Entrepreneurs in the Heartland: Tara Tonsor

Jewelry maker and Art Educator Tara Tonsor designs jewelry for the "Natural vigilante."

“It’s a person who is strongly connected to nature and defiantly tough
in the mix of urban living.”

In my eyes, that's how I view Tara, owner of Lost & Found Design. I met Tara a few years ago through a women's social bicycling club, the Velo Vixens KC. I, as well as other women in the group, quickly fell in love with her earthy, lasercut jewelry designs and it wasn't long before every one of us owned a "Tara Tonsor-original." 

I'm a huge fan of your work, as you probably already know. How did you get into jewelry making? 

Thank you so much! I was always curious about taking apart jewelry and editing the random cheap jewelry I would buy. I would take apart pieces from one necklace and then put them on to another. This was the start of "curating" what I wore, and it started probably around middle school or high school. I always preferred putting a twist on what I saw, and I tried mixing and matching things that were broken or on sale. Often, this included random charms or found objects. Initially, that is the origin of my company name, Lost & Found Design. It just seemed natural to me to edit or re-design, re-purpose. Once I bought a pair of my own jewelry pliers I knew I could start assembling anything I wanted.

The lasercutting aspect of my process came after college. My degree is in Graphic Design and Illustration. I pursued my career path for about 5 years in paper and textiles, working in pattern repeats, colorways, and even linework embroidery. I came across a new technology randomly online that used a laser to cut through material, but the design format was using the exact same software a designer would know how to use. It was a perfect harmony of my designs and illustrations translated into wood which is my preference material. I've always been more interested in fine craft, and process-driven products, but this was a way to merge the two.

When did you officially launch Lost & Found Design?
Oh man, that is a tough question. I want to say it has been easily more than five years ago, but only in the last couple of years did I really feel like I had my brand figured out.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

It changes a lot, but I find myself attracted to the natural geometry and the mix between symmetry and asymmetry in nature's patterns. In my newest collection, I've tried to create the ideal "wearer" who I named "natural vigilante" - a person who is strongly connected to nature and defiantly tough in the mix of urban living. It has been really fun to think about my ideas as different seasonal collections, and I hope to re-invent my jewelry process time and time again. I self-diagnose myself as having "art ADHD" because I always want to try new ideas.

How has your work evolved over the years? 

My work has really evolved in many ways, but ironically the most important evolution is the removal of the computer during the initial design and development of ideas. I used to depend on the computer too much, and admittedly forgot my sketchbook. I was so focused on the end product, I was not really diving into multi-dimensional concepts. The sketchbook has brought me back to a safe-zone where all my ideas (good and bad) can freely hang out, and if I turn the page, I can always go back to them.

Artists in all mediums often have to deal with their work being stolen and sold by others online. Have you encountered this and how do you deal with it?

This is hard. I admit, the idea of using Missouri themes, and using Kansas City-proud branding has driven home how many makers can and will jump on the idea. Obviously Missouri is a loved shaped, and it is unavoidable to not want to support your city. I have dealt with it recently, and I have had to be careful with my words. If you do look at various maker communities in other cities, it is happening too.

I have a saying that has always pushed me forward: Your ideas may not be original, but you are.

I do not believe in staying stagnant with my business, and my ideas will grow the same way I do. I hope to manage this without typecasting myself as merely a KC maker. Also, maker's have rights to copywrite their products, and I am looking into those steps in the future. I have a friend who experienced this firsthand, and talking to her about aspects of her experience has really given me an insight. Her advice is to keep on trucking, but learn to protect your designs. I have nothing but support for makers, local and small businesses.

I have a saying that has always pushed me forward:
Your ideas may not be original, but you are.”

You also work at the Nelson Atkins. How does that influence your work, if at all?

Definitely I am influenced by my job as a part-time art educator at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I am lucky to experience diverse patrons, work with varying age groups showcasing the art collection, and inspired walking through the galleries myself. One main influence is recognizing various definitions of beauty culturally, and how artists use so many different materials to express beauty. The Nelson is always so supportive of cultural experiences and expression, and I am beginning to explore various shapes, symbols, colors, and materials used around the world.

What are some projects you have in the works that you're really excited about? Any long term business goals?  

Well I am excited to look at lasercutting from a new perspective and expand into home goods. I am making night lights, coasters, bottle openers, containers, mirrors, custom wedding place settings, and so much more. I want to work on some new plant or votive holders using a hexagon format. I've always been inspired by the honeycomb design - it was my first lasercut project.

Long-term business goals are to get more exposure online. I need to be able to sell through varying platforms like Etsy or Amazon Handmade or a personal website.

Whats the hardest part of running your business?

Time. I never have enough.

Commitment. I've had to say no to hanging out on many of my weekends.

And lastly, as much fun as it can be to "pop-up" events, when you have to pack, re-pack, pack, and re-pack, it is never fun. And I admit, I have fun setting up my displays way more than taking them down.

Are you from KC? Why have you decided to make Kansas City your home and do your work here? 

I am originally from a small town in Illinois called Granite City. It is a very small steel mill town, right over the Mississippi River and above East St. Louis. My mom and I moved to a better neighborhood when I was little to improve my education and our way of living. I decided to move to Lawrence, KS after high school for my degrees, and after 5 years in Lawrence I moved to Kansas City. I have been calling KC my home now for over 10 years. Kansas City felt exciting, at times, when I would drive with my friends down for a first Fridays event. A good friend was moving here and helped me get my first job at Andre's Confisserie Suisse.

For awhile I was commuting to and from Lawrence, but the driving was not fun. So I decided to pack up, and I've been happy ever since!

See more of Tara's work and find out what she's up to and where you can find her on the Lost & Found Design Facebook page