Izzy Tang, Founder of OTEM
Our first noteworthy woman is our very good friend, Izzy Tang, the founder of OTEM. We are die-hard fans of OTEM for its beautifully crafted jewelry and for the strong messages of female empowerment that the brand embodies. We also discussed her guilty pleasures (Justin Bieber) and her smart advice to her 18-year-old-self. With that said, we can’t wait for you to meet Izzy.
Tell us about OTEM and what you want people to know about the brand.
OTEM is redefined fine jewelry. The fine jewelry industry is extremely ancient, and has barely changed over the course of its history. We want to create pieces that represent the values and desires of a new generation. We embody these values by using sustainable materials, countering the conventions tied to jewelry, and through overt political expression. We use the same artisans and materials as the best in the business, but we offer our pieces at direct to consumer prices.
What inspired you to make jewelry?
My mother is a jewelry designer and my family has been in the business for a long time. I’m an innovation consultant by training, so I decided to turn that lens inwards. I also wanted a more tangible outlet for my creative energy beyond a computer screen.
Where do you draw your creativity from when making a new piece of jewelry?
I value equally form and function, so I tend to lean towards a utilitarian look in many of my pieces. For the Resist line, I’m inspired by the raw energy that has emerged in the face of political chaos, and draw my inspiration from these political movements and what they’re trying to do and say.
Is there a specific figure or place that you draw inspiration from?
I love the island of Naoshima in Japan for its unparalleled collision of art, nature and architecture. It’s unreal and I think possibly the most elegant place on earth. When I first started thinking about getting into jewelry, I took a 3D casting class and made a ring based on the birdseye view of the island.
What’s your favorite piece of jewelry that you’ve made and why?
I still love the Signature Cuff, which was the original piece I launched OTEM with. I love it because I wear three of them (in three metals) and never take them off. Literally. They look good with everything I wear and add a little bit of something, yet they fit seamlessly on my wrists to a point where they’re almost an extension of my body.
Do you find that your personal style directly effects your designs or vice versa?
To an extent. My designs tend to be fairly minimalistic, and at times, so is my personal style. But there’s also a big part of me that is truly a maximalist - I love colors and patterns and textures. It can be a surprising mix. I do have a lot of colored stones that I purchased last year, and I want to do a collection with them. I think that collection would feel more like the maximalist side of me.
If you had to choose three words that describe your entire collection/aesthetic, what would they be?
Bold, versatile, modern.
What's the most challenging thing you've ever done?
Without a doubt, it was to launch and run OTEM.
Who do you look up to?
I see this new breed of women entrepreneurs who are forging new ground and defining for themselves what work/life/empowerment/success should be. They’re building these positive, supportive work environments and reimagining what it means to succeed. I’m inspired and incredibly impressed by these women every single day — including you guys!
What's the best advice you've received?
Oddly, it’d be a combination of things each of my (estranged) parents have said to me at different times, which could be summed up by: “While something may seem insurmountable or impossibly heavy now, one day you will view it as insignificant.” Which could also be summed up by the tile of one of my favorite Beatles solo albums: “All Things Must Pass."
How do you think fashion is changing currently? What do you think of it?
Hopefully it’s waking up. I think more brands and more consumers care about sustainability and are more conscious of the impact of their choices. Obviously a lot still has to change, but I’m seeing a positive move. I also think we’ve entered a whole new phase of consumer-led fashion, with trends being driven less by brands and more by everyday people, and also mattering a lot less. I think, I hope, there’s a lot less of a keeping up with the Jones’ mentality these days, and more of a “do you” individualistic yet inclusive mentality. I also feel like there is more purposeful statement making in fashion — both in the what and the how behind the clothes people wear. I give credit to those younger millennials and Gen Y’ers for driving and embracing these changes.
How would you describe your style?
I think it’s mostly NYC utilitarian, with a splash of color and patterns. I’ve actually been craving a “new look” lately because I think I’ve finally gotten sick of my burlap sack silhouette ideal, and want to embrace my feminine side more without losing my edge. Got any suggestions? ;)
What advice would you give to your 18 year-old self?
Take risks and don’t be afraid of failure — in fact, embrace it. Also, take a graphic design class and a coding class in college.
What is your guilty pleasure?
A certain variety of Justin Bieber (ahem, Despacito) and other non-sensical pop songs that I deeply enjoy against my better judgment.