Bridgeja' Baker seems like any average 11-year-old girl who likes watching television, learning to play musical instruments and talking on the phone. But she also runs her own jewelry business.
For Bridgeja', the journey into jewelry design began when one of the wires from her braces popped out of its bracket. Her orthodontist's Metairie office was closed, and Bridgeja' and her father had to drive to the doctor's Mandeville location to get the wire repaired. Next to the doctor's office was a bead shop. Bridgeja' and her father went in and she was astounded by what she found — so much so she began taking weekly jewelry-making classes. She would often stay after class to ask questions about perfecting her craft, and after only a couple of months, Bridgeja' hosted her first jewelry show and made more than $1,000.
This year, she can add 'vendor' to her list of accomplishments; Bridgeja' will sell her work at the 2009 Essence Marketplace and Art Expo at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center July 3-5.
This 11-year-old no longer needs an allowance. She saves 50 percent of her earnings, invests 20 percent back into the business, uses 20 percent for spending money and donates 10 percent to two nonprofit organizations every year. "I'm an average girl with a business mind and I like to give back to the community," she says. This year Bridgeja' will donate earnings to the LA/SPCA and Children's Hospital.
Not only is her schedule filled with her jewelry business, school, friends and family, but Bridgeja' also takes care of her Siberian husky and its four puppies.
For design inspiration, she looks to public figures like Oprah Winfrey. She studies outfits and makes a piece to compliment the clothes. She got the idea to create her favorite piece for Michelle Obama after watching the news and discovering the first lady loved pearls. The piece was made of freshwater pearls and was sent to the White House along with bookmarks made of Swarovski crystals for President Barack Obama and daughters, Sasha and Malia. Packages have to go through clearance and it takes about 10-12 weeks for the First Family to receive packages. Bridgeja' is anxiously awaiting their response.
Bridgeja's creative process begins by making a pattern on a beading board with gemstones and accents, changing the pattern until she perfects it. "The ideas come from the different stones," she says. Her favorite stones to work with are turquoise, amethyst and tiger's-eye. "I like to use natural stones," she says. "Nothing that I have is acrylic."
She makes all of the jewelry herself, occasionally using her mother's arm to measure. Her favorite place to work is her family's kitchen table, but her father Thomas plans to set up a studio for her in the garage of their eastern New Orleans home. During the school year, studying comes first and Bridgeja' only works on jewelry after homework.
To prepare inventory for Essence, Bridgeja' works every day, but she says she doesn't think of it as work. For her, making jewelry is fun, exciting and relaxing: "I really enjoy creating unique pieces because all pieces are created from the heart. It thrills me to see each piece that I create because no two pieces are alike."
Bridgeja' wants to inspire other young women and would like to host a beading camp to teach other girls how to make jewelry. She also wants to expand her customer base by offering jewelry for men, boys, bridal parties and toddlers.
Bridgeja' says her parents have taught her about financial independence and how to multitask. When Bridgeja' talks about her them, it's not hard to see where she gets her drive and entrepreneurial spirit. Her dad owned a grocery store and was a vendor in the French Market. Her parents also owned Classy Fashions, a clothing store in Morgan City. Currently Bridgeja's mother Bridgette is an insurance agent and licensed clinical social worker who was in private practice for 10 years.
Always thinking about the future, Bridgeja' has a long-range plan for her own career. "Ten to 15 years from now I will have designed custom pieces for a few famous people while being a pharmacist and owning my own drugstore," she says.
Creative Jewelry by Bridgeja', including the pieces created for the First Family, will be available for purchase at the 2009 Essence Marketplace and Art Expo at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. July 3-5. The jewelry also can be purchased from her Web site, www.creativejewelrybybridgeja.com, and through her privately hosted jewelry shows.