This week's Ms New Brunswick is Kristianne Levesque, the owner and creator of Bite the Bullet, jewelry made entirely by hand from recycled bullet casings. Kristianne is a metalsmith by trade that became discouraged at the numerous bullet shells in the woods near her home during a hike with her family. It occurred to her to make use of the discarded metal, and soon her business was booming. I am so intrigued by people who find inspiration all around them, even in the debris that's scattered in their backyard. I'm even more grateful for people who take the preservation of our environment seriously. I personally truly feel that New Brunswick is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and it's so important we treat our home with respect and care. Kristianne's work stemmed from her desire to do just that, and now it's her life's passion. As her business has grown, so too has her commitment to using recycled materials and finding new ways to encourage others to do the same. Her work is diverse in style and function and has something for everyone, whether or not you have a fondness for bullets.
Tell me about Bite the Bullet.
Bite the Bullet is the name of my custom metalwork business, focusing primarily on jewelry made entirely by hand from recycled bullet shells. We offer a lot of unique designs, but still take custom orders all the time. We sell everything from wedding rings to belt buckles. Working with recycled materials is really important to me, and we are starting a trade-in program to give people an incentive to recycle their brass. Starting soon, we will be offering discounts on products for bringing in spent brass. We will accept and use all types of casings, even if they are cracked or dirty. We want to spread the word so people are encouraged to pick up all of their casings in order to help reduce our impact on the environment and put the brass to a great use. I make every piece by hand myself in my shop.
How did you get started?
It’s sort of a crazy story where my circumstances really forced me in a certain direction, and something amazing came out of it. I am a trained metalsmith, and had studied metalworking and jewelry-making at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design. I started the business in 2010, but only was working on custom metalwork, urns and other vessels. Around then we bought a house but had a major flood the first year we were living there. Then we had a baby, and we unexpectedly found out we were pregnant again with twins 5 months later, so it was a crazy couple of years! After the twins turned one, I had no choice but to stay home with our kids because we couldn’t afford fulltime care for all three at that point, so I started trying to see if I could do some form of my work from home.
One day my husband and kids and I were out for a family walk in the woods and we were finding hundreds of discarded shell casings. We are nature lovers, and we absolutely hate litter so this really bothered us. I started to collect them just to clean them up, but then I thought maybe it would be an exciting challenge to try and make something with them. I started tinkering in jewelry and it took off right away.
Has the community been supportive?
Yes, we have a lot of local support and we see customers from all backgrounds fall in love with our pieces. We will participate in everything from fine craft fairs to art shows to sportsmen shows. Hunters, antique gun owners, handmade and fine arts patrons and even eco-conscious individuals are attracted to our work for various reasons. Our clientele is really diverse, and that is so amazing. Our products sell in sportsmen stores, and high end art galleries alike.
When we were getting started we worked with the CBDC and that was absolutely critical in getting this business off the ground. They are absolutely wonderful. They are the reason we are where we are. We couldn’t have grown without their support and help in the beginning. We are so fortunate to have expanded to a point where now both my husband and I are employed fulltime, and we recently were able to hire our first fulltime employee. Without the resources from the CBDC, I can’t see us having made it this far.
What is the biggest difficulty in your business?
To be honest in my situation, it’s balancing everything. Some days I feel like I’m not a good mom or wife or business owner. Sometimes I have to push those thoughts aside and just get through the day. Day to day you may feel like you’re off in one area or another, but I can’t let it get me sidetracked.
How do you balance work and personal life?
I have an amazing support system. My husband is 100% committed and invested in the business and if he wasn’t there behind me I couldn’t do what I do. My kids are really intrigued by what we do because it’s so hands-on. We like to show them what it’s like to be in the workshop, what it’s like to work for yourself and make a life on your own terms. They even like to come to the tradeshows. They all say they want to grow up and be Bite the Bullet employees one day. It’s important to us to show them what you can achieve when you work for it, and also we try to teach them that it’ our responsibility to take care of nature. A big part of the business that they’re involved in is walking out in nature and cleaning up as we go, and we want them to have that same love and respect for the environment that we have.
What piece of advice would you offer other women starting their own business?
Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Meet other business people in your area and trade stories. I just was talking to another woman who is starting up now and she was so relieved to hear that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time. and feeling like that doesn’t mean you should call it quits either. You have to know that you will have moments where you feel you’re at rock bottom, but you work through them and get over it and learn that you are tougher than those feelings. Don’t be afraid of those emotions and don’t let them hold you back.
The other thing is to remember that your ideas are good, even if not everyone understands them. The first time I ever introduced bullet jewelry was at a Christmas craft sale in Fredericton and the very first person that walked up to my booth was horrified and very judgmental of the concept of bullet jewelry. For a minute I panicked and thought, “oh my gosh, what have I done, I’m going to fail”. Every person after her was in love with my jewelry and I sold many pieces that day. To this day that woman was the most critical person I’ve ever dealt with, and if I had listened to her I wouldn’t have built this life that I have now.
The Ms New Brunswick project is about taking a title back for all the women who really embody the heart and soul of our province through creative endeavours and entrepreneurship. The makers and doers who are sharing with us their time, energy and talents, and carrying us forward. Full-time or side hustle. Big or small. At home or in an office. Products or service. Crafters, moms, entrepreneurs, shop owners, consultants. Whatever. If there is a woman in our province giving life to an idea or product, I want to know about it.
If you or someone you know would be right for the Ms New Brunswick series please fill out the Nomination Form!