Empire State Finery offers a modern, natural take on Southern style with its very cool line of jewelry. The pieces, constructed from organic and found elements like stones, bones, leather, beads, even recycled vinyl, have helped the brand gain more and more fans. But there’s even more to love about the company’s founders, Alice Trahant and Paige Booker. The two women are not only partners in their jewelry company, they’re also co-workers, both employed at an elementary school in Atlanta — Alice as an event planner and Paige as an art teacher. Get to know this dynamic duo, born and raised in the South, as our newest FACES of the South.
Where does the name of your business, Empire State Finery, come from and why did you use it?
Paige Booker: When we were brainstorming names, we were all over the map. Both born and raised in the South we knew we wanted something tied to our heritage and roots, but we did not want to use anything like “Georgia,” “Atlanta,” “peach,” “jewelry,” etc. We wanted to use something with a story and meaning that would carry us as a brand. I remembered from Georgia history that Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi and had been given the nickname Empire State of the South. When we put it all together, everything flowed, so we went with it.
If you had to define your jewelry line in five words or less, what would they be?
Alice Trahant: Versatile. Easy. Natural. A bit of rock ‘n’ roll.
PB: Vibrant. Versatile. Laid-back. Wearable. Fun.
Can you each tell us about your connection to the South?
PB: I’ve never lived anywhere other than the South. I grew up here in Georgia then went to the University of Tennessee, spent a couple of years in Charleston [SC] and [am] now planting roots in Atlanta. I’ve been fortunate to meet many amazing people here, so every day it feels more and more like home. When relocating, it was an easy decision for me. My family is right up the road, so home is close. It still has a Southern feel with the perks of a big city.
AT: I’ve spent my life in the South, from growing up in New Orleans to college in Florida, a couple of years in Austin, TX, back to New Orleans and ultimately landing in Atlanta. In all of the places I’ve lived, no place has felt as truly Southern as Atlanta. I’ve been lucky in making some wonderful friends here, and family is never too far away.
Where do you go to find your organic materials and found objects? What is your thought process when thinking of what would make a cool piece?
PB: We find materials all over the place. From Scott Antique Markets here in Atlanta to the streets of New York City to the market in Santa Fe and [we] have even taken apart old vintage necklaces that once belonged to a family member and reused the beads throughout various pieces. I’ve always had this thing with visual aesthetics — color palettes, textures, balance and weight — so I like a piece that follows the rules in this sense. Overall, whatever we end up producing, we’re passionate about making sure it aligns with our brand and style.
AT: There are some really great antique shops in Atlanta and Scott Antique Markets is the mecca of them all! It’s a hunter’s dream. The thought process in making a new piece is always the same. Bring something new and unique to each piece, yet keep it reflective of our overall brand and style. You’ll never see us make a standard locket on a chain. We like to bring a bit of creativity and edge to everything we produce. If materials speak to us, it’s important that they be worked into a piece in an exciting and somewhat unexpected way.
Paige, what are the biggest differences between Atlanta and your hometown of Rome, GA (besides the size)? How often do you go home?
It’s funny because although Rome is much smaller than Atlanta, the city feels just as small at times. Atlanta has so many great neighborhoods, restaurants and festivals that have their own personality and vibe. I love that about Atlanta. I’ve settled in here over the years, but it still doesn’t quite feel like home. Rome will always be home to me and I go back there to visit quite a bit. It’s where I grew up. It’s where my family is from and still living. It’s what made me who I am.
Alice, how did growing up in New Orleans influence your sense of style and artistic interests?
New Orleans is all about creativity and culture. You absorb it from every city angle before you even realize that it’s become a part of you. New Orleans teaches you to not only be an individual, but to express yourself as an individual. Style to me should equate to easy and natural … Just do what feels best and not worry about trends or outside influences.
How do your tastes differ from each other? What are the biggest challenges working with a partner?
PB: I definitely have a less-is-more approach to my style. I tend to gravitate towards relaxed and girly pieces. I love a fun dress with heels or a patterned top, but I’m also just as happy and comfortable in a white T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Regardless of what I end up walking out the door in, I use our pieces to add a punch of color and tie everything together.
We truly complement each other as partners, and we each bring something to the table. I can look at a piece and see so much of Alice and myself within each design or piece.
AT: I love color blocking, pattern mixing and layering. I tend to be “more is more” when it comes to jewelry and will layer myself up with five or six of our banded and stranded necklaces at once and an arm full of bangles. There’s definitely a bit of an edge to everything that I wear.
We’re really lucky in that we work really well together. Our styles may be a bit different, but our eye in design is very cohesive. I think the key to any partnership is communication and trust … and of course, having fun while doing it all!
You both have full-time jobs by day and design jewelry by night. Do you ever feel like superheroes with secret identities? If so, what would your special powers be?
PB: I love being both an art teacher and designer. If I could give myself just one power it would be to stop time so I would have more time with my students during the day and more time for Empire State Finery at night.
AT: If we could just clone ourselves, we would be set! I’d say the ability to replicate ourselves … and why not throw a little teleportation into the mix to pop up at the beach a bit faster when needed!
Since you have day jobs within an educational setting, what letter grade would you give your business and entrepreneurial skills, and why?
AT: As an entrepreneur and business owner, you are constantly challenging yourself and learning new things. We’ve come a very long way in the last three years of business, but there is always room to grow and expand. I respectfully change this class course to a pass/fail, as I think it’s hard to letter grade it! Right now, we’re passing, and I hope to continue on the trajectory!
What do you want customers to get out of Empire State Finery? Who is your client?
PB: We want our customers to truly love and enjoy their pieces. We want them to feel like we have given them something they can wear on a special night out, but also something that can be worn day to day.
AT: Our pieces are meant to be versatile and mix and match. They can be worn with everything from jeans and a T-shirt to a black-tie event. I like to think that our client base is pretty far reaching in terms of age, vibe and shopping purpose.
Are there any businesses or entrepreneurs you look to for guidance/mentorship?
PB: My grandfather. Always researching, investing and selling, he encouraged us all to take risks and go after something we believed, yet at the same time be smart about it.
AT: I definitely am inspired by a lot of Atlanta creatives. Mandy Rye of Waiting on Martha is incredible to watch in the way that she has built her business. She does it in what seems to be such an effortless way, but she’s one of the hardest working, traveling people around. Sally King Benedict is also a total inspiration in that she’s not only a sweet person with an amazing talent for painting, but she’s really taken her creativity beyond canvas/paper and built a strong brand for herself with some amazing collaborations.
How do you maintain a social life while wearing so many hats? Any place you go for some much needed rest and relaxation?
PB: Balancing it all can be tricky, but you have to give yourself a break. I like walking to the St. Philip’s farmers market or riding my bike on the BeltLine. A good patio day with a cocktail and some great food always makes for a fun day. Being at my house is where I enjoy the most. I have always loved cooking — I’m at my happiest in my kitchen playing with recipes with my golden retriever/sous chef, Nash, at my feet.
AT: It’s not always easy, but it’s essential! You just find the time for yourself and make it work. I’m a huge foodie and love going out for a great meal. Atlanta spring weather is also great for sitting outside on a good porch or patio — the BeltLine is a great spot during the weekends, as there’s so much in walking distance, and it will take you from day to night.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
PB: The harder you work, the luckier you get.
AT: Be true to yourself.
What three things can you not live without (excluding friends, family and faith)?
PB: Organization, artwork and my dog, Nash
AT: Iced tea (it’s pretty much a full-on addiction), sunscreen and live music
A big thank you to Paige Booker and Alice Trahant of Empire State Finery for sharing more about their creative process, their inspiration and, most importantly, themselves.
As always, we couldn’t do this without the supreme talent of CatMax Photography!