How Jewelry Designer Mary Lou Banks Went From Geology to World Fashion Week

LuluB Designs' elegant pieces make a powerful statement. Photo by Jordan Gooden.

LuluB Designs' elegant pieces make a powerful statement. Photo by Jordan Gooden.

Mary Lou Banks has an eye for creating sophisticated, elegant jewelry and is always looking for those deeper treasures that lay just under the surface. With a background in geology, she knows a good gem when she finds one. ishTalk was invited to spend an evening taking an up-close look at Mary Lou's collection and to talk about fashion, inspirations and the future of Calgary-based LuluB Designs. You van view the entire collection and order online at www.lulubdesigns.ca.


What initially sparked your interest in jewelry?

After 9/11, I had the opportunity to go on a buying trip in Paris for Jewelry with my girlfriend who was opening up a European accessories boutique in Calgary.  Prior to the trip she asked if I wanted to be a partner in the boutique - I said no.

Walking the streets of Paris, I fell in love with the way women there accessorize. They embrace their femininity, they love color and they love asymmentry.

Mary Lou Banks at work in her Calgary studio.

Mary Lou Banks at work in her Calgary studio.

After that trip, I was a partner in a fabulous, high end accessories boutique *giggle*. This allowed me to travel to Paris twice a year to do the buying. The Bijorcha has a fabulous section selling beads and components to the jewelry designers. At the end of a long day I found it relaxing to browse though this section and of course as a geologist, had little discipline and purchased many strands of lovely minerals. After 5 years my box was overflowing and friends asked what I was going to do with all these lovely things. So, I began making jewelry. That was in 2008.

What inspired you take your jewelry to the next level and make a career out of it?

Seeing my work on the runway and in fashion magazines is a thrill - but right now I still consult as a geologist in the oil and gas industry.

I lost a brother and friend to cancer years ago. He saw my passion, and encouraged me to keep creating. He also gave me the courage to take my pieces to the first boutique I ever sold to, in Victoria (he pushed me out the door and said go show them, they are beautiful). Sometimes, as an artist we second guess ourselves.

I’ve also always felt that jewelry is an extension of who we are – different stones, colors and shapes speak differently to each of us. Helping women recognize their deeper treasures that lay just under the surface… unique, perfect in all there imperfections and differences... this is what continues to make me source the gorgeous stones I use in my creations.

How has your work evolved since you first started out?

I seriously chuckle when I look at my first work. But it did sell.  I would say my work has evolved to art. Many of my pieces are one-of-a-kind, as I get bored making the same of one thing over and over. Although, I am now doing collections, which as a small business, is what puts the bread on the table.

It appears you've seen so much success this past year. How has your work been received in Canada and internationally?

I have had the great honour of doing two collaborations with fashion designer Maison Matthew Gallagher. Thus my creations have appeared on the runway at World Mastercard Fashion Week in Toronto two seasons in a row. That exposure has lead to several publications in Canadian magazines and one named Factice that is published on the French Riveria, now that was spectacular. For a new brand emerging on the market this kind of exposure is priceless.


LuluB Designs at World MasterCard Fashion Week & ParkLuxe. 
Clothing by Maison Matthew Galagher. Photos courtesy of L
iving Reality.


What are you currently fascinated by and how does it inspire your work?

That is tough, I get inspired by so many things. I would have to say that currently I am fascinated with pearls and using there elegance to create more contemporary pieces. Pearls are timeless and one of the only organic materials used to make jewelry. By this I mean they were once a living, breathing thing.

As a geologist, I know my rocks and where they came from, and how many millions of years it took for them to make it to my studio. I love mixing what the earth created with Swarovski crystals and sterling silver.  All minerals have a special energy, and my wish is that this energy is transferred to the authentic women (or man) who wears it.

Lest I forget Coco Chanel, who  has always been a big inspiration of mine. She was an extraordinary women, who had the courage to change the way women dressed - and the way they felt about themselves.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned on your journey?

Courage means never giving up. I have made countless cold calls to boutique owners who basically hang up on you and say they have their quota of jewelry. It just takes that one break to change your world. Be perseverant. Oh, and don't forget to laugh and have fun along the way.

What advice would you give to any young designers who want to follow in your footsteps?

Follow your passion. There are some days when I say to myself "why am I doing this?" -  But it is where I find my solace and peace. When I am working in my studio (as in my garden),  I lose all track of time - and isn’t that such a good place to be in this day and age?

What's next for LuluB?

I am working on getting into more boutiques and galleries. I want to grow my business slowly so that I know who my clients are and what there needs are. My line will always be created and made in Canada. I have no desire to be a mass produced company. Handmade is in again. Women don’t want to see other women wearing what they are wearing, so I will continue to make jewelry for the woman (and - coming soon, man! But shhh - that's top secret for now) who is authentic, inspired, and ready to take on the world.

Jann Arden is a fan of LuluB Designs' pieces, which are often displayed on her Instagram account.

Jann Arden is a fan of LuluB Designs' pieces, which are often displayed on her Instagram account.