If you’ve ever stepped foot in the borough of Brooklyn, you have probably admired some delicate jewelry expertly layered on a female Brooklynite’s neck, hands, wrists or ears. Even more likely, some of that jewelry is a Catbird design. Founded in 2004 by Rony Vardi as a small storefront to house all the things she likes, she quickly realized the jewelry she sold out of that storefront was what she loved the most. Fifteen years later, with the added Co-Creative direction of Leigh Batnick Plessner, Catbird is cemented as a Brooklyn staple. Recently, they let us peek into their operations at The Brooklyn Navy Yard…
RONY VARDI, FOUNDER & CO-CREATIVE DIRECTOR
What spurred you to open Catbird in 2004 and what caused you to gravitate more and more towards jewelry?
I was in a rather shiftless place in my life – doing fine generally, but uninspired. I got motivated to have a thing of my own – and by “thing,” I guess I mean a place but also a project – that could change and morph over time. I had a very small space on Metropolitan Ave in Williamsburg (currently a vape shop) and while I carried a lot of things (clothes, art supplies, iron-ons, elbow patches, candles, rose toner…) jewelry resonated the most with me and my customers. Also in a small space, jewelry really makes sense. But most importantly, I find jewelry to be the purchase most filled with joy.
What has been your biggest learning curve as a female founder who grew your business into the brand it is today?
Realizing that being deeply worried and nervous about a decision does not mean it’s the wrong decision. It’s part of the process. And that it’s rarely too late to change your mind if it is the wrong one. If it’s wrong and you know it – even if you are already knee deep – don’t just go forward mindlessly. Explore your options, even if people tell you it’s too late!
Can you talk a bit about why it’s so important to you to give back and why you set up The Catbird Foundation?
Firstly, because it is the responsible thing to do! I do feel that businesses have to step up and use their platform for positive change.
Secondly, when we are lucky enough to be invited into someone’s world as a treasured piece of jewelry they wear every day, or a gift they thoughtfully give someone – I want it not only to be beautiful, but to be meaningful. Giving back offers our customers an opportunity to be part of a community that has similar values and it imbibes the jewelry we make with even more meaning.
LEIGH BATNICK PLESSNER, CO-CREATIVE DIRECTOR
I love the permanent inspiration wall you guys created in the studio. Can you describe who you have in mind when you’re designing for the Catbird customer?
I’m not sure that I have anyone in mind, but if I did it would include these and more: the girl I saw once on Wythe and North 3rd wearing worn cowboy boots and an old Burberry trench, a woman writing in the backyard of St Helen, Madeline, Juliette Greco listening to records in bed, everyone who has ever written us a letter, my co-workers who wear our work beautifully and with ease, an old customer who wore stacks of Georgian rings, the first stacks I had seen, the women at temple when I was small, my mother’s hands, the cool cheerleader in high school who wore yellow Hard Candy nail polish, the customers we hang out with at our events, and their one-day daughters finding Catbird, prowling around in their mom’s jewelry boxes. But that’s just me! Now I want to know who is on the list of the rest of our team!
What’s the most unlikely place you look at for inspiration when designing?
Atlantic City! I spend every summer weekend there and squirrel away that placid feeling for the whole year long. That is what I want Catbird to feel like — a day at the beach that is funny and unexpected and unassuming and full of stories, where your gold is sunlit and glowing, and it all ends with ice cream.
Do you have a favorite piece you’ve designed over the years? Or is that like asking a mom who their favorite child is?
My mom had three children and was good (great) at loving all three, but seeing each of us for who we are as individuals. And so here, I will follow her lead!
I favor the Snow Queen, for being a perfect realization of a many-winter-long desire. Around February every year, I’d vaguely imagine the same sort of ring, that was cobwebby, and white gold, or platinum, and one February the sample for the Snow Queen sprang from the bench of our development lead, done. After years, all of a sudden, there she was!
I also love our Threadbare Ring for being deceptively simple. We have honed and perfected them over years and years; I also am proud of their $44 price tag, which is especially significant as they are solid gold and made one-by-one by Catbird jewelers in our Brooklyn studio!