Perched on a stool in the artfully cluttered Crocodile Tears studio, listening to Marya Chan and Jodi Klann discuss their work while willing myself not to spill my glass of red all over the beads, baubles, and oddities strewn across the polka-dotted table that serves as their workspace, I'm thinking that — as second jobs go — making jewelry with one of your best buds is a good one. In fact, if I wasn't the type of klutz who needs to remind myself not to dribble merlot all over other people's hard work, I'm thinking it's a job I might pick up.
But for the Crocodile Tears girls, designing their seriously rad line of handcrafted jewelry at night isn't really a job at all. Footwear designers at New Balance by day, Chan and Klann started fooling around with found objects — fishing lures from Klann's home state of Michigan, wooden blocks, tiny metal dinosaur toys, and a little plastic bull clipped off a bottle of Sangre de Toro wine, to name just a few — as an outlet from the daily grind. Having bonded at New Balance over their similar tastes in fashion and music, they decided, on a bit of a whim, to rent a studio space with a few other friends and "just start making stuff." That stuff was initially intended to be clothing, but designing dress patterns quickly segued into making quirky, chunky necklaces out of unconventional materials. (Their signature line is a collection of chain-link necklaces made from resin that look like heavy hardware but are actually featherweight.) "It all happened very organically," says Klann.
Chan hands me a small, almost transparent neon-pink tube and asks if I've heard of pig pipes. I haven't. "Neither had we!" she laughs. "They come in these long, almost three-foot-long rods, in all these crazy colors. And what they're used for, I guess, is that pigs are attracted to these colors, and they use them to prod the pigs around and corral them. We just thought it was hilarious."
The girls clearly have a sense of humor, but their after-hours hobby has turned into a pretty serious business. Now they display their jewelry during Open Studios on SoWa First Fridays; you can also find their necklaces and bracelets (priced in the $60 to $100 range) in a handful of independent boutiques around town.
If you see something you like, snap it up quickly: their innovative MO means they rarely make a collection twice, with the exception of their resin work. Draining my third glass of wine (in addition to being great jewelry makers, they're great hostesses), I ask what they have planned for 2013. "3D printing," Chan says immediately. They want to print out big plastic rings, she explains.
Peering at a hand-painted crocodile that spans the entirety of a wall (their mascot — "He's a smartass," says Klann), I ask how they came up with their name. "It's a Southern saying meaning insincere weeping," Chan tells me. "I just heard it on TV. We both wanted a really unique name, something really random, so I heard it and texted it to Jodi, and she was like, yeah, that's it." A second look at the grinning croc on the wall confirms it: he's a total smartass.