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Fashion Chat: 10 Questions With Melissa Joy Manning

Courtesy of Melissa Joy Manning

Berkeley, California-based jeweler Melissa Joy Manning knows that when it comes to accessories, a natural approach can work wonders. Favoring raw stones, oxidized metals and organic shapes, she's earned a following that includes numerous celebrities, including Jennifer Aniston, Naomi Watts and Anne Hathaway.

Also admirable is Melissa's longtime commitment to sustainability—not just when it comes to the pieces she makes, but in terms of her in-office practices and recycling routine. We recently chatted with the designer about that eco-friendly work ethic, her favorite gems and fondness for rescuing puppies. Read all about it:

Black Druzy Post Earrings, $240

How did you get your start in fashion?

As a kid, my idea of play always centered around the idea of adornment, whether that meant making and sewing clothes for my Barbies or creating jewelry for friends and family. I spent hours looking at fashion magazines, and would line the walls of my room with their covers. I worked in high-end retail after college, but after getting fired numerous times (yes, more than once!), my mother—a classic over-achiever—sent me to a vocational counselor to help me figure out what I should do with my life. It was no shock that they told me to be self-employed! When they asked me what I could do, I told them "make jewelry," since I'd studied that and sculpture in college. I ended up starting my business by visiting boutiques and asking them to carry my work. The rest, as they say, is history.

You're really committed to sustainable design. How do you keep your offices and practices eco-friendly?

Being green was never just a strategy for us—it's one of our driving corporate philosophies. I started my company using recycled metal and, as we've grown, we've scaled our practices accordingly. We are a green certified business in the State of California and are one of the first retailers to earn that certification in Alameda County. We recycle all waste, partner with other vendors who are committed to the environment, buy and use only recycled metals and Kimberley-certified diamonds, buy recycled or reused furniture and fixtures, use organic cleaning products, and have even banned plastic bottles in our office. In 2012, we will begin a carbon-offsetting program for corporate travel uses. I'm influenced by our environment and therefore am committed to owning a business that's environmentally and socially responsible.

What's your single favorite item of jewelry to design?

Rings, especially multiple-stone ones. They were one of the last products I started designing and I'm still really into them.

What's the absolute proudest moment you've experienced thus far in your career?

Being inducted into the CFDA, without a doubt. When Steven Kolb called and told me I got in, I cried like a little kid. I have wanted to be a member for as long as I can remember, and getting in was the culmination of 15 years of hard work.

Pear shaped pink tourmaline, $825

I'm obsessed with your dog, Monkey. How did he come into your life?

I've grown up with all types of dogs, but when I lived in Oakland 20 years ago I became obsessed with rescuing pitbulls. My last dog, Snuggles, was the sweetest pit ever—when she died in 2010 I was heartbroken. After waiting six months, I finally started visiting pet stores just to look at dogs and see if I was ready for another. I guess I was...because I ended up taking Monkey home! I felt like a bit of a jerk for getting the dog in the window (50 percent of dogs end up in shelters!) but he truly brings joy to everyone he touches. He loves everyone he meets, and is such a "people dog" that I think he believes he's a little man. He actually kind of looks like a little old man—or a gremlin, depending on the day.

Where do you find your materials?

I get my metals from a certified green retailer in the U.S. Buying from another certified company is important to us because of the damage traditional refining and mining causes the environment. I source my stones from various partners with whom I've worked for ages, but I also travel the world myself to find unique and interesting specimens. In the last few years I've been to Iceland, South America and Africa to find cool stones. I do love what I do!

What's the strangest material you've ever used in a piece?

Vintage flying fox claws. People always make a "say what?!" face when I tell them about those little guys. Once used as currency in non-western tribes, they have a strong talismanic and cultural history that I really love.

Last year, you collaborated with designer Doo.Ri. How'd that come about?

It's all thanks to Brian and Shelly from Forty Five Ten. I went down to Dallas for their 10th anniversary party and ended up meeting Doo.Ri and Ella Kim. We all hit it off and ended up calling ourselves "camp friends" by the end of the weekend. Over dinner one night in New York, Ella suggested Doo.Ri and I work together, and it ended up being one of the most creative experiences I've had in a long time. In fact, Doo.Ri unded up being a key mentor in my CFDA application process—thanks again, D!

You've got a studio here in NYC, yet your boutique is located in Berkley. Do you consider yourself more of an East or West Coast designer?

I've never actually thought about it that way. I kind of feel like I don't really belong to either. Whenever I'm in California, people say, "You're so New York"...but then when I'm in NYC I'm called a hippie! I guess I just pick and choose what I like most about both. I'm certainly influenced by California's commitment to sustainability and laid-back attitude, as well as by New York's obsession with fashion, culture and art. I hope all that manages to come through in my work somehow.

Which stone—precious, semi-precious or otherwise—best represents you personally?

Cavancite. It grows like a virus on larger crystal formations and used to be considered trash. However, its natural color is unbelievable, and it's so eye-catching and unusual that people like it. I guess that sums up my brand—we pop up where you least expect it, cause you to take notice, get in your head and ask you to reconsider the notion of what's "precious." I just hope none of our work ends up in the trash!

To shop Melissa's collection, head over to melissajoymanning.com.

Pyritized Ammonite Cuff, $440

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