Cindy Hsu Zell’s jewelry is as cool as her background (you know, those absurdly awesome installations in Anthropologie’s windows? She created them!). And the cool and contemporary jewelry line, known as WKNDLA, naturally needs a cool and contemporary L.A. studio! So, that’s exactly what Cindy arranged – a space that’s clean and minimal with oddities as unique as the line’s designs. Today, we’re excited to not only tour the space but also get the story behind WKNDLA, and where Cindy finds inspiration for the brand.
What did your life look like before you launched WKNDLA? Did you always want to become a designer?
I grew up drawing and making things, and taking art classes as a kid. I attended USC for sculpture and animation, which had a very broad art curriculum that allowed me to experiment with many different mediums. When I graduated, I got a job at Anthropologie making large-scale displays and window installations. I worked there for over four years before I left to pursue WKNDLA full-time. I can’t help but make things, so it’s definitely a dream to do it for a living.
Tell us a little bit about how WKNDLA started! What was the hardest part of stepping out on your own?
I started WKNDLA on the weekends in Los Angeles (this inspired the name) by making wall hangings out of brass, natural fibers, and wood as favors for the guests of our small wedding. I shared photos of them on Instagram and was surprised when people wanted to buy them! It all started because I wanted to make something special for our friends and family who came out to celebrate with us – and that’s the spirit I still hope to instill every time I make a piece for a customer. Running a business full-time brings out every doubt, insecurity, and fear you’ve ever had about yourself and never knew was there. The hardest part is mental. It took me a while to get to a place where I truly believed in abundance over scarcity and learned to reach out for support. You’re on your own but you can’t do it alone.
WKNDLA was first a home decor company! How did your affinity for interiors translate into your studio?
My approach to jewelry and home decor come from my background in sculpture and animation. It is my intention to create pieces that serve as storytellers and conversation starters while evoking a unique point of view. I try to be as deliberate and thoughtful about my interiors. My brain is quite chaotic so I like my studio and home to feel as peaceful as possible. For me, outer order creates inner calm. I aim to only bring things into the space that are as functional as they are beautiful.
Is there anything you always have to have with you while you work?
A good audiobook or podcast. I just finished listening to the Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan and am halfway through Essentialism by Greg McKeown. My favorite podcasts are TED Radio Hour, Mortified, Terrible Thanks for Asking, My Dad Wrote a Porno, and This is Love.
What does your day-to-day look like?
Every week I spend several days in the studio cutting wire and forming them into shapes, soldering, filing, polishing, setting stones, assembling, and packing orders. Once a week my studio assistant comes to help me with various tasks as well as takes photos of my product with me. We use different props and it has been a fun challenge every week to style my jewelry in a different way! I make frequent trips to the post office and at night I edit photos, update the website, and answer emails.
Tell us about the design process! Where do you find inspiration?
My collections are seasonless which means they don’t launch according to the fashion calendar. I want my jewelry to be timeless and made to last, regardless of trends and seasons. I have been enjoying taking the time to research and explore each topic that ends up becoming my muse – my latest collection was inspired by reading classical Greek mythology. I try to notice interesting combinations of shapes and colors that I find in the little details of art, design, and nature. I am most inspired when I am outdoors. There are so many beautiful visuals available online and on social media but I feel like people often end up looking at the same things. It’s more fun for me to look beyond the screen for ideas!
Do you have any WKNDLA pieces you wear every day?
I try to wear something different every day, especially while I’m prototyping new designs. I don’t launch anything until I know it is comfortable for all-day wear. The pair I reach for the most is the Coba Mobile Earrings, they are so lightweight for their size and are easy to dress up or down!
How would you spend a ‘perfect weekend’ in L.A.?
A perfect weekend is one I spend with my family. Hiking with my husband and friends, relaxing on the couch with our cat while watching a movie, having lunch with my mom and grandmother, and not having to cook dinner.
Favorite lunch break spot? Can I pick two? Porto’s for their croissant sandwiches and Republic of Pie for the best slice of cookies and cream pie!
Coffee Order: Jasmine iced tea.
Dream Collab: I would love to partner with museums in some way – The Broad, MOCA, SFMOMA, and Frye Museum Store to name a few!
If You could swap closets with any celeb: Emma Watson – I love her style and commitment to ethical, sustainable fashion.