We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin Klocke and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Justin, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I’ve worked for entrepreneurs, artists, family owned businesses, and self-employed types all of my life. The closest thing I’ve had to a ‘corporate job’ teaching for universities. I was teaching in California when I started Nishnabotna, and the business grew out of the desire to not rely on academia to make a living. I love teaching, and academic is a wonderful environment to be in, but it can also be a bubble.

Making it happen was another thing, though. I quickly learned that if I was going to be successful, I would have to be more organized than I imagined. I was pretty organized to begin with, but without any start up funds, extra time, or experience starting a business from the ground up, it took a bit to visualize a method to make it happen. Ultimately, I designed a business with a modular structure that allowed to me to create, improve, and swap out, elements without too many changes as things grew.

The modular approach allowed me to design the products that I wanted Nishnabotna to provide – handmade jewelry that was well made and affordable. Much of the work in my store is very simple. I keep it simple so I can focus on craftspersonship and create products that will last a lifetime.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m driven by craft. Making is therapeutic for me, and making something well is extra rewarding. I didn’t always have the same approach, though. I’ve always loved making, but it took a lot of time and reflection to embrace making mistakes. As a young maker I would become frustrated with myself when my finished product wasn’t perfect. I had set the bar very high for myself.

Over the last eight years or so, I’ve learned to appreciate mistakes. They have helped me grow much more than the successes have. While I don’t send a product out the door with any mistakes or flaws, they are there in a way – in the DNA of my craft. It has also made the process more fun than ever.

The changes in my approach to making my work have directly influence my life away from the workbench. Like I said earlier – making is therapeutic. It’s a type of therapy that hasn’t just made me a better designer and maker, but a better, happier person. In that way, sharing my work feel like sharing a little bit of my growth with the people who wear my jewelry.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m definitely a bit of a homebody, but if one of my out-of-town best friends were visiting, I’d venture out for them! I’m a fan of a good gathering, and some of my family is in town, so I’d probably have a gathering with them. It would be good excuse to catch up, show off the cutest niece and nephew on the front range while drinking Colorado beers. My favorite venue in town is Globe Hall, so it would be nice to catch a show and some BBQ there. I am a fan of BBQ and Denver’s gained a few more options in the past few years, and Post Oak in Tennyson has become my favorite.

You shouldn’t visit Colorado without getting to the mountains. I lived in Minturn for about five years, and I’m partial to that area, so a trip to the Vail Valley would be likely. But on a weekday. Sitting in traffic on I-70 is prettier than other places, but it is still sitting in traffic. I’ll avoid driving up the hill on the weekend at all costs. In the winter I’d try and talk my friend into avoiding one of the big resorts and hope to end up at Ski Cooper or Monarch instead. They are much smaller mountains, but they have a charm that the big resorts can’t provide.

Denver has some great museums, and Kirkland, Clifford Still, and DAM are all right there in one spot. I love the MCA as well, and we’d probably catch them all.

The last two visitors I’ve had I have taken to the Balloon Inn in Arvada, so by default, I’m sure we’d end up there again. Take a Lyft/Uber but it’s worth it. The Balloon Inn’s a wonderfully authentic dive bar that isn’t trying to be a dive bar.

I’m sure I’m overlooking all the Denver standards – the brewery(s) down the street, tacos, coffee, alpenglow sunsets, hikes, beers in the park… have I mentioned grabbing beers?

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There have been so many people that have influenced my path so far- too many to name them all. The list includes employers, co-workers, friends, clients who trusted me, advisors, family, and my teachers. I have been lucky to have so many mentors, but my sister, Steph, and her husband, Neil deserve a huge shout out. They’ve provided Nishnabotna with a home base, modeled for photoshoots, helped me get through the holiday market seasons, and so much more. Steph and Neil have always been so encouraging, optimistic, and helpful.

Website: nishnabotna.com

Instagram: @nishnabotna

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