Meet a Maker - Carla Poma

Orlando jewelry designer Carla Poma creating in her studio.

Born in Bolivia, raised in Queens from the age of nine, now a transplant to Orlando from Portugal, owner and jewelry designer Carla Poma has lived an interesting life that at first didn’t involve jewelry making at all.

Even as someone who prides herself in being good at things that are manual and labor-intensive, jewelry was not her first passion or even her first job. After college, she began a career in business finance and management for large firms including Price Waterhouse. Carla admits these were not creative jobs, but trained her to think mathematically and geometrically. While she enjoyed the competitive environment that allowed her to strive to be the very best at what she did, it was pressure-filled and ultimately drained her.

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After a personal tragedy in her life, she re-evaluated her direction and decided to pursue the things she wanted to do. That led her to something she had always found joy in; dance. She began dancing and involving herself within professional Latin and African dance communities. That allowed her to travel extensively throughout Europe, and brought new exciting opportunities, especially within African dance that took her to Portugal.

It was there that she met her husband, a professional African dancer (he is remotely still a part of the directional team of the Traditional Ballet of Angola) and then had two children and settled into life in that country.

Her entrepreneurial mind added layers to being in the dance community which included founding a company with friends where they developed and created African accessories and jewelry.

“When I was in Portugal after we had children, I didn’t know what to do. I saw that there was a need within the dance community for items made with African fabrics or jewelry. I started developing that and it was well received. It was time for me aside from being a mom and wife, and I could focus my energy on that. I started a company with two friends that focused on African clothing and accessories. They handled clothing and I designed and created the accessory line.”

After a time she ultimately wanted to narrow her field, and she started visiting local artisan markets and met locals who inspired her to focus on the metal-smith trade. She began teaching herself and on a short trip to the U.S. to visit her family she invested in a few tools that she brought back to Portugal so she could continue to focus on her education and skill. Over time her jewelry was well-received and she had created a successful brand for herself.

Last summer is when her family made the decision to move overseas and settle in Florida.

“We had to get rid of everything for the move; the only things I packed were the tools and materials that I had gathered. I had to decide whether or not to continue and try to recreate the success I had found in Portugal. I didn’t know the market here, I only knew I was here to start a new life and I was starting at zero.”

Over the past year Carla has worked hard to get her name out in the community, traveling to markets outside of Orlando, meeting other local makers, and getting her jewelry into retail spaces.

LH: How do you remain true to your design aesthetic without getting overtaken by trends?

CP: I don’ t really know how to answer that because I get inspirations from everything and everyone. The way I create is I make things that I would want to wear. Things I feel are beautiful. I do scroll through random hashtags on Instagram and see what catches my eye. I make a mental note of what are some of the things I would like to see brought out in jewelry. I do not sketch, I just start hammering, all free-form and see where my hands take it. I start with a shape and then add and tweak until I’m satisfied.

I try to mix mediums, I’m not a purist. One pair of beetle wing earrings took me a few days to finish as I just freely worked on it until it was right. I work with resin, brass, seashells, semi-precious stones anything I can find that is interesting to me.

I do look at trends because it’s important, but I do try to stand out in the shapes that I do. I always want to leave my stamp on it, not matter what I do.

LH: Is it important to you to showcase diversity in how you market your jewelry?

CP: Yes! I am a full-hearted Latina. I am very proud of my heritage and background. I embrace diversity. As a New Yorker I was brought up in a place that was such a melting pot and I was exposed to so many different types of people. I feel it’s important to mix that in because this is the world. I have mixed kids and it’s important for them to see how proud I am of myself and of them. Every person is unique and has something positive to give. All of the models I use are my friends or family.

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LH: Is the experience just as important as the product?

CP: Absolutely. I take a lot of time setting up my booth because it’s important to me. I work really hard to make things I think are beautiful and I don’t want to just throw it on a table. I have to create a little oasis for it to be displayed. Part of my support comes from how people receive my area. Even if people just come to talk to me and they don’t buy anything I love being able to interact with them.

Seeing how others interact with their customers and how they display their product just makes me want to grow and get better.

I also try to be as honest as possible with everyone when they make a purchase. Communication is key and a part of the experience. I educate people on what the piece is made out of and what will happen over time to it as it goes through the elements of their life. (I can attest to this as the first ring I bought from Carla I got a lengthy message from her about what the ring was made out of and how to properly care for it).

For example, there’s a difference between dips and fills and if you don’t explain that to people you aren’t setting the expectation for their purchase. The customer experience is so important because it is because of them that I am able to make this my full-time work. I’m grateful to each person that supports me so I have to make sure I do my job well.

LH: What do you wish people knew about the pop-up life?

CP: The pop-up grind is real! Sometimes all you can do is laugh, like when you are holding onto your tent for dear life in a storm. It takes a special kind of person and you have to be hungry for it. Sacrifice, effort, coordination, and support are all needed because it’s physically and emotionally draining. You really have to enjoy it because if you are just doing it for money it’s not going to be worth it. From the time you spend creating your goods to the time you spend on your feet being a salesperson, it’s just not easy. The struggle is real but it can take you down the path you need to be on.

Talent is great, but it requires so much more than that. It requires so much sacrifice. Every minute I take to perfect my craft is time away from my children, so I have to value the time I have work really hard to improve in every way.

If you want to purchase Carla’s jewelry you can shop her product at Echoes of Retro, Shop at Frank, Yay! Tiny Shop and Plain Jane in St. Pete. Follow her Instagram for her pop-up schedule. All photos in this article are property of LemonHearted Creative.