Shop Talk: Making Space for Makers

When Emma Kiley Bryant decided to move away from her role as owner of the popular Vineyard Haven women’s boutique Citrine, she thought she was taking a break. After a decade of running a successful small business while co-parenting two small children, it was time to step back and refocus on family life.

“It was almost easier when they were little,” Bryant, whose children, Tessa and Eli, are now nine and eleven, respectively, said. “As they’ve grown older I feel like they needed more from me emotionally. I realized the shop was taking away from time with them.”

We sat in a light-filled, second-floor space on Beach Road Extension, just a few blocks away from where Citrine is now owned by Tanya Rustigian, one of Bryant’s first employees and a longtime collaborator. Bryant did take a break, but she did it her way: she is now the founder and manager of The Annex, a shared makers’ space and showroom currently in its second season.

Bryant, a jewelry maker herself, began her career in the way that many Island makers begin, hauling her wares from home studio to artisans’ fairs to flea markets. Homeschooled as a child, she credits her creative spirit to the untraditional learning experiences she shared with her sister. “A lot of it came from that kind of freedom,” she said. “We learned anything we wanted to learn, whatever we felt like we were intrigued by.”

Making friendship bracelets with her sister evolved into beading and metalsmithing at Bennington College in Vermont and later in northern California. Through her travels she developed relationships with other designers, many of whom she would go on to represent first at markets and then in her own shop.

Opening Citrine, which ran for four seasons in West Tisbury before moving to Main Street, Vineyard Haven, came out of a desire to settle down. “I was over-schlepping,” she laughed, remembering the roving vendor lifestyle. And while becoming a business owner meant that she had limited time to make her own jewelry, she found she was drawn to the relationships she was forming with other designers.

“Being the maker fell by the wayside,” she said. “But it was substituted with encouraging other makers. I still found that exciting creative energy through helping them design their lines.”

So it should come as no surprise that when Bryant decided last year to make more time for her family and her own creative process, she wasn’t able to entirely abandon her role as mentor to her dedicated crew of up-and-coming local talent.

“The conversation has always been there,” she said of a demonstrated need for an affordable, inspiring workspace for young artists on the Island. It all came together when she saw the studio space on Beach Road Extension. “I didn’t want to leave once I got here,” she said. “This is it.”

The goal of the first season was to find a group of people who both would work well together and whose products would be complementary. Hannah Marlin, a jewelry maker whose line, Littlest Fish Designs, got its start at Citrine, was Bryant’s first studio-mate. She was joined by Angela Sison of ethically sourced Conrado clothing, Liane Fitzgerald of bathing suit line Roy Swim, and raw crystal jeweler Jessica Kramer of Hawkhouse. Bridgette Bartlett of Maple Mehndi often gave henna tattoos.

Marlin was thrilled to join The Annex, and said that the experience has enriched her beyond measure. “I’ve learned so much in such a short time, from balancing social life with work, to establishing myself as a small business owner and paying taxes.”

The first summer saw pop-up shows, which furthered Bryant’s vision of exposing each maker to a broader client base. “For artists who were maybe not so well discovered, it was exciting to benefit from the experience of others,” Bryant said. “It was beautiful to see how that played out.”

After a mellow winter season, which Bryant described as the “creative zone,” The Annex is back with a new roster: Littlest Fish Designs and Hawkhouse are joined by women’s clothing line Kenworthy, herbalist Susie Nedley, and painter Alexis Russillo.

Randi Sylvia, who co-owns Kenworthy with her mother Marlene DiStefano, is already using the space as a showroom, and looks forward to a busy and collaborative summer season. “Being an entrepreneur can be extremely lonely, especially when you make all of your product and spend copious amounts of time in your studio,” Sylvia said. “When you are starting so small it is nice to be a part of something bigger.”

As for Bryant, while it may not have been the total “break” she envisioned, transitioning from store owner to studio manager has still allowed her to reprioritize in a way that has felt nourishing, both personally and professionally. In addition to getting The Annex off the ground, she has been busy with her own jewelry line, which she hopes to introduce this summer.

And The Annex, it seems, is just getting started. “I envision it being something that will keep going,” Bryant said against a backdrop of Russillo’s oil paintings, racks of Kenworthy dresses, and through the window beyond, glistening Vineyard Haven Harbor. “Having a nurturing group of people working around you is such a luxury, and to be inspired by everyone working around you is even better.”

The view doesn’t hurt, said Marlin. “Before this, I was working out of a cramped bedroom. To say this is an upgrade is the understatement of the century.”