At some point, says Madeline Ellis, a passion for making things went from a side hustle to a full-on jewelry business with an indelible regional brand and sales that have allowed she and her husband Dawson to quit their day jobs. The Ellises are the brains and metalsmiths behind Mimosa Handcrafted, a Baton Rouge-based company that has seen a 40% increase in sales in each of the last several years. The company’s team of seven full-time staff produce designs that are sold online and in stores, including Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry , a high end jeweler based in Baton Rouge with stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and New Mexico.
Committed to bringing artisan goods of all sorts to the marketplace, the Ellises and two of their friends are also the brains behind the Mid City Makers Market , a monthly gathering of independent artisans in a meticulously designed outdoor space in Mid City Baton Rouge.
Working side by side in their home studio, Madeline and Dawson, along with their production staff, create stunning pieces of jewelry in bronze, sterling silver and 14-carat gold. They use the art of “lost wax” casting, which starts with carving an original sculpture in wax by hand, creating a mold from it, hollowing it out by melting, or losing the wax. A few steps later, and liquid metals are poured into the mold, creating a single piece of jewelry.
Madeline started the company as a part-time business in 2006. By day, she worked at a Baton Rouge landscape architecture firm where she designed large public projects. She and Dawson are both trained landscape architects and graduates of the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, named the top landscape program in the country by DesignIntelligence magazine eight times since 2006.
But as much as Madeline loved landscape design, creating jewelry inspired by the Louisiana natural world was her calling. At first at night and on weekends, she created detailed pieces inspired by Louisiana’s wild landscapes, natural features, flora and fauna. Dawson, who then co-owned a landscape architecture business, encouraged her to begin selling her items. She soon hit arts markets and festivals and later, retail boutiques. Sales took off.
“I loved the rhythm of it,” Madeline says. “I enjoyed meeting new people and creating new designs that were based on things around us, but that had great stories to tell.”
By 2008, Madeline created an LLC, and in 2012, she quit her day job and focused exclusively on the business. In 2015, Dawson sold his share of his landscape business and joined Madeline at Mimosa Handcrafted. The couple invested in new casting equipment and retooled their operations, adding a second story to their backyard shop and creating a climate-controlled production room. With then two full-time makers and a workflow geared toward efficiency, the couple began to significantly increase output, while maintaining the hand-crafted workmanship for which Mimosa had become known.
Mimosa has also introduced a line of products with gems. The company buys products from Louisiana-based Stuller Industries, a nationally known wholesale provider of gemstones and metals, and of professional training in jewelry production. Dawson took advantage of Stuller’s trainings in stone-setting to expand this part of the business.
Last year, Mimosa was approached by Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry to become one of its featured designers. The company now produces a variety of signature pieces for Lee Michaels, including rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, cufflinks, tie pins and more featuring tigers, jaguars, pelicans, magnolias, fleur-de-lis and other iconic Louisiana images.
Madeline and Dawson, along with friends Paul Claxton, an entrepreneur, and Justin Lemoine, a landscape architect, are also the team behind the Mid City Makers Market, a monthly artisan fair that grew out of a last minute idea to hold a holiday trunk show.
“We knew all these makers, and the idea for a trunk show started getting too big for our house,” says Madeline. “We decided to hold it outside on a piece of property we owned in Mid City, and it became something for the whole city to enjoy.”
Using their designers’ eyes, the team created a stunning outdoor experience that includes winding paths of covered booths, twinkling outdoor lights, live music, food and kids activities. More than 100 participating vendors are on the list, but space is capped at 60 to ensure the event remains a boutique experience.
Mimosa Handcrafted is, of course, a participating vendor, which gives the Ellises a chance to do what they love most of all, connect with customers over their handiwork.
“We like producing pieces that come with quirky little stories,” says Madeline, “and pieces that help people find common ground.”
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