WDAY: The News Leader

Published April 19, 2014, 09:40 PM

Welcome to the 'Maille Room': Ada manufacturer carves out niche in chainmaille jewelry supply

Ada, Minn. -- Chainmaille starts with a ring. Weaved together, the small metal loops can create intricate jewelry, durable armor and even contemporary home décor.

By: Sherri Richards, Forum News Service, INFORUM, WDAY

Ada, Minn. -- Chainmaille starts with a ring.

Weaved together, the small metal loops can create intricate jewelry, durable armor and even contemporary home décor.

Edie Ramstad’s rapidly growing jewelry supply manufacturing business also started with a ring – a wedding ring.

Ramstad, a goldsmith who created fine jewelry pieces to sell in galleries, closed her Brookings, S.D., bead store in October 2011 to be with her now husband, Glenn, of Ada.

“We had a long discussion whether I would move my jewelry store or he would move his farm. He just wouldn't budge,” she joked.

Ramstad also taught chainmaille classes and made her own jump rings. Her students asked where they would now get the rings to make chainmaille jewelry.

Ramstad wrote a five-year plan for a hobby business. She imagined making the jump rings from her home with help from a part-time assistant.

Now, Ramstad’s business, Weave Got Maille, is in a 6,000-square-foot warehouse on the edge of town. She dubs the space “the Maille Room.”

The operation has gone from making 2,000 rings a day to 2 million, with sales doubling nearly every month.

Ramstad has 10 employees in Ada and five elsewhere, including workers to do social media, attend trade shows and assemble demo pieces. She would like to hire three to four more people.

In addition to the metal rings, ear wires (used for earrings) and handmade clasps produced and packaged in Ada, the company began offering jewelry-making kits in January.

Weave Got Maille products are now exported to 61 countries, with New Zealand and Israel added to the list this month. One wholesale client supplies 85 stores in the United Kingdom.

“We used to ship in boxes. We now have stores that order shipping containers full of product,” Ramstad said.

Also this January, the company was given prime floor space at the Craft and Hobby Show in Anaheim, Calif. Ramstad never thought the event, a mecca for the industry, would be within her reach.

“Even in my ‘wouldn't it be cool if’ moments, I never imagined the response we had,” she said.

From wire to ring

The history of chainmaille attracted Ramstad to the technique.

“I love that I can sit down and make a Byzantine bracelet and 3,000 years ago, somebody else was sitting down and making a Byzantine bracelet,” she said.

Ramstad said she also likes that the craft requires only a couple of basic tools.

To make the metal rings, wire from 20-pound spools is wound into long coil springs resembling thin Slinkys.

Those are then cut into individual rings, which are tumbled with stainless steel shot. Ramstad said this process polishes and hardens the rings.

“The rings you get from overseas, they don’t take this step,” Ramstad said. “This adds the pride.”

The rings are then sorted and packaged into plastic bags. A “Made in the USA/Ada, Minnesota” sticker adorns each one.

Weave Got Maille makes jump rings from 14 different metals, including 38 colors of enameled copper, its most popular seller.

Reactive metals, including the otherwise dull-looking titanium and niobium, can be colored by using a process called anodizing, where the rings are soaked in a tub of electrified water. The metal’s final color – such as sapphire, turquoise, emerald and wine – depends on the voltage.

Ramstad said the reason her product has been so well-received is the care her employees put into each batch.

“They are so dedicated. They don’t let a bad product go out,” she said.

Requests change plans

Ramstad’s original plan was to only sell retail, not wholesale. That changed when she attended her first major trade show.

She applied to the Tucson (Ariz.) Gem Show in late 2011, hoping to get on its five-year waiting list. Instead, she was invited to attend the February 2012 show. And instead of an 8-foot table, she was given a 10-by-20 booth.

Attendees kept asking if she did wholesale. Finally, she said yes.

She left the trade show with four large wholesale accounts, including two businesses she had identified in her business plan as competitors.

By May 2012, five months after starting, Ramstad had blown her five-year sales projections.

Inquiries at another trade show led to the creation of the jewelry-making kits Weave Got Maille introduced in January. Some of the kits include Swarovski crystals. Others feature glass rings handcrafted by local glass blowers, Ramstad said.

Already, kit instructions are being translated into other languages, such as Spanish.

Ramstad said Weave Got Maille’s kits were the first adult-geared craft project featured on daily deal site Another Zulily deal is scheduled for May 8.

Ramstad said a new venture for the business will be bidding on movie projects. She said she was approached by HBO’s “Game of Thrones” for a project that’s currently on hold.

The company also has a line of branded pliers coming out in May.

Beyond expectations

When Todd Sawrey, chairman of the Economic Development Authority in Ada and owner of West Main Pizza, first heard about Ramstad’s business, he thought she might open a small jewelry store in town.

“We had no idea she was international,” he said.

Sawrey said Weave Got Maille was the first non-agriculture related manufacturing business in the county. “She really has an amazing business out there,” he said.

Mallory Brower, sales and marketing director of Weave Got Maille, was first hired on for 10 hours a week to only do photography. Now her work is featured in jewelry design magazines worldwide.

“It’s crazy to know we've grown from her kitchen, basically, to being on Zulily and Amazon,” Brower said. “It blows my mind.”