Probation officer by day, jewelry designer by night is living a life she never imagined

Probation officer by day, jewelry designer by night is living a life she never imagined

August 2nd, 2011 by Holly Leber in Life Entertainment

Jill Hilton-Coffman creates hairpins with vintage jewelry.

Jill Hilton-Coffman creates hairpins with vintage jewelry.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

Sometimes, Jill Hilton-Coffman feels like two different people.

She's Jill the probation officer in Bradley County, a job she's held for three months. And she's also Jill the owner and designer of Judith Lauren Designs, a line of handmade jewelry and bridal headpieces.

Hilton-Coffman, 22, holds a degree in human services from Tennessee Wesleyan College. She completed an internship with the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole during her last semester in college and was later offered a full-time position.

She said she never quite imagined having the life she has.

"When I was younger I always loved to dress up and pretend I was making veils out of tulle my mom had around the house," she said, "but I never imagined myself being a designer. And I never expected to be a probation officer."

* On working 9 to 5 ... I supervise felons. I complete home visits, making sure they're living where they say they're living. I make sure they're holding a job. We also make sure they're paying their fees and not getting in any more trouble. If they have a problem, we try to help them get treatment for it.

* What she's learning ... I've learned you can't change someone [and] you can't help them unless they want to be helped. I tell my peers real stories about what happens and what they could go through if they falter and do something stupid. Personally, I don't think it's hard to follow any laws. But there are some people who were taught to be that way, and it's hard for them to change because that's all they've known.

* Goals at work ... My ultimate goal is to help [offenders] complete their probation and help them understand there is a lifestyle outside of crime; because that's a big step, realizing that there's an alternative. If they want to change, we can help them do that.

* On becoming a designer ... When I first started, a lot of the jewelry was from my [late] grandmother's collection. So I started making bobby pins, hot-gluing vintage earrings to them. I could probably find anything and make something out of it. That's what my husband, Chad, says. At first it was just something that was fun. I've always been a very creative child. As it went on, I got encouragement from people. When I started the bridal line, that's when it really got going.

* The birth of Judith Lauren Designs ... Last May, I got married. I made my own headpiece and my bridesmaids' hairpieces. I got a really good response from the wedding. Then I went on my honeymoon, and I made bobby pins from vintage earrings. I probably had 20 or 30 people say 'these are so cute,' so I knew I had to do something about them. About a month and a half later, I opened my Etsy shop.

* Wedded bliss ... I love thinking about getting married. I love creating things for brides that are unique and handmade. They know no one else in the world is going to have something like it. Their love is unique, just like the headband. I love weddings, I do. Sometimes it catches me off guard that I am married. I'm a newlywed. I think newlywed is a state of mind, so I feel like love is in the air.


Hobbies: Loves going to concerts. "The best concerts I've seen recently were Bon Iver and Ellie Goulding. I'm a sucker for Jay-Z."

Favorite holiday: "I love to dress up and have an alter ego. And on Halloween, it's totally acceptable. You can't just be Lady Gaga any day."

Travel dreams: "I'd really like to do a craft show in San Francisco, because it's a very artsy city and I've never been to California. And we're planning to go to New York for Christmas. We've never been. I'd really like to travel overseas."

Little-known fact: "I find four-leaf clovers really easily. Sometimes I pick them and put them in random places to remind myself that I'm really lucky."

* Inspiration: old meets new ... I like to play with vintage materials, and that vintage look with newer materials. I haven't established a signature look yet. I think the overall theme is when vintage meets modern, and it gets intertwined. I really like the look. It's very inspiring to me.

* Bedazzlers down ... We're seeing a shift of things that are older being reincorporated into pop culture, and into fashion and design. If the '80s are coming back in, I've got to create something big and flashy. But when and if bedazzled blue jean jackets come back, I don't know what I'm going to do. Go running scared, I guess.

* Customer compliments ... When customers come back and say, 'you designed a product that was one of a kind, and so many people complimented it, and it made my wedding day.' I get chill bumps when I talk about it. That's the best compliment in the world, when people enjoy my stuff enough to buy it. Who am I? You want to buy my stuff? This is great.

* Hopes for her future ... Maybe one day I can be a full-time designer. Right now, I'm really happy where I'm at. I have the freedom to make my business go wherever I want it to right now, and that's what I'm really digging. I'm designing a website and a blog. I'm about to start marketing it fully, which is something I haven't really done before. So I'm excited.

* If you can dream it, you can become it ... I think all of us have dreams and, when we get older, we sometimes abandon those dreams. But I think anything is really possible. What's the worst that can happen? You not doing it is the worst that can happen. If I hadn't taken the advice of my friends and family to create Judith Lauren Designs, I wouldn't have it, and it brings so much joy to my life.