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Meet Jessica Cortez of Tierra Alchemy in North Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Cortez.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jessica. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I remember when I was young, spending my weekends painting clay pots, embroidering hoops, making friendship bracelets, and anything else that sparked my creativity. I would look forward to giving my creations to my friends and family. This is a tradition that has stayed with me, I’m still creating, still making, still gifting. Recently, I was introduced to the art of macrame. Immediately, I fell in love. It reminded me of the old friendship bracelets I would make. The same square knot and a spiral knot of my childhood except now I was making new creations like plant holders, wall hangings, dream catchers, earrings. This passion for crafting suddenly became a more personal and almost spiritual act to tap into my intuition.

It was about two years ago, that I began to share my art beyond my circle. I had always been a bit intimidated by business, but my mom and dear friend Shacole encouraged me to start my own. They showed me it was possible to build a career doing what I love, while still holding on to the meaning behind my art. With their support, I was inspired to start Tierra Alchemy. I have now grown as a vendor at craft markets around San Diego, organize bi-monthly pop-up sales, and sell products at Aili Ice Designs. Moving forward, it is my goal to incorporate Tierra Alchemy into local shops. Eventually, I’d love to produce monthly events that provide a platform for women of color in small business.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Being a one-woman company is both rewarding and challenging. Entering this field with no prior knowledge of business presents many obstacles which takes both emotional and financial investment to overcome. I quickly had to learn how to manage administration, production, budgeting, marketing, and networking all at the same time. Vendor fees, materials, advertisement all add up fast. With all the costs of running a startup, I often put my own labor cost to the side, sacrificing what little money I had to put back into the business.

Though learning to navigate this undertaking was difficult, I feel the biggest challenge has been realizing my worth. I have been caught between wanting to make my products affordable and truly value the time and energy put into each piece. There have been moments I have let items go then immediately realized I didn’t even pay myself a minimum wage which is $11/hr in San Diego. Now I strive to price everything taking into account that a livable wage is actually $15/hr here. In my view, it is our duty as small business owners to set that standard and teach others why to appreciate handmade goods.

All of this has been a juggling act. In addition to Tierra Alchemy, I am also a Teaching Artist with the San Diego Opera and Teatro Izcalli, an experiential producer with Ritual Burlesque, and contract theatre worker. Balancing multiple jobs while still finding time for my craft is an art in itself, one that I am constantly refining.

Please tell us about Tierra Alchemy.
My vision for Tierra Alchemy is to celebrate the elements of our Earth through crafts and culture. I developed the name based on my belief that our Tierra offers many beautiful natural and sustainable resources. This is why I incorporate air plants, driftwood, hemp, bamboo, cotton and other features in my craft. Alchemy is defined as the transformation of matter, each natural element I combine, re-purpose, and transform into a work of art. I am also inspired by my identity as a Chicana. As the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, I try to weave the color, texture, and feeling of my culture into each creation.

Tierra Alchemy specializes in macrame goods including plant holders, wall hangings, jewelry, keychains, and dreamcatchers. I think what sets Tierra Alchemy apart though is the macrame jewelry. I have seen a lot of indoor/outdoor macrame decor but customers are always telling me they’ve never seen the macrame earrings and necklaces that I make. Each piece is unique which draws people in, I also develop custom designs if requested. One thing I am most proud of is that most materials are sourced from local companies Artist and Craftsman Supply, Hemptique, and South American Imports.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I was born and raised in San Diego so many of my childhood memories are from Carne Asadas at the beach, rolling down grassy hills with my dad, and going to work with my mom. My favorite memory though and the one that I attribute most with where I am at now is with my Tia Nora. Summers were spent at my grandma’s house eating Sandia and running through the sprinklers in the backyard.

Every day I would look forward to my Tia coming home on her lunch break. The best days we’d spend were playing Gloria Estefan Abriendo Puertos and dancing. My Tia opened doors for me, she was the one that taught me to dance, showed me to craft, and guided me to my passion. She is the most organized and creative person I know and I cherish my memories with her and the support she gives me to this day.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Arthur Cortez @a_perspectives

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1 Comment

  1. Arthur

    July 26, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Just a correction note – Etsy is spelled wrong on the link noted above. The correct “Etsy” address is https://www.etsy.com/shop/tierraalchemy

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