Very few designers can say that they were among the first 100 people to join Etsy, the industry-changing online marketplace for craftspeople, but Figs & Ginger is a rare bird. Owner Rhonda Dudek, who grew up on River Avenue, had just graduated RISD around the time the site was launching in 2005, and she credits it as a major part of how she's been able to sustain herself and thrive financially as an artist for well over a decade.
“The timing for my brand was the best,” Dudek says. Early on, “the site had a lot of press and PR, and if you got featured on Etsy, you were up for a month.” In 2018, a brand might be featured on the site's main page for a few minutes before scrolling to a different designer. Figs & Ginger was featured just before Thanksgiving, and was also later helped by a brand-new wave of design blogs and “mom blogs” that spotlighted her.
One look at Dudek's products, however, makes it clear that her success was due to more than just good timing. Her Birds on a Branch necklace, which she calls her “bread and butter”– a silver branch with a customizable number of mother/parent and baby birds – was a design she came up with while studying at RISD. It is still popular today – so much so that mass retailers have sometimes flagrantly copied the design. As a recent graduate, Dudek knew very little about intellectual property law, and was dismayed at having her ideas stolen.
“It's frustrating, but as a small designer, there's very little you can do about it,” she says.
At the time, she was working 18-20-hour days, sawing out and soldering bird pieces and living in affordable Asheville, North Carolina, with a charming studio office operating out of an old camper. But even with several employees, demand was tough to keep up with; the company was increasing 300% year over year in the early days, and her products were landing in shops like Anthropologie, Whole Foods, and the Knot. In addition to jewelry, she used a laser cutter to make delicate cake toppers, table cards, and hanging decorations.
Dudek describes Figs & Ginger's design ethos as “really sentimental” and “family-oriented.” She credits a beloved artist and antique dealer grandmother with inspiring her creatively as a child. Although she rarely wears jewelry herself, she has always loved gift-giving, and her products are designed with gifting in mind; the company's motto is “gifts for every stage of life.”
Figs & Ginger's latest line features vintage-inspired friendship/familial lockets and charms with special symbols like herbs, butterflies, bears, mountains, and trees. They come boxed and hanging from elegant card stock with special messages for loved ones.
“Christmas is great, but Mother's Day is my thing,” Dudek shares.
The designer moved back to Rhode Island two years ago to help look after her young nephew, who had been diagnosed with Leukemia. She scaled her business way back during that time, but has ramped it up again in recent months since his health improved. She has been designing out of her studio on Westminster Street above Ogie's Trailer Park, with a newfound work-life balance that leaves space for a thriving social life and the chance to branch out in creative new directions.