In this installation of Our Stories, Courtney Morris shares how she became a jewellery maker and aspiring writer without losing her identity in the process. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise- white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer and truer image of the Jamaican experience… this is Our Stories!

Meet Courtney Morris – Jewellery Maker and Blogger

Courtney is a young woman from St. Elizabeth who has chosen to be a jewellery maker and aspiring writer. However, after school, making it as a freelance artist came with its own set of fears, challenges and moments of doubt. Despite this, she is determined to give her dreams her best shot. She owns her own jewellery business, FortyFour Miles and is the author of the blog, A Dreamer’s Manuscript. With her unique designs, transparent writing, and bold career choices, she has remained true to herself all throughout her journey. In doing so, she also inspires others to embrace a life of honesty and self-acceptance.

Who is Courtney Morris? How would you describe yourself?

Oh Lord … (laughs). Man … I feel like it’s really hard for me to describe myself. How do I describe myself? I guess I’m just a person pursuing happiness? I guess right now, first and foremost, I’m a jeweler. I’m an entrepreneur. I don’t necessarily like to describe myself by telling people what I do. But it’s just the easiest thing so … Yeah, I’m a 23-year-old jeweller, right now. But you never know where life is going to take you. And I’m just an appreciator of art and people and life.

Great! How did you get into making jewellery?

I started when I was in high school. But it didn’t really … It kind of just fell into my lap. It didn’t start as a very intentional thing.

My grandma died when I was in … I think maybe at like the end of 4th form. I can’t fully remember. But the first pair of earrings that I made was from a shirt that belonged to her. I just wanted a pair of earrings. It wasn’t really like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a jeweler now. Let me go make some earrings.’ I wanted a pair for myself and I liked the shirt. And I thought, ‘You know, I want to wear something of hers.’ So, I took some of the fabric and I made earrings from it.

That’s interesting because many people wouldn’t go the extra mile and actually try to make it themselves. So, were you artistic before and that’s why you thought you could make it yourself?

Um, yeah, I think so. I mean, I always liked making things. I’d never made jewellery before but I just used to do little projects at home for fun. And I guess that’s how it started. I’ve always been into making things, whether it’s been writing, cooking, taking pictures, anything like that. And I used to do little craft things at home and make things to decorate my room and stuff like that. So I guess it just came naturally.

So, when I started, I’d never done any formal lessons or anything like that. But I just kind of thought that I could learn as I went along. And then I did a few short classes afterwards, but I’m mostly self-taught.

Okay so you acquired that skill, but you actually studied literature in university. So, right after university, did you have a game plan in mind for what you were going to do next?

Man, I had no plan (laughs). No game plan, I was so confused and anxious. Honestly, it was very scary. Because we go from having all this structure our whole lives, going up from primary school, high school, then to university. And it ends and, ‘What do I do now?’

So, I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll apply for some jobs and stuff.’ So, I kind of spent a short time applying for jobs but I never really went through with it because, thinking about it, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy at this stage of my life pursuing a conventional job. And I’m young. So, I just thought, ‘Now is the time for me to pursue the more risky, I guess, creative side.’ And I’m just seeing where it goes with that.

Wow …

Yeah, and if it doesn’t work out … Then I’ll just adapt and do something else. But right now, this is what I’m doing. So, I’m just basically really trying to go with the flow and not be too worried. And, luckily, I have a family that’s not trying to kick me out yet (laughs).

I was just about to ask about that. You said your family has been very supportive, but were others in your life as supportive regarding this career choice?

Umm, no … I have a very supportive family, as I said. They think that I should just pursue what makes me happy. And I’m lucky for that because a lot of people don’t have that. So, I’m very privileged. But there were other people around me who kind of discouraged me ‘cause they kept asking how am I really going to make money from that or … Like, there were just a lot of people that kind of expect you to leave university and either do your masters or just get a job immediately, like some office job, and just bring in money, move out, get an apartment … This like straight, narrow path. They kind of have in their minds that that’s what you have to do.

I mean, I just stopped trying to explain to people (laughs). It’s really hard and it still is hard because there’s still people [who], when I talk to them, I can tell that they’re not really approving of what I’m doing or they don’t see it lasting long. But I can’t really … I can’t really spend my life thinking about those people. I just need to move forward and, you know … You don’t know what’s going to happen. Right now, I’m just choosing to believe that everything will be okay if I just keep working and staying positive. But, if things don’t work out, they just won’t work out, you know? And I’ll move on. I think I’ll always be able to make a good life for myself.

Yeah, and I guess even if you fail, God forbid … At least you could look back and say you tried.

Exactly. Yeah, because I don’t want to regret it. And that’s what my parents were saying too. It’s better now to do this when I’m young because I could go straight into a regular office job and hate it, you know? And then, by the time I look at it, I feel like I’m too old …

Yeah, I get you … But despite you telling yourself this, have there been times since starting, when you doubted if this was the right choice to make?

I doubt myself all the time (laughs). The thing is I go through these cycles of self-doubt, like, ‘what am I doing with my life?’ because, right now, I spend a lot of time at home. I’m at home making jewellery. And with a career like this, it’s not really steady. So, sometimes in the year, like December, I’d be making a lot of money. I’d be really busy. And then there’s a lull, you know? And then it picks back up again. And I think I just go through these cycles, especially when I’m not really busy, wondering what I’m doing. And kind of feeling like I’m not sure if it’s going to work. Especially because I’m at the start of my business now. It’s just the beginning. You have to have a lot of patience.

And I have to just keep reminding myself that this is the right decision. And I think I know deep down that it is the right decision. But, as a human, you get these feelings and you just have to drive them away. Deep down I believe … In myself (laughs). And I believe in what I’m doing right now.

And your brand’s name is “FortyFour Miles.” Why that name?

I live in Black River and the river that runs through the town is also called the Black River. And it’s 44 miles long. So, I kind of got the name with the help [of] my mother (laughs). I can’t just take credit for it all on my own. But we came up with that name to pay homage to where I’m from. And I’m just really attached to home and my family. And I just feel like that was a good way to celebrate where I came from, where my family has been for years.

And funny enough, my great-great-grandfather was a jeweler. I didn’t know this when I started doing jewellery. But he was a jeweler here in Black River as well. So, it’s kind of just coming full-circle.

One of Courtney’s writing notebooks

Wow, that’s so crazy! Now, with regards to your products, what sort of things can people buy from FortyFour Miles?

Well, I make rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces … And I use mainly copper and aluminum. I also use a lot of sea glass that I collect on the beach in Black River myself. In a special little spot that I’m never ever going to tell anybody about. And I use a lot of beads and stuff like that. I just make sure that my things are coming from my heart. (laughs) That sounds cheesy but I want to make sure that whatever I make is a good reflection of myself and my style. I don’t ever want to copy anybody.

Well on that note … Several of your pieces, although very beautiful, are also very unconventional in their appearance. Do you ever worry that some of the things you create may look too ‘out there’ to appeal to people?

Not really. That’s never really been a worry for me because I feel like at least one person’s going to like it (laughs). Sometimes that’s enough. And if I like it, I just feel happy about it. I don’t actually worry too much about if it’s going to be too ‘out there’ or if other people will like it. When I make something, if I like it, I just think, ‘at least one other person will like it and maybe they’ll find it,’ (laughs).

One of Courtney’s pieces

Nice! Also on that note, your whole brand celebrates self-acceptance. Why did you decide on that as the theme for your brand?

I think because it’s really important to me. And I just want everything in the brand to be close to me so that I can believe in it. And I just feel like it’s really important for people to know that they don’t have to be like everybody else. And just to love themselves, with all their flaws and all the little weird things about them. And it’s something that I need to keep reminding myself [of]. And I feel like if I have it in my face all the time, it’s a good way to instill it in myself as well.

Taking that into account, what have been some things you have struggled to accept about yourself? And how have you been able to accept them over time?

Hmm … Oh gosh, there’s so many things I could say (laughs). I feel like I struggle to … As much as I may seem friendly, I’m very like … I feel socially awkward. I feel like I come across as weird or … I don’t know. I worry about how people might perceive me sometimes. And I kind of just struggle to talk to people. I struggle to talk to new people and I struggle to be social and to mingle.

The term networking is the most horrible term to me (laughs). When I hear I just freak out. I just get nervous dealing with people. And it’s not because I’m not good at dealing with people. Like, I get along with almost everybody. But I just get very anxious about social interactions (laughs). And I don’t even know how to tell you how I’ve overcome it, because I haven’t really. But honestly, I just … I know when it’s important and I know when I have to do it. And I just move past the anxiety and do what I have to do. And in the end, it turns out fine and then I’m proud of myself. But it’s like a constant state of working through the anxiety.

[But], I’m alive and happy and have [a] loving family and friends and, you know? There are more important things.

Courtney showing customers her array of products. Photo Contributed by
Cesar Buelto

What some may not know about you is that, apart from making jewellery, you also have your own blog, A Dreamer’s Manuscript. How would you describe it?

It’s basically a collection of my thoughts and feelings on different things in life.

So, what caused you to start the blog?

When I started my blog … I think I did start it as a way to practice writing because I had in my mind at that time that maybe I’d want to be a writer. I started my blog when I started university. And at that point, I went to university to study literature. And I just thought, ‘You know, it’d be nice as another platform to practice writing …’ And I wanted somewhere to kind of express my feelings. So, it helped as a little therapy as well to write on my blog.

Yeah, it does seem to be a place where you can be pretty transparent with your readers. But now that you’ve dived into your jewellery business, do you still hope to write professionally in the future?

Um, right now I think so. I’m kind of finding it hard to … I’m focusing mostly on my jewellery, but I do try to take some time to just write short stories for myself. I don’t really share them much […] I think eventually maybe I’ll focus on the writing a little more. But I think the jewellery is taking a lot of my time right now. And that’s okay.

It’s so interesting that you’re sometimes worried about how you come across to people … Because you’re so open with your writing (laughs).

(Laughs) Yeah.

But I wonder if you partially use your writing as a way to connect with people despite your social anxiety?

Umm, I don’t know. That could actually be it, you know … I’m not sure, but maybe.

Courtney with her jewellery at a craft fair.
Photo Contributed by
Cesar Buelto

(Laughs) We’ll label that as just a theory. What’s the biggest thing you hope people take away from your writing?

I’m not sure I have an answer for that. I’m still trying to work that out. I’m trying to write in my own personal time but right now a lot of the focus is on my jewelry. Which is fine. But, yeah, I don’t have an answer for that yet. I’m trying to figure it out.

Overall, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned along this journey of pursuing a career based on your creative passions?

Don’t try and wait until you know everything to start. Sometimes you just need to start and learn along the way. I’ve kind of realized that most people don’t actually know what they’re doing.

Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us Courtney! Your promotion of self-acceptance through your art and life is super refreshing and necessary. We wish the best for your business going forward!