow Jewelry. Credit: Courtesy of the Poor Sparrow

Items of Poor Sparrow Jewelry. Credit: Courtesy of the Poor Sparrow

Poor Sparrow is a Columbus-born jewelry line that combines vintage pieces with a modern twist to satisfy your humble soul.

Katie Guagenti graduated in 2009 from Ohio State with a degree in apparel product development and launched the company on Etsy that same year while pursuing her dream of creating fashionable products.

“I’ve been making jewelry since I was a little girl, but in college I started really dabbling it in and incorporated a lot of my pieces into my fashion designs,” Guagenti said.

She had always envisioned herself with a career at a corporate office making textile print designs but after graduating and freelancing in the field, she realized that route wasn’t for her.

“I did have a full-time job with my degree and was doing this on the side but then I quit my job and I’ve been doing just this for three years now,” Guagenti said.

At first, Poor Sparrow’s primary clientele came from her Etsy shop and Columbus events she would sell at but has slowly shifted toward customers who buy her items in boutiques.

“I’m in about 30 different retail locations throughout the U.S. and even in Canada,” she said.

Guagenti said she believes the interest in her pieces is derived from the combination of vintage and new elements she incorporates into them to create a simple, yet elegant design.

“The manufacturing of the jewelry industry used to be in the U.S and it shifted to China and so there is all this dead stock, or unused vintage materials, left behind from the heyday of jewelry manufacturing,” Guagenti said.

She travels as far as the east coast to retrieve dead stock copper and other metal elements to transform into jewelry.

Guagenti then ties in gemstones like turquoise, onyx and amethyst, thus creating a hodgepodge of vintage and modern feels.

“I always try to go with my gut when I’m designing,” Guagenti said. “I avoid looking at other people’s stuff because then it’s not you anymore. I try to keep it contained to very wearable things that I would love to have.”

Josh Harden, owner of Clothing Underground, connected with Guagenti at local festivals they were both vending at and decided to form a business relationship in 2013. Poor Sparrow jewelry has been flying off the shelves at Clothing Underground for two years.

“Katie does some amazing work at a great price with most of her pieces being under $30. That is rare for handmade pieces,” Harden said.

He believes customers of his store have similar taste in fashion as Poor Sparrow buyers.

“The one-of-a-kind feel of her pieces works well in our vintage-inspired, California desert fashion store,” Harden said. “Our customers expect unique items that you can’t find anywhere else.”

In her time selling Poor Sparrow jewelry, Guagenti has realized the demographic she has done best in and is working to target it more.

“My things tend to do well in cities that are of similar size to Columbus and they usually have some historic downtown areas,” Guagenti said. “I’m focused in getting into small boutiques and avoid the mall or other huge stores.”

As of now, Poor Sparrow jewelry is made in a small studio in Guagenti’s apartment but she is toying with the idea of expanding.

“I don’t necessarily want a brick and mortar shop but I would like to be in even more boutiques and also a separate studio someday,” Guagenti said. “If I am fortunate (enough) to hire someone on, it would probably be a bit awkward if they had to come the studio at my house every day.”

Although jewelry is her livelihood, she also holds it in high regard when it comes to fashion overall.

“Jewelry, to me, is what completes an outfit,” Guagenti said. “Certain pieces are what takes your look to a whole new level.”

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