On one hand, pandemic life didn’t change much for jeweler Kelsey Burris. She works at home with her husband and dog, crafting necklaces, earrings, rings and more — like she always had. On the other hand, she has seen a lot of growth in her business. The Summit High School graduate now has an employee and sells her art in multiple states.
Burris has come a long way from a kid making holiday pieces for family members. Yet her journey wasn’t a direct path.
Originally from Denver, her family moved to Summit Cove for her freshman year. She didn’t take any jewelry classes in high school, opting instead to teach herself from books and making jewelry out of items like shells and stones she found on hikes.
Burris was exposed to art via her grandmother, an interior designer and a seamstress, and her watercolor-painting grandfather. The pair would keep her busy by teaching her how to sew or macrame when Burris would visit.
Her first foray into jewelry as a business was when Burris lived in Germany after graduating high school in 2005. Traveling on the cheap, she befriended a local art shop owner, and they taught each other various skills. She sold jewelry again on the side when she lived in Hawaii for a year in 2008.
A Summit County tomboy, Burris was interested with jewelry as a medium because the concept of adorning oneself with art allowed her to get in touch with her feminine side.
“Growing up, we were always sort of camping and rafting and skiing, and that’s not practical with being a girly girl outside, but jewelry was something I could always get away with,” Burris said.
But it was still only a hobby.
After traveling, Burris then studied biology and chemistry at Metro State University. She never worked in the field, yet she said the background in science helped her with problem solving and putting jewelry together, such as engineering cages for stones and figuring out how to make pieces function while keeping the integrity of the components.
She and her family moved to Morrison, and Burris’ main career post college was being a paralegal. The desk job was unfulfilling, and she left in 2017 without knowing what was next.
“I just figured something would come along that’s better than being a paralegal,” Burris said.
A friend of hers was the director of operations at an antiquities store in Louisville, called the Artemis Gallery, and Burris reentered the world of jewelry thanks to 4,000-year-old Egyptian beads. The gallery had ancient artifacts from private collections and museums, and after the jewelry strings deteriorated, Burris repurposed them on commission.
“They’re really worthless when they’re a bowl of old beads,” Burris said. “I would re-create it into art, but most of them were not really intended to be worn as day-to-day jewelry. A lot of them would go on a bust on somebody’s wall next to their pre-Columbian sculpture.”
For example, Burris worked with some large and heavy Mayan jade beads that had thin openings for string. It took her some time to make it function, but it still wasn’t wearable.
With that additional experience, and more people asking her for modern pieces to wear, Burris launched her first jewelry collection in 2018, and Tela Bella Jewelry was born.
“It was really hard and scary,” Burris said about starting out. “There definitely were times where I questioned what I was doing and if I should continue.”
Burris ended up eventually taking a metalsmithing course, and her time spent in Hawaii influenced her designs. She has a contemporary bohemian style, and works with precious and semiprecious gemstones like quartz, turquoise, opal and ruby.
Tela Bella’s product line does include rings and bracelets, but Burris focuses more on necklaces and earrings. She tries to keep pieces minimalistic, letting the stones speak for themselves, and use practical designs for active people. It’s also what Burris prefers to wear herself.
“Being a maker, it’s really hard to have things on my hands and wrists,” Burris said. “I feel like they just interfere with me. So I make stuff I’ve product tested and know that it holds up over time.”
It took years of long workweeks and investment up front for branding, tools, materials and enough product to sell at markets like the Denver Bazaar, hoping people would buy the jewelry. It’s been worth it, though, as Burris has jewelry in Summit County shops in Frisco, Breckenridge and Keystone as well as Edwards, Steamboat Springs, Crested Butte, Littleton and other Front Range locations beyond Morrison.
Burris has seen a snowball effect in the past year as people support boutiques in person, and she hired Sarah Bordon as an employee to help propel the business forward. Tela Bella has expanded into California, Illinois and Wisconsin, mainly due to connections made via Instagram. Burris hopes to go to a trade show in Las Vegas to expand the out-of-state clientele even more.
“It’s so rewarding to finally see all of this hard work come to fruition and be paying off,” Burris said.
The business growth has led to the growing of nature, as well. Burris now uses One Tree Planted to donate a portion of each sale toward reforestation efforts. Burris also has a goal to empower women within Colorado, using her business as an employment opportunity. She wishes to possibly aid single moms struggling with child care costs and searching for flexible hours to work from home, women reentering society after jail or otherwise help women find steady careers.
“As a business owner, I always really wanted to be able to use my profits for good,” Burris said.
She also hopes her journey will inspire others. Burris said it can be intimidating and hard to market oneself, but that it’s worthwhile with persistence.
“It’s important to know that it doesn’t happen overnight,” Burris said. “It’s a really long, ongoing process, and you just have to stick with it. … You really just have to trust that what you’re doing is awesome and get it out there.”
Burris plans to have Tela Bella’s next collection release sometime in the spring, maybe late April.