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Life and Work with Jonnie Estes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jonnie Estes.

Jonnie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’m the owner + maker of Grey Theory Mill. I started GTM as a way to create wearable & usable art which has manifested itself in t-shirt form, scarves, hand-sewn paper notebooks, & most successfully jewelry. It brings me much joy to make, but it is the greatest honor when the art I’ve made becomes apart of someone else’s every day. I’ve always been more comfortable not signing my art, so having a brand name that kind of lives its own life that is a piece of me, but kind of separate, seems fitting.

Truth be told, I started this business as a self-directed Art class elective back in 2010 that I received college credit for. I later ditched the idea of majoring in art (out of fear) and instead majored/received a Bachelor’s in Psychology… but then pursued a career in Art anyway, go figure. When I re-branded to the GTM name, I really didn’t have a firm idea of what it would become, but having an open idea of what I want out of life, in general, has been the best “business plan” for me & the brand. GTM has grown from a hobby to a full-fledged business that sells both directly to the customer and to shops across the country.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Is there even such a thing as a smooth road? I would lean more towards saying a lot of roads seem pretty smooth, but something always goes awry. No matter what road you take, roads always require some form of maintenance.

Metaphors aside though, the road was relatively smooth I guess? When you start a business without really considering it a business and more of a “fun side-thing” which is what I did, a lot of the stress and things that might be viewed as struggles aren’t. I worked a day job full-time and never counted on GTM to pay the bills, so when things started to shift and GTM was making more money, I had to make a choice. I was working equally hard at both jobs, but because there’s a finite amount of time in a week, I had to give myself a chance to see if GTM could do more. So, I talked to my bosses and was able to work less hours to see if more space and time would help my brand grow… and it did. With growth comes bigger decisions, bigger risks, and of course, more money on the table. I’ve definitely made plenty of mistakes, but I tend to learn from them the first time (thankfully).

My advice to others who are just starting their journey:
1- Enjoy and use your anonymity to the fullest. I read a book by Austin Kleon called “Steal Like an Artist” and this is one of his hot tips. When you’re just starting out no one is paying attention to you, so use this time to try everything you want to try. Mistakes are far more forgiving at this stage.
2- If you can, hold a flexible day job. One of the most stressful things in life is just living and living is significantly easier if you have a steady paycheck to supplement your start-up. (side note: I still work 2-3 days a week at my day job, one-because I really enjoy it and two-I have steady money coming in to combat the ebb and flow of sales… that and house projects cost $$
3- Value your time and price your work accordingly. I see makers undercut themselves ALLLLLL THE TIME and it drives me crazy. Think about the cost of materials, your time, your overhead, etc, but don’t forget to factor in all your bills, the cost of auto insurance, fuel, medical insurance, a yearly vacation, and eating out occasionally. Then look at what you’re selling your work for. Can you sustain yourself off that price?
4- Take it seriously, but not so serious. Always check in on your perspective. Say yes to friends and family. You should never be so busy that your life outside of your work is on hold.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Grey Theory Mill – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
Grey Theory Mill carved out their place in the world with their tiny stamped statement earrings that continue to spark laughter & eye rolls from coast to coast. Stamped-sassy-sayings aside, they also aim to curate cohesive jewelry collections that merge simple, edgy, hypoallergenic, & timeless design with high quality + ethically sourced materials at accessible price points. Grey Theory Mill is a brand with the everyday woman in mind.

Main elevator pitch aside, I revel in making people, LOL, and it is truly an honor to be apart of other’s experiences–and dare I say it–even aide in creating experiences. What sets GTM apart? Well, I have a hard time answering that. There are so many exceptional makers & brands out there and I hope to just be on their level! I definitely prioritize customer’s and their happiness and am confident in saying our customer service is top-shelf. I also value high quality, so when sourcing supplies I make sure I am getting the best I can get and stop making/selling any pieces that no longer meet the standard I’ve set.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well-positioned for?
I feel like the maker movement, in particular, is women-focused/dominated and because of that, the opportunities are plentiful. I would say women are very connection-oriented and are master weavers when it comes to network webs and from those webs comes connections and opportunity. I’d say women are pretty well-positioned for any opportunity granted they have the skill set.


  • Everything in our line is under $40 retail

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Portrait Credit (Jonnie-Owner/Maker on left, | Monica-Assistant on right): Let’s Frolic Together
Photo Credit for Salty AF necklace: Babydoll Photography
Photo Credit for GRL PWR earrings: Elizabeth A. Images

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