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Rising Tide: Starting A Business, And A Family, At The Height Of A Recession

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As part of our new series “Rising Tide,” Rhode Island Public Radio is bringing you stories of life after the Great Recession. The economy is improving,...

 

As part of our new series “Rising Tide,” Rhode Island Public Radio is bringing you stories of life after the Great Recession. The economy is improving, but does a rising tide lift all boats, or are some Rhode Islanders still being left behind? In this next installment, Rhode Island Public Radio’s Chuck Hinman visits a couple who started a small business, and a family, in the depths of the Great Recession.  

In the basement of a house in the Mount Hope neighborhood on Providence’s East Side, jewelry maker Meghan Devinat puts the finishing touches on an earring. She’s using a rotary tool with a polishing wheel to smooth the end of a sterling silver post.

“I’m just rounding these edges since this is the point that goes through your ear,” she said.

Devinat is one half of the jewelry company DUO | DUET, with her husband, Benoit Devinat, the other half. The earring she’s working on, like nearly all of their jewelry, is made of sterling silver and a synthetic microfiber called ultrasuede. It was Benoit’s idea to use the fabric for the jewelry designs his wife was putting on paper. He liked its striking colors, and it was sturdy but lightweight, ideal for shaping into earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Benoit said he and his wife work well together as a team.

“Yeah we sort of feed off one another I think.”

The Devinats met as students at the Rhode Island School of Design. Megan studied metal-smithing and Benoit focused on industrial design.

The idea for the jewelry business came in the dark days of Rhode Island’s recession. The couple put a few pieces online in 2010, but they had also started a family and needed a full-time income, so it was slow going. And there was the house they’d bought, in 2006, at the peak of the market, before the housing collapse, a house that was, itself, collapsing.

“So we bought this house that was caving in, I mean the roofs were caving in, there were leaks everywhere, the boiler didn’t work, I mean it was a shambles to some degree,” said Devinat.

But it was affordable. It was hard work restoring the house, but the Devinats never fell behind on their mortgage payments. And, in another stroke of good fortune, Benoit was able to keep working full-time at an industrial design firm. Meghan didn’t have quite the same experience; her job in the costume jewelry industry did not survive when her company sold its jewelry division.  

“So I ended up getting laid off in 2009, but then picked up some very steady freelance work for quite a while,” she said.

So they rode it out. Now, they say, they see definite signs of an improving economy. At Benoit’s job, he’s seeing more and larger projects come in, while Meghan said orders for jewelry from DUO | DUET are increasing. More business is a good thing, but it also means more orders to fill and, in DUO | DUET’s case, still just one person to fill them.

“It’s getting harder,” she said.  “Yeah it’s sort of interesting,” her husband added.

And now, they’re expecting their third child. But the couple has high hopes for their jewelry business in the future. They expanded their product line last year, and they want to expand further, adding furniture and lighting design. And they believe they’re on the right track. Meghan Devinat said they’ve been getting good feedback from their customers.

“To be called unique as much as we’re being called unique is really nice, and that’s hard to do. In all my years in the jewelry industry, it’s hard to stand out.”

“Like we said, this is somewhat in its infancy and we still have a lot of energy behind it, and we plan to keep that energy going, because it seems as though this could definitely, definitely go somewhere.”

DUO | DUET jewelry sells online and in galleries and museum stores across the country. It wasn’t easy getting a business off the ground during the recession, but the Devinats have found that hard work, and a strong artistic vision, can go a long way.

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Rising Tide: Starting A Business, And A Family, At The Height Of A Recession
Rising Tide: Starting A Business, And A Family, At The Height Of A Recession