about the designer

Meditating upon prototypes in her midtown-Manhattan office, dressed in the classically understated manner of certain fashion editors, Joan Goodman makes an instant impression: kind, engaged, passionate, jumping from topic to topic, as designers brimming with ideas often do. Goodman, the designer behind PONO, a New York City-based jewelry company, is just back from Italy, where she makes trips to design and produce her critically acclaimed and increasingly popular line.

JOAN, WHY DID YOU LAUNCH PONO?

My sister Barbara Barnett and I had already been running our family’s button business for years. Over time, I got to know and came to love certain materials, like horn and resin. I would find myself thinking about ways to work them into jewelry. One day, I told one of my Italian manufacturers, who also happened to be a dear friend, about my ideas. He said, “If that is what you want to do, then you must do it, and you must do it immediately. Come with me--right now.” And a week later, there I was, in his factory, working on my first line.

WHY JEWELRY? WHY NOT FASHION OR SOMETHING ELSE?

Jewelry actually felt like a natural progression of the button business. You’re dealing with shapes, forms, three dimensions, sculpture you can wear. When you have a signature piece of jewelry, you might wear it every day. And you hold onto it for ages. You might even hand it down to a friend, a niece, a daughter. I love that idea: longevity, designing for the ages, being there for customers over time.

YOUR AESTHETIC HAS BEEN NOTED FOR ITS GLOBAL APPEAL. DID SOMETHING IN PARTICULAR HELP YOU UNDERSTAND HOW YOUR WORK MIGHT BE RECEIVED IN DIFFERENT PLACES?

Remember the friend I told you about, the one who insisted I work on my first collection right away? This is how I met him, 25 years ago. It was my first trip to Italy for business. I was looking for a new partner to manufacture our higher-end buttons. I walked into this one meeting wearing my trademark outfit at the time: Ray-Bans, white button-down, blue jeans, cowboy boots. The proprietor--this chic, refined, elegant, sophisticated man--walked right up to me and said, “You must be the American!” It was just an observation. But it made me realize just how much what we wear, and how we wear it, projects our identity for others. I just had to be outside my own culture to appreciate it.

WHO INSPIRES AND INFLUENCES YOU RIGHT NOW?

For so many people, what inspires them and what influences them are the same thing. But for me, they are totally different. The way I see it, inspiration is something you feel. It's what gives me energy and happiness, what puts a smile on my face or makes me say “Wow!” Influence, on the other hand, is something you see. It is what actually manifests in my work.

WELL, IN THAT CASE, WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU?

Have you read Steven Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching? (Interviewer says that he has not.) Hold on. I will be right back. (Joan leaves and returns with a small paperback book in her hand.) Here. I always keep a few copies on hand so I can give them away. I want you to take this and read it and come back to me and tell me what you think. It is such an important book to me, such an inspiration, the wisdom I turn to in my work and my life. Every time I read it, I find something new. It never fails to inspire me.