EML Sparklies reminds the women of Central Oregon that earrings always fit.
Erin Latham made her first piece of jewelry before she’d finished middle school. “I had a school dance to go to, and I didn’t want to buy my jewelry,” she recalled. “So I made a simple necklace to go with my black dress. That’s what started everything.”
Latham is the creative force and woman-power behind EML Sparklies, a Bend-based jewelry business that specializes in large-scale hoop earrings featuring natural gemstone beads. She makes necklaces and bracelets, too, incorporating mixed metals and beads from opals to labradorite to rose quartz.
Her creative journey may have begun in her hometown, Grants Pass, where she spent the first eighteen years of her life, but Latham didn’t start seriously making and selling her work until about six years ago. “I started selling jewelry to pay for my beads,” she said. “I called it my self-sustaining hobby.”
In the early days, buyers were colleagues at St. Charles Medical Center, where Latham works full-time as an x-ray technician. Word of mouth about her work spread, and people began tracking her down in the halls. “They’d ask, ‘Are you the earring girl?’” she said.
She soon leased a booth in a Bend collective shop, a step towards formalizing a business. Latham and her mother had a longstanding joke, inspired by a scene in the children’s film The Secret of NIMH: while out shopping, one would declare: “I must have that sparkly.” The joke plus her initials became her endeavor’s name. Today, EML Sparklies is available at Hello Sunshine in the Old Mill District, Clementine in downtown Bend and White Buffalo in Madras.
Commercial access to her creations hasn’t stopped people from chasing her down in person. “I was at First Friday recently and someone tried to buy the earrings off of my head,” Latham laughed.
This kind of personal connection that can develop between Latham and her customers is what she especially loves about her side business. “I love helping people feel pretty,” she said. Earrings are her favorite creation because they are so varied and versatile. “Earrings make you smile, they make you feel good. You can wear earrings in any season with any outfits.”
Latham makes all her products on the living room floor of the home she shares with her fourteen-year-old son, pounding out metal forms on an iron railroad tie, mostly late at night. “It’s loud,” she said. “Luckily he’s a sound sleeper.” All her work is in brass or stainless steel, with semi-precious stones providing the sparkle. “My absolute favorite is labradorite,” she said. “It’s very dynamic in different colors and goes with everything.”
The colors and shapes of natural stones are her inspiration, as is the process and evolving techniques of making jewelry. “As I am making something, I take the concept and deconstruct it,” she said. “I think of new ways to twist it.” Designs evolve over time; many of her newer earrings have hinges to provide a pleasant swing. “I love kinetics.”
Latham came to Bend eighteen years ago to complete her final year of training as an x-ray technician at St. Charles and has been here ever since. Today, in addition to her duties as a tech, she also works as a clinical coordinator, supervising students from Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls who have come to Bend to train on the job as she did. “I have three students at a time working full-time under me,” she said. “I love making it a positive experience for them. I’m their advocate, cheerleader and giver of tough love when they need it. I love watching the year unfold for them and seeing how far they come from start to finish.”
Latham’s day job is a lot of responsibility, which is what makes it even more rewarding to go home at night and make pretty things for people to wear. “That someone chooses to spend their disposable income on something I sat on my living room floor and made with so much love—it’s very personal and gratifying.”