Featured Image: Shawn Zeigler laughs with a customer at the Firefly Forge booth at the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival on April 28, 2019. Zeigler owns the jewelry business with her husband, Sean. Together they have been selling their creations at the festival since 2006. Photo by Samuel Gomez
Shawn B. Zeigler had never seen fireflies in North Texas until she moved into a Denton home with her husband, Sean. There, she said, fireflies lit up their backyard at night. This memory made its way into the name of her jewelry business, Firefly Forge, where she and Sean aim to craft meaningful pieces that stand the test of time.
“I want the person who buys our jewelry to still be willing to wear it for five years or longer,” Shawn said.
Shawn and Sean Zeigler are the co-owners of the handcrafted jewelry store, Firefly Forge. The pair create necklaces, earrings and cuffs among other items and sell their work online and at local markets and festivals. Shawn, who works as an English teacher, handles more of the management side and creates beaded pieces, while Sean, a graphic designer, is in charge of the metalwork.
Sean is mainly self-taught and learned how to work with metal long before creating Firefly Forge. At age 13, he began taking things apart around the house, so his father gave him an outlet for his curiosity.
“He came home one day with silver solder and a torch and just said, ‘Hey, figure out how to do something with this,’ and that’s where I started,” Sean said.
His interest in working with metal carried into his college years at UNT, where he took several metalworking classes that exposed him to more possibilities for art.
In 2002, Sean’s sister asked him to create jewelry for the bridesmaids in her wedding. He and Shawn created some extra pieces as well, which they brought to a barbeque following the wedding in a Ziploc bag, and Shawn said they were well-received by family and friends. She said that was when they realized their interest in jewelry was something they could pursue as a business.
“I had a grandmother who was just the biggest jewelry fiend, she owned so much and was into all the fads and fashions,” Shawn said. “I played around a lot with her stuff when I was little. And so [jewelry making] seemed like fun.”
The pair pursued their jewelry business after that, though Shawn said 2006 is when they really got started, as that was their first year at Denton Arts and Jazz Festival. She said they mainly work with sterling silver and create all kinds of etched, beaded and gemstone pieces. They pay attention to fashion and trends when creating their jewelry designs.
“I think we’ve definitely progressed trying to keep an eye on what fashion is doing,” Shawn said. “Are necklines higher or are they lower? Where are the waistlines?”
In addition to working full-time outside of Firefly Forge, the Zeiglers are also parents to a 21-month-old and Sean said managing a home, career, taking care of a child and running a jewelry business keeps them busy. Despite this, Sean said it is important to have something more than a day job, which is part of why he and his wife work well together.
“It’s been a great partnership to have because I think we both have been raised to feel like we have more to offer,” Sean said.
Shawn said she also enjoys co-owning a business with her husband and that they balance each other out well.
“He has such an eye for design and can see creative things to do with metal that I would not have thought about,” Shawn said.
Shawn said her job as a teacher has connected her with people interested in her business — one of her biggest customers is a former student’s mother. Making and selling jewelry, however, also helps her to set aside her teaching life and gives her a productive way to tap into creativity.
“There’s something really great about turning on a Netflix movie and sitting down for an hour and a half and at the end of it, having these physical things that you’ve created that you can show for your time,” Shawn said.
Many of their connections, though, come from working markets and festivals. The Zeiglers have worked festivals in Fredericksburg, Georgetown, Tyler and Weatherford, Texas, as well as a few seasons at Denton Community Market and Ryan High School’s Holiday Craft Fair.
Shawn said their biggest event is Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, which took place this past weekend, and participating in the festival every year has been one of the biggest highlights for her.
“Even when there’s a dust bowl or a mud pit or we get rained out one night, that festival is the unofficial reunion weekend for people who live in and love Denton, Texas,” Shawn said.
Carol Long, a Denton stained glass artist and owner of Solasta Stained Glass, is a former co-worker of Shawn’s. She also said that festivals like Arts and Jazz have been instrumental in growing small businesses in the local art community.
“I know a lot of people who got started that way, and I know a few people who have gone on to open brick-and-mortar stores and it started from the markets,” Long said.
The Zeigler’s said their long-term goal for Firefly Forge is to learn how to make platforms like Facebook and Instagram profitable. Sean said social media has become as big for businesses as it is for social connections, and he hopes to be able to successfully navigate that market.
“I think we’re definitely moving into an economy where brick-and-mortar are not nearly as important,” Sean said.
Shawn said she would also like to hire or partner up with others to help tackle some of the time requirements. For now, Sean said, they will continue to find time between parenting and their career to grow their jewelry business.
“I wouldn’t say it has been the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but I think passionate work is always kind of like that,” Sean said. “You pour yourself into it as much as you can.”