Thursday, April 22, 2010

Interview With Cynthia McGrath: Entrepreneur, Designer and Owner of Original Cyn Jewelry

Cynthia Cox McGrath knew since graduating from college that she could not work for someone else. Evident in her free spirit; she started crafting seed bead necklaces and sold them at Grateful Dead and Phish concerts. Through her love of fashion, design and creativity coupled with her never give up attitude and belief in her products, Cynthia has created a successful business for herself where she can create her own hours, design what inspires her, and call her own shots.

She spends her summers on beautiful Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, where she sells her jewelry and gets to showcase her designs to islanders and celebrity visitors as well!

I recently had the opportunity to ask Cynthia a few questions about how her business started, what inspires her, and who she has met along the way.

When did you start designing jewelry?

Sometime around 1989 I started designing seed bead necklaces. I called them Love-Beads, and I sold them at Grateful Dead and Phish concerts. I used to weave hemp jewelry with funky beads while on the road. I'd buy a poster board and pin them on, and walk around the parking lots for hours. I'd have a change pouch and would sometimes trade my jewelry for concert tickets, handmade clothes or even a grilled cheese! The best part was, watching someone walking by smiling or dancing, wearing something I made.

I am always asked where I went to art school. I didn’t. But I studied business, marketing and management. I knew that I wanted to be self employed in business before I started designing jewelry. I have too much of a rebellious streak to work for someone else, or to be told just how to do something. I have my own way and am completely self taught. I just make what comes naturally to me. Techniques I've learned from just trying everything.

I have always loved fashion. Even as a child. It may have come from having to wear a plaid uniform to school as a child. And a uniform for summer camp. When ever I got the chance to wear whatever I wanted, I’d put crazy outfits together. Having fun with the freedom of choosing for myself. My mother used to call me a rag-a-muffin. Dresses with sneakers, that sort of thing. At ten years old I went through the family's attic of old clothes and shoes. I put price tags on them, and set up a shop in the foyer of our house. I created invitations and went door to door around the neighborhood inviting neighbors to my shop.

When did you officially start your business?

1992. I had just moved to Martha’s Vineyard and I set up a little pushcart at a busy intersection near the ferry. I also set up at flea markets and small art shows. I had maybe $20 in the bank. I have never borrowed a dime from anyone for my business. Ever. And I am very proud of that. I started literally, from the ground up, with ideas and dreams in my head. I've worked my way up.

How did your business name come about?

I thought of the name when I was traveling by myself in Indonesia. I was walking on a beach
in Bali staring out at the ocean and listening to "Tango" by Patty Larkin my walkman. There's a line, "kind of like Original Sin" and I thought –that’s it! I still have it written down in an old journal – "I am going to name my business Original Cyn". People love it and they remember it. It's a little about guilty pleasures; its lustful, like commiting a sin. Some women feel guilty treating themselves. But they shouldn't.

Necklace from the Sty'land Collection Surfing Betty $105.00 Original Cyn

Which are your favorite pieces?

My favorite is usually the one I just finished. The latest design. The only similarity between any of my pieces is that they're well made. I only get about four pieces a year that need to be restrung or fixed in some way. I think that says a lot.

What's unique or unusual about your jewelry design?

I rarely draw or sketch a piece. Its spontaneous. I start grabbing materials and it starts. I work with some very unusual materials. I've been working with snake vertebrae for years. Resin plated in sterling silver. I mix plastic and 22K gold vermeil. Beetles wings. Buffalo teeth. Glow-in-the-dark glass. I like my pieces to be versatile. Something you can wear with jeans, or a dress.

One thing I try to do is to keep changing my jewelry to keep it fresh. I think that’s why I have so many repeat customers. I have new jewelry all the time. I never make the same piece more than once, so everytime you see me – I have new! One thing about beading for me is it never gets old. There are so many colors and textures in beads that you just can’t get from other mediums. I am all about color. If I ever get sick of it, I’ll move on. But I don’t believe beading is a ‘stepping stone’ to other mediums. Not for me at least.

Anyone we know wearing your jewelry?

Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson have some of my pieces. Michelle Obama has a necklace of mine. Meg Ryan was recently checking out my work.

What exposure / encounters have you had with high profile VIPs and the like?

I think the first high profile person to buy from me was Alan Dershowitz and his wife Carolyn. They both really like my work and have been buying from me for over 10 years. I also became friends with their daughter Ella, who was also at the time getting interested in jewelry making. I’ve seen Bill and Hillary Clinton at Flea Markets, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bruce Willis, few others.

Who, or what inspires you?

I see beauty in a lot of things. Even broken glass in a parking lot. Foiledcandy wrappers. I use all my senses for inspiration, to combine colors,personalities, the sounds of nature, music, the rhythm of machinery, the curves of a staircase. Being around friends, many of whom are painters,ceramicists, potters, is very inspiring too.

Getting compliments from customers is inspiring too. My favorite is "your jewelry is SO Rock and Roll!" I am always listening to music when I’m working. Usually pretty loud, ha. And I have music at shows all the time too. I think they sort of go together.

I want my jewelry to remind people of what makes them unique. No two people are exactly alike, so why should my jewelry be? If jewelry is a sign of self expression, then my jewelry says "I’ve got my own style." Sometimes when I’m making a piece -- or I have just finished one -- I think, I can’t wait for this person. I can’t wait to see who this was meant for. I'll know it when I see them. And especially when I see the look on someone’s face when they're looking in the mirror and I see their face light up. I love making people feel like their bringing out their inner beauty and making them realize how special they are.

Cynthia's beautiful creations can be found on her site:

She travels regularly to jewelry shows throughout the Northeast during the winter months and spends her summers on Martha's Vineyard, MA.

You can follow Original Cyn on her twitter page: or become a fan on Facebook.


Amy said...

Great article! I'm going to have to check out her stuff!

Patty said...

A wonderful article about a fabulous jewelry designer. I am a long time fan of Original Cyn and own several of her pieces. A trip to Martha's Vineyard in the Summer gives me the chance to add to my collection of Original Cyn jewelry. I also try to get to her off-Island shows.

Debbie Boren said...

Original Cyn has incredible designs. Have you seen her new snake necklace.Check it out. It's amazing. I'll be adding one like it to my collection of "Original Cyn Jewelry" soon!

Debbie Boren said...

Original Cyn is amazing! Cynthia puts so much into each design. I have started my collection and intend to build on it. My next piece....her new snake necklace! You gotta check it out!