#BeYourOwnIcon: Vanessa Ross
Sometimes it’s the smallest details that make the biggest difference. We see it all the time with sunglasses. Some, like Miu Miu, focus on the fashion, allowing users to make a statement thanks to their big, bold and daring designs. Some, like Costa and Maui Jim, focus on performance, bringing only the best in polarized technology for the type of users – fishermen, golfers, runners and more – who require sunglasses that can properly adapt to their outdoor needs. And some, like Ray-Ban, combine both those aspects to provide the best in fashion and performance without compromising on either.
Vanessa Ross, the creative genius behind Cute Not Kawaii, knows just how important the smallest of details are as a jeweler who focuses on making pins with a personality. Yes, pins which are not unlike sunglasses in that they are considered an accessory.
But in her time in the fashion industry, Ross understands just how important an accessory as small as a pin (or sunglasses) can be. “It is the finishing touches,” she said, a statement that is just as applicable to sunglasses as they are to pins. “It is what makes the outfit.”
We recently caught up with the 33-year-old Ross, who lives in Charlotte, NC, to talk about her interest in fashion and her talent for crafting small pieces of jewelry that allow people’s personalities to shine. Ross traces her roots in the field to her childhood. “My dad has basically been molding and mixing resins for years so I grew up in that industry,” she told us, noting that over the years, “he’s been imparting his knowledge onto me.”
A decade ago, Ross expanded upon that knowledge when she started working in a retail bead shop, Beadlush, in Charlotte. There she learned everything from the business acumen to creative skills that she has used at Cute Not Kawaii which she started a little over a year and a half ago.
Her company’s genesis began somewhat on a whim. Ross was making donut pins – or as she calls them, Doh!nut pins, in homage to Homer Simpson – and they started to catch on. And so a business was born.
Embrace Your Inner Geek
Her designs are a mix of playful, cute (or Kawaii, which is Japanese for “cute”) and nerdy. “Basically, the retro crowd, cosplay crowd, geek, chic people, who are willing to embrace their geekier side while wanting to look stylish,” are drawn to the pieces that Ross creates.
Growing up, Ross laughed that being a geek or nerd was frowned upon. Now, those same people – she was and is proudly a geek – are her primary customers. “This whole shift in society and the way everything is kind of going in bringing out your inner geek and embracing your geekiness as a social norm is fascinating,” she said.
Ross’ pins include Pokemon balls, an ode to BB8, and a Frankenstein head. Of course, food – yes, she still makes the donuts - figure prominently in her creations. And because hers is a fledgling business, she serves as the primary model of her pieces which is where she can get even more creative.
That creativity can be seen on full display on Instagram, the biggest driver of her business, where she wears colorful costumes that are often takes on popular comic characters. There’s a real sense that Ross is having fun with Cute Not Kawaii, serving as an inspiration for others to pursue their passion like she is currently doing.
Her favorite part is the “creative process. I do enjoy having that ‘aha moment’,” she said, mentioning that she never knows when those moments will strike which is why she keeps a notebook by her bed at night.
Along with the creativity, Ross enjoys meeting her customers, the people who will be wearing the pins that she creates. Yes, they are small. But the fact that people are wearing them makes her proud. “The ability to look at something and know I completely constructed it and didn’t buy it is cool,” she said. “It is something that is completely my own.”
Words of an Icon: “I find most of the time if you put your love into something people do notice it and do have an interest in it.” – Vanessa Ross.