Apiece Apart Woman: Rony Vardi
Photos: Erica Gannett
A visit to the Brooklyn home of Rony Vardi, founder of beloved jewelry mainstay Catbird (...or, how a pre-med major-turned-futon seller-turned-graphic designer went on to begin one of the most well-known independent jewelry stores in the country...)
We've long looked to Rony as inspiration for what it means to lead with your values, to learn as you go, and to recognize the steps that have gotten you to where you are.
Below, a conversation on her unlikely trajectory, what it means to live in your jewelry, and her one-minute go-to snack/ meal of choice...
"In college I majored in English before switching to pre-med and then…somehow ended up working as a seamstress at a futon store in New Jersey. At the time my parents were probably thinking, ‘oh great’…but in hindsight I trace so much of where I am now back to that job at the futon store!
The owner was never there so I ran the shop like it was my own: I wrote checks. I hired people. I fired people. I made schedules, managed logistics, and made creative decisions. It was trial by fire, and I’ve carried that attitude with me.
In everything, I believe in taking small, deliberate steps.
I think about growth like learning how to walk, where you look back and realize you’ve been building a foundation all along..."
My best career advice is... Start small. Ask questions and listen with an open mind and heart. Learn how to use a drill. And Photoshop.
Tell us about some foundations you’ve been building lately…
I’ve always loved gardening (including indoor plants), even when I haven’t really had the space or the light or the time for it. With time you develop a better and better sense of how to take care for these living things, and... sometimes you fail. The thing about gardening — and I really relate this to my business — is it’s all about the long game. Immediate gratification is never the goal.
I am trying something I learned about this year called Winter Sowing. You make greenhouses out of milk jugs and let the little seeds weather the ups and downs of the New York winter and become strong little seedlings. We’ll see how it goes but it’s such a lesson in patience (something I am patently terrible at), letting things be (also not my strong suit), and it’s just a fun project.
Also it’s fun to draw an analogy about the seedlings being stronger and healthier in having to tough out the winter, rather than being coddled under grow lights like the seedlings you buy at the store.
Which analogy would you like to choose from! New Yorkers are tough? Don't spoil your kids? Some ugliness makes the beauty stand out?
Books that have "changed my life"... I am currently reading "The Age of Innocence" and it is making me see New York in such a different light (...any book I am reading at the moment is changing my life!) Also, The Neapolitan Saga changed my adult life. I was an avid reader my whole life but kids and work — time, generally — had changed my relationship with reading. Those books rekindled my love affair.
Something that’s overrated: skin masks
Something that’s underrated: bodega flowers
What role do you see jewelry playing in women’s lives?
Personally, I wear jewelry that I don't take it off for years — my standard pieces are just there with me all the time. I like the idea that when my kids think back on me or when they are holding my hand that those rings are part of the story, part of me.
I also am not afraid to have my rings look like they're old. I like when jewelry gets misshapen and scratched and has some patina — signs of life.
I met a woman recently who told me about how she’s bought a different Catbird ring for different milestones in her life: one was graduating. Another was getting her dream job. Another was when she got a dog. All these small things became meaningful layers, each of which she could quickly and confidently identify. I love that.
My wardrobe “workhorse”...High waisted jeans, old t-shirt, black crewneck cashmere sweater, scarf around neck.
My go-to, easy dinner / meal I make for myself… Sardines and crackers, and a vodka soda.
My mantra: Will there be snacks?