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‘What kind of business do we want to be a part of?’: PDX jewelry maker Betsy & Iya rethinks work culture

The Portland jewelry brand has been around for more than 14 years and recently moved to a four-day workweek and added mindfulness breaks.

PORTLAND, Ore. — “Jewelry has been around since the beginning of time,” said Betsy Cross. “It’s a way for us to express ourselves. It’s a way for us to feel a sense of individuality.”  

That’s just one reason Betsy Cross started her own jewelry-making business, Betsy & Iya. When it comes to the jewelry made at her shop, the team has something particular in mind.

“It’s just this physical representation of joy and celebration,” Cross said. “The Betsy & Iya aesthetic, to me, is taking something traditional and adding something with a flare, something that flips it up on its side and makes it a little unique, a little different.”

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You can find Betsy & Iya’s storefront and studio on Northwest 24th and Thurman in Portland. The shop features Betsy & Iya designs as well as other special finds.

“A lot of what you see in the shop is from makers here in Portland, regionally and some globally,” Cross said.

Walk in and you’re greeted by a customer advocate, like Ali Cogan.

“I love talking about the pieces,” Cogan said. “I was a huge fan long before I worked here.”

Newly-designed floors reflect the jewelry on the shelves.

“It was actually designed by one of our marketing employees, Meg. They made this incredible design that goes all the way back to our production studio,” Cross said.

Not only is their Northwest location a place where you can buy Betsy & Iya pieces, but it’s also where they’re made.

“Which is such a cool thing you do not see anywhere else. It’s a really special part of that whole process,” Cogan said.

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“That way people can have a visual representation of where their jewelry is made and connect to it,” Cross said.

Cross started her business more than 14 years ago and says it has been a journey.

“It was a huge risk. I didn’t have any money at the time, but I knew it was a passion I had to pursue,” she said. “And now we’ve grown to the space that we’re in now. We have 20-plus amazing employees and we’re just proud to be part of the small business community here in Portland.”

Part of that journey includes the pitfalls of the pandemic. The team adjusted the business many times — moving outside to a tent, creating a pop-up shop, and even having to send workers home.

Cogan started working at Betsy & Iya not long before the pandemic shutdowns started.

“It was an interesting ride for sure,” Cogan said.

“The pandemic made us stop, literally, and it also made us reflect,” Cross said. “My partner and I sat down and literally said ‘What kind of business do we want to be a part of?’”

That led Cross and General Manager Will Cervarich to change how they operate.

“We are now a four-day workweek company. We created a wage floor minimum. We created paid mindfulness breaks – that’s on top of other breaks that our employees get,” Cross said.

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While many businesses are struggling to bring employees back, Cogan says her bosses here at Betsy and Iya made it an easy decision.

“Being a part of this community is what’s so amazing to me and I’m so grateful to be a part of it,” she said. “And coming to work every day is really joyful and that’s really hard to find sometimes.”

Now, Betsy & Iya is focusing on what’s next; resurgence and new beginnings with a new line of earrings.

“It’s been a minute since we came out with a new collection and it’s time to just celebrate,” Cross said.

They’re inviting the community out to a shopping bazaar event on April 16.

“I do hope that people will remember we’re still out here in Portland, and by 'we' I mean the small business community,” Cross said. “There’s a special experience that happens at a small shop.”

To learn more about Betsy & Iya check them out at betsyandiya.com.

The Bazaar is Saturday, April 16 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at their store, located at 1777 NW 24th Ave, Portland, OR 97210.

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