Writing New York: Posts from the Boroughs and Beyond — 2008-2011 Rotating Header Image

The Face Behind Costume Jewelry

Jewelry is a woman’s best friend. Diamonds, gems, and sapphires, what more can women ask for. However, in reality this is not what most women can afford. Instead, they turn to costume jewelry. Necklaces, bracelets, rings, and pins are sold in stores and stands outside on the streets. This is what the average American woman relies on to spruce up her outfits. Accessories are a necessity to compliment the outfit. The creation and packaging of the jewelry is a meticulous and repetitive process that requires patience and a sharp eye.

Kenny Jiang is an immigrant from China. He is an independent contractor with a costume jewelry business.  He has been working in this business for about 20 years. He used to have two partners but now works alone. He does not sell costume jewelry directly to customers. Instead he is the middle man. “When the costume jewelry business cannot handle their own workload, they contact me to help them. They give me a shipment and a deadline for when the job has to be completed,” Kenny said in Cantonese.

bubble wrap used for packaging

Bubble wrap used for packaging

Costume jewelry businesses get boxes of jewelry made in Asia. They will then analyze the product for any defects in size, color, and shape. This requires a sharp and careful eye. Many of the accessories they encounter are from popular stores such as Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, and J Crew just to name a few. It is the jewelry you see on girls throughout the country. It may sound like a simple job but in reality it is very stressful. It is a meticulous and repetitive job. Each price tag on the jewelry is stuck on by hand, one by one. There is no machine that sticks the price tag on the jewelry; nor is there a machine that packages them. “People that buy the accessories are probably not aware that this is all done by hand. My daughter’s friend was shocked that this was all done by hand. She thought machines put the price tag on the jewelry and stuck them into bags,” Kenny said.

The job is strenuous and the only people working are Kenny and his wife. “Each job we get comes in the hundreds and thousands. It’s hard. We go through the process of analyzing for defects, pricing and packaging over and over again. It is harder than you think,” Kenny said.  This is a lot of work for only two people. They are not young anymore and it is not easy doing the same repetitive process for a shipment in the thousands. They sometimes pull 10-14 hour work days in order to finish the job in time. Students complain that they have too much work which leads to a lack of sleep. However, imagine Kenny and his wife. They are in their 50s and 60s and pull 14 hour work days. It takes a toll on their body. “It’s a hard job. My shoulders hurt and my legs are weak from sitting all day. But this is my job. I have to endure the pain in order to finish the job,” Kenny said.

carts used to move heavy boxes

Hand carts used to move heavy boxes

When asked whether this is a profitable business, Kenny said, “It’s not. We do not earn a lot of money from this business. Sometimes we can go days and weeks without being contacted for a job. This is what happens when you are an independent contractor.” The business is not profitable and it is hard to earn a living off this line of work. “We had better business before when we worked for two costume jewelry businesses. However, the workload was too much for me and my wife. Therefore, we had to stop working for one business.” Kenny said. He relies instead on the rent he collects from his tenants. “My two partners and I own the building where my office is located. We rented the other floors out to people. The rent is what provides me the bulk of my income,” Kenny said.

Business is hard for Kenny over the past years. “There really is nothing I can do now. When there is a job I take it. I try my best to provide for my family. I cannot retire yet because I still have to put my son through college,” Kenny said. In the building he owns, he used to take up an entire floor for his office. However, two years ago he decided to scale down. He separated the floor in two and rented the extra space out. “I do not need such a big office. I can now earn extra money from the rent I collect,” Kenny said. He also said that during times like these you have to be thrifty and not spend money on unnecessary items. “I never use to watch my money back then. However, these past years I make sure I know how much money I spend each day,” Kenny said.

4 Comments on “The Face Behind Costume Jewelry”

  1. #1 Ceramic Watch
    on Jul 23rd, 2009 at 6:03 am

    We are a small business that is rapidly growing.

  2. #2 Lapel Pins
    on Aug 24th, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    People don’t realize all the work behind jewelry. We manufacture custom lapel pins overseas, and each piece is individually color filled by hand, color by color. It is very labor intensive.

  3. #3 white gold diamond earrings
    on Sep 17th, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    great post! Glad you shred this, at least people now have an idea of how hard it is to create jewelries.

  4. #4 meegoh
    on Mar 9th, 2011 at 10:36 am

    very hard-working man. I never realized it until today it is such a difficult and tiring task. Who would think that even costume jewelries needs such care.

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