Team of Entrepreneurs
Squash blossoms, Zuni inlays, and spiny oyster rings…the world of Navajo jewelry and its exotic lingo was once foreign to Fort Worth native Mike Shirley. Now he and his wife, Katy, travel the country to find and sell the authentic Native American treasures to thousands of turquoise lovers (including several big-name musicians) around the world from their home in Watauga.
FayeRaven Collective — named for Katy’s mom and Mike’s dad — started with a handful of Instagram followers just more than a year ago. Today that number is quickly approaching 10,000, many who regularly comment with adoration of Mike’s daily jewelry posts, and some with swift desires to purchase.
Customers include national acts like Nathanial Rateliff and India.Arie, along with Americana phenoms Margo Price, Lukas Nelson (as in Willie’s son) and even a bandmate of Leon Bridges, who recently showed FayeRaven some love on Instagram. Guitarist Aaron Haynes of Fort Worth band Quaker City Nighthawks was one of the first musicians to connect with Mike via Instagram. The two became friends, further spurring FayeRaven’s connection to the music industry.
Mike, who’s worked full time as a technician for AT&T for more than 20 years, now coordinates in-home jewelry photo shoots with Katy on the regular, spends hours each week at the post office shipping items, and spends even more time posting their finds online. The endeavor has become a second full-time job, one he never saw coming.
“We were at a coin and watch shop in downtown Gettysburg on vacation a couple years ago, and there was a big, heavy turquoise bracelet,” he says. “I thought at the time it was expensive, but that’s because I didn’t know anything about turquoise. Katy saw it and said, ‘That’s a really good deal,’ and talked me into buying it. About a year later, we sold that bracelet for more than double and I realized the business opportunity. But now I see the business more as an appreciation of these vintage pieces, considering now I collect more than I sell.”
In search of unique finds
Growing up in Utah and Arizona, Katy was already very familiar with Native American jewelry. Her interest piqued after her mom passed away and she inherited her collection. Mike began studying on his own while out from work recovering from knee surgery.
“I started reading books and researching different artists and styles, how to identify certain pieces, their age, the maker, where they came from, the turquoise and the mines,” he says. “There’s a lot to learn about it. I had zero knowledge.”
Today the couple hits the road to jewelry hunt three to four times a year, typically when their school-age children are on vacation and they can sightsee along the way. They’ll leave for two to three weeks at a time to head west, but have also worked their way along the East Coast in search of hidden antiques shops.
“We try to look for off-the-road places that no one else is really visiting. That’s where we’ve had our luck,” Mike says. “A lot of times it’s stuff that’s been sitting there for years, mainly because people visiting the store don’t know what they’re looking for, if they visit at all.”
The couple tries to keep most of their inventory vintage and one of a kind, which is harder to come by.
“I love the older stuff and unique pieces not everyone has,” Katy says. “I like the patina. I look for authenticity and I can easily tell if it’s real or fake or Native American or not. For some, it’s hard to tell.”
Mike attributes much of FayeRaven’s success to speedy customer service and lengthy descriptions posted with each item.
“I know whenever I’m shopping for stuff, I want to know what the price is, the dimensions, the weight, and the size right off the bat,” Mike says. “A lot of sellers don’t put prices, especially on big pieces. They’re afraid it’s going to scare customers off. But buyers don’t want to have to contact them to ask. They want to decide right then.”
FayeRaven's business is through Instagram only; they don't even have an e-commerce site. To purchase, people just comment on posts or private message them.
Because the couple doesn’t operate out of a store, prices can stay low. Rings, which are some of FayeRaven’s most popular items, can range anywhere from around $55 to nearly $200. Squash blossom necklaces, a very popular statement piece during rodeo season, can approach $1,000 or higher, depending on weight and style. That’s still less expensive than typical jewelry or Western boutique prices. Shipping throughout the U.S. is always $3.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever open a store,” Mike says. “We’ve talked about it, but I like keeping our prices low. There’s no overhead, like electricity or rent. We travel so much to search for low prices in order to pass that on to our customers.”