Next up in our Meet the Maker series is T Ngu, the founder of Upper Metal Class. You may recognize T from our recent BRIKA post. Her all-metal jewelry collection was so rad, I just had to find out more about the line. Ngu fell into jewelry making while in between jobs—proof that it’s never too late for a career change. She’s influenced by “strong sleek lines and curves in buildings, imperfect yet beautiful cracks in sidewalks, cool shapes in objects, and the unbelievable patterns formed by nature.” Her work is the epitome of minimalist cool and I love that she brings geek chic to the next level with her math and science-inspired designs.
T’s handcrafted geometric pieces are so versatile that you can dress them up on an LBD or wear them with jeans and a tee. Oh, and her California Necklace? A must-have! (WANT!) Anything with a little Brit + Co. hometown pride always gets my attention. If you want to check out all of T’s awesome jewelry, you’ll be happy to hear that she’ll be joining us at Re:Make on October 5th. Be sure to snag your ticket to Re:Make here!
Read on as T fills us in on her favorite designs, her advice for other makers, and more.
First things first, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a bit of a workaholic, but I try my best to balance it out by doing things I like such as eating pizza, hugging my dogs, and hanging out with good people. I like trying new things and I am finally realizing that my time on this earth is very limited and can go at any moment. I’ve created my personal list of things to do before I leave this place. My latest is learning how to be a roller derby girl. Not sure I’d ever pass as one, but it’s been the funnest thing I’ve ever done in a real long time and the next off my list is archery. I just want to try and live my life with no regrets.
When did you first realize you love to make?
Being creative and making things is something I did as a little girl when there wasn’t much. I just loved drawing, painting, origami, building dioramas and anything that got my hands and brain to work. I was a bit of a tomboy/geek too, so I’d love drawing hot rods, cartoon characters, and animals.
Any sort of creative project I got in school was always my favorite. I will never forget the poem book I made in middle school for an English class. I had to come up with 5 different poems along with artwork. I made a hand bound book—I used thick poster board for the pages and I created mosaic shapes of landscapes, ombre skylines, and fire out of colorful tissue paper the included my handwritten poems. It was the first thing I could ever remember that I was ever proud of and loved.
Why did you decide to start Upper Metal Class?
I was in between jobs and trying to figure out my life and career, so I decided to ease my stress and worry by doing something fun. After flipping through a catalog of extended classes for community college, I came across the jewelry section which immediately sparked my memories of me saying to myself in the past- If I wasn’t so busy I would love to learn how to make jewelry. I checked myself into some classes and started to make pieces for myself. Eventually friends, family, and even random people were asking me how they could get pieces for themselves. The encouragement from everyone led me to start a little online shop, which now 3 years later, has grown to selling to customers all over the world and to boutiques throughout the United States, UK, Japan, Korea, and China.
How do you come up with your designs?
I basically sit down and brainstorm onto paper all of my ideas until I have that “aha” design. It’s as simple as that, but the ideas don’t always come quickly and sometimes it takes time to get past the creative blocks. When making pieces, there’s a lot of trial and error. But sometimes, those errors end up becoming pretty cool pieces of jewelry.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I love architecture, construction, math, science, and the natural life all around us. I like to draw inspiration from the strong sleek lines and curves in buildings, imperfect yet beautiful cracks in sidewalks, cool shapes in objects, and the natural patterns created by nature. I’m also inspired by the ambitious and hard working go-getter who likes subtle yet fun pieces of jewelry that can easily work with any outfit.
Which project or design are you proudest of?
I’m most proud of my Control Earrings. They’re quirky, geeky, interchangeable, clever and most importantly, fun!
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other makers?
Mistakes are always made and it may seem frustrating or like a failure, but they really are the best things to help us grow and to teach us all to become better and smarter makers.
What other creative hobbies do you have?
Throughout the year, I tend to do quite a few events where I go on the road to bring my jewelry and story directly to people at various shows. One of the things that seems to be recurring is how I present my space and showcase my work by creating displays. I tend to weirdly love the stress that comes with creating something that’s sort of out of my comfort zone.
How has technology changed and supported what you do?
When I started my company, I was very hesitant and extremely overwhelmed by all of the types of technology I should be using, but after I gave in, it honestly has made things much easier and increased the my business sales. I pretty much rely on technology to help me run my everyday business activities and it’s been a great way to connect with people I would have never been able to meet otherwise. I’m amazed by the way you can reach so many people so quickly through social media, charge credit cards on your phone with a quick swipe, have a question answered in a click and just plain communicate face to face so easily throughout the world.
Have you fallen in love with Upper Metal Class yet? Then don’t forget! T will be joining us at Re:Make on October 5th. Stop by Fort Mason from 11am-5pm to pick up a few pieces of her handmade jewelry.