Pearls of Wisdom: Seven highly respected jewelry makers chat about what strategies have helped them shine above their competition

Pearls of Wisdom: Seven highly respected jewelry makers chat about what strategies have helped them shine above their competition Alef Bet

Alef Bet's Pendant

By Stephanie Finnegan

Courtesy of Handmade Business

No matter the economy's bullish runs or bearish retreats, jewelry remains a purchase folks gravitate toward. The styles and settings may change, but jewelry is eternally popular as a gift for a loved one, a milestone commemoration, or a purchase for one's self. Handmade Business had the chance to chat with several companies to discover what they see as their greatest victories and their most daunting challenges.

Alef Bet by Paula
Paula Brooks and Alissa Haroush are the mother and daughter powerhouse team behind the success of Alef Bet by Paula, a wholesale company that creates jewelry indicative of "protection, religion, spirituality, comfort, beauty, and stylishness." Brooks, the matriarch, has been involved in jewelry for a number of years, but began manufacturing in 1993. Haroush, the daughter, joined the business when her mother asked her to help fulfill orders at night. According to Haroush: "I remember thinking I would apply to grad school to become a teacher, but never made it into the car the first day of classes." She was too hooked on the possibilities for creativity her mother's company offered.

Handmade Business (HB): How would you describe your work to the unfamiliar?

Alissa Haroush (AH): Our jewelry is modern in style, and also carries a sense of protection. I always wear a hamsa. At the same time, I can layer a heart and a beaded necklace. The entire collection has meaning and emanates protection, good wishes, love, and health.

Paula Brooks (PB): Alef Bet's collection reflects religion. Alissa's husband is Israeli, and that introduced us to the Middle Eastern culture, which really was unfamiliar to us. Basically, the idea of protection and hamsa in jewelry is relatively new to the American fashion scene. Now, it is widely accepted. I remember back in 1998 we couldn't pay someone to wear a hamsa.
Paula Brooks and Alissa Haroush

Alef's jewelry draws upon a foundation of ''protection, religion, spirituality, comfort, beauty, and stylishness.''

HB: Do you take part in social media? Is it effective for you?

AH: I won't lie--it's a struggle. We try to juggle the social media part and the business end, as well as the jewelry design. We mostly post on Facebook, which luckily connects to Twitter. This is where we seem to get the most feedback. Instagram is a little bit more difficult, since we don't always know daily what to post and share. A Facebook advertising and boosting post seems to be the most effective.

HB: How, then, do you get the news out about your designs? What is your strategy?

PB: We do email blasts and we mail postcards and brochures. We find the hands-on trade show to be the most important interaction with the customers. Our buyers can examine the product and its quality and get a feel if it will work for their store and customers. They don't have to imagine how the piece of jewelry looks, but can touch it. We try to encourage our customers to come to the gift shows.

HB: Being an entrepreneur plus a creative personality is a difficult tightrope to walk. When did you consider yourself successful?

PB: Probably after we saw some sort of profit and people bought from us at the Buyer's Market in Philadelphia. That was a real shock, that people were interested!

AH: I would say when we were invited to do trunk shows at Bloomingdale's! That was a real wake-up call when you open your email and you see invites to show at Bloomingdale's and the employees and customers there give you positive feedback. It really felt like we made it! This has been a long process to get our feet in the door.

PB: What is successful? That people talk about our work, or that we are making money? You can be very popular on the Internet with "likes" and "followers" and have no orders from shows. So that means you are successful, but how do you gauge that? I think I am successful because I like what I do. …I must like it because I continue to do it every day!

HB: What do you see as your five best pieces of advice for a novice starting out in the jewelry business?

PB: 1. Stay calm and stay current with the fashion. 2. Be willing to change your design and medium to go follow the economy (that was a biggie for us). 3. See what is in style by watching people and asking people what they like. Don't be offended if they don't like something you make. Learn from that type of criticism. Criticism is good. 5. Be a good listener. That is the best thing all around.

Paula Brooks and Alissa Haroush L'Ange Est Là (The Angel Is Present)
Angela B. Crispin has been making jewelry for the past 25 years, but has been creating under the banner of L'Ange Est Là since 2004. The name of her company is an auditory play on words--specifically her first name, Angela--specifically and how it is pronounced in French. Her work is geared toward the personal and the inspirational. Often, her designs come to her in dreams. Crispin is not hesitant to share her stories with her customers: "It totally engages the collectors and brings them into my universe. They know and see for themselves that my one-of-a-kind (OOAK) pieces are just that. I seldom go back and make something similar." An award-winning jewelry designer--some of her most recent creations will be on display this year at the Museum of Kaliningrad, Russia--Crispin firmly believes there is an almost divine or karmic intervention when her OOAK pieces find their way into the best possible homes. "They always end up in the 'right' hands, with someone who 'needs' that piece. [The piece] speaks to a particular person for a reason I might never know, and generally looks as if it was made for that person. I love it when the piece of the puzzle fits!"

HB: What is your strategy for drawing attention to your work?

Angela Crispin (AC): The minute I finish a piece, the first thing I do is take photos of it, make it clean and printable, then save it both in 72DPI and in high-resolution, especially for more significant OOAK pieces. You never know when it will come in handy or when it will sell. If you don't take the photo right off, you might end up not having the opportunity to do it later. So I have a photo setup in my studio ready at all times. Sometimes, I'll share process photos of the piece on social media and/or on my blog. Just enough so people can get an idea of how the piece is coming to life. This also helps people understand that I make everything that comes out of my studio, and that it represents real work, not just a wild idea that blew by. It creates appreciation for the process and for the person making it.

HB: So you function as your own PR department. Do you actively court interest from the press? I know you've been in books, magazines, and have been on French TV.

Angela Crispin (AC): If a piece feels particularly special (either because of the materials, unusual design, or process), I will often first share it privately with the press, giving them an exclusive view of the work. If it interests a magazine, either for their gallery column or for a step-by-step article, then I avoid putting it online until I get the OK. Then, when the article is out, I contribute as much as I can to getting the information out about the article through my network, my blog, social media, in groups within social media, through my newsletter, etc. I do this as well with other people's work or any special information I like and think is "share-worthy."
Paula Brooks and Alissa Haroush

Angela Crispin of L'Ange Est Là creates jewelry that has garnered awards and has been selected for museum exhibitions.

Benoit and Meghan Devinat Married couple Benoit and Meghan Devinat are co-owners and designers at Duo/Duet. The Rhode Island pair jokingly states they are "wearers of all hats," but it is quite true. The two handle all the creative and business angles that befall a self-employed, self-motivated entrepreneur. Meghan and Benoit are parents to three children--one is a newborn--so multitasking has become the order of the day. Benoit draws upon the years he spent as a project manager and product designer to deal with the daily demands: "Working with companies to realize their product vision and taking it through the rigors of the manufacturing process forces you to be agile enough in your creativity to change directions and accommodate the greater business vision." That facile, nimble mind-set is a must-have for overseeing and growing a thriving brand.

HB: What do you think your jewelry says to the marketplace? Is there a philosophy or a mission behind it?

Meghan Devinat (MD): Unique jewelry, colorful, and bold--these are the qualities I think catch the customer's attention. Our goal is to create innovative and exciting pieces that are handcrafted with integrity and refinement.

Benoit Devinat (BD): Our work is shaped by our clean, minimal aesthetic, our methods of approaching design through experimentation, and the overall look of our brand. We not only consider the design of each piece, but we consider the way it's presented and packaged. Our pieces are defined by all the details, the materials chosen, the clasps, and the mechanics, and these touches are what we believe set us apart.

HB: Do you attend wholesale or trade shows? Are they helpful to your business?

BD: We launched our line last year at the NY NOW August 2014 trade show. (Editor's Note: That was where Handmade Business learned about the duo.) It was an amazing way to go into business! We took a start-up risk, going straight to the buyers in a large forum.
Handcrafted Pieces

Duo/Duet has made a name for itself with its self-described "innovative and exciting pieces that are handcrafted with integrity and refinement." Photos by Brister Photography

We learned so much, from booth creation and setup, taking orders and all the variances that go with that, setting a delivery calendar, and answering a multitude of buyer questions. It was wonderful, stressful, and an eye-opening experience. Aside from that, we've done Rhode Island School of Design alumni shows, which are held in Providence, R.I., three times a year.

HB: Has social media been instrumental in elevating your profile?

MD: I think social media has been great to spread the word about our jewelry, but mostly among our friends and acquaintances. We have yet to tap into a strong number of "unknown to us" followers.

BD: Friends, family, and acquaintances have been important to our marketing strategy, as well as focusing on local connections. We are active in the local arts community, as well as entrepreneurial groups, which has led to opportunities in media coverage.

MD: Last fall, the Providence Journal ran a story on our work, immediately following our August trade show. We then were interviewed by Rhode Island's NPR radio station about our work, business, and life in April. Also, recently, our alma mater's media department interviewed us for their XYZ Magazine.

HB: If I'm not mistaken, aren't you somehow connected to Martha Stewart's magazine? How did that come about?

BD: We entered the Martha Stewart American Made contest last summer, and we were selected as a Style Finalist for 2014.

HB: That's a great honor, and you did it entirely on your own. You learned about the competition and went for it!

MD: Yes, I think the best things you can do are to put yourself out there, get feedback, and be ready to grow from that. For instance, take classes and hone your skills. Expanding your knowledge enables you to expand your craft. I really believe in trying to absorb as much as possible to educate yourself, whether it be a jewelry course, business-related classes, or networking. You can't go wrong. Find a mentor. Research your niche and figure out what makes you unique and why your vision is different/relevant. Take the risk and keep going.

Daphne Olive Daphne Olive
This year marks an important anniversary for Daphne Olive. It's her 20th year in the jewelry business. Her journey to success was not a course she carefully plotted. Instead, it came about because of happenstance and an ability to go with the flow: "I started this road by accident while living on a kibbutz [a communal settlement in Israel] for a year right after high school. Expecting to spend my year getting strong and tan doing agricultural work, I was surprised when they offered me a yearlong apprenticeship with the local silversmith. After college, my husband and I spent time traveling and building this business." In addition to her thriving wholesale jewelry business, Olive owns two brick-and-mortar shops: tabletop in Washington, D.C., and a brand-new spin off in Takoma Park, Md., where she lives.

HB: Is it difficult to make that transition between creative mind and business brain? Is it something you have to work at or does it come naturally?

Daphne Olive (DO): I feel like I transition between the two easily. I have been doing this my whole adult life and I feel like both are very
well integrated as parts of who I am. I exist in both spaces pretty much all the time and I enjoy both sides of what I do.

HB: How do you spread the word about your jewelry design and business?

DO: I attend wholesale shows--trade shows like the HANDMADE section of NY NOW and the American Made Show, formerly the Buyers Market of American Craft. Shows are a huge part of how I make connections with my customers. I also have Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. These have been great ways for me to be in contact with people who enjoy my jewelry and design process. The Washington Post and the Washington City Paper have focused on my jewelry. My store has gotten wider press as well.

HB: You are very inspirational with success and appreciation for your wholesale and retail businesses. What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

DO: 1. My first piece of advice is love what you do and don't lose that love when you turn it into a profession with the pressures of business. Keep the love of designing and making as the first priority. 2. Always keep in mind this is a choice. Part of the joy of being self-employed is that you chose this lifestyle and you can choose the terms of it. If you don't like how it is turning out for you personally, change it. 3. Be generous to yourself when you price your items. You should be able to make a good living at this if your work sells well. No one wants you to underpay yourself--especially your fans who want you to be able to keep making it. 4. Be open to other ways to structure your business and time, and restructure as the times and opportunities change. 5. Grow slowly and steadily. Most of us do not become huge and famous in a minute. That is great if it happens--some of us don't want too much of either--and there are so many of us having successful craft businesses and lives without ever becoming huge or famous.

Daphne Olive Pendant

Daphne Olive's creations are a beautiful celebration of what comes from her heart and what appeals to her customers.

Ivy Presho DistinctlyIvy, Inc. IvyByDesign, LLC
Having a presence on Etsy is one thing--being named among the top 10 sellers on Etsy is something else again. Ivy Presho's DistinctlyIvy (personalized name necklaces and hand-stamped jewelry) has repeatedly ranked among the top 10 movers and shakers in the jewelry field on Etsy. In Handmadeology's fall 2014 ranking, her online shop came in as a staggering number 2 of all jewelry sellers. It was not the first time she achieved that enviable distinction. She's also opened up her own cyber store via her own personal shopify website, where she has continued to gain recognition. Presho's accomplishment is awesome, but it is doubly so when you realize she's only been making jewelry for five and a half years. She's been shattering sales records on Etsy almost since her arrival on the scene.

HB: Your success is so admirable. What is the hook, the distinction, that makes your jewelry so sought after and purchased?

Ivy Presho (IP): Our passion is to deliver unique, custom, personalized jewelry as quickly as possible for last-minute gift giving. Many of us purchase something impersonal when we wait until the last minute to do our gift shopping. DistinctlyIvy offers last-minute gifts that are still personal and special.

HB: Obviously, the cyber world has been great for you. How have

you navigated this online business world?

IP: The more ways you can get your work into the world, particularly when you operate a cyber store, the better! I particularly enjoy the social media apps that share pictures, such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Instagram, in particular, has been an influential part in our success at DistinctlyIvy. We are also beginning to utilize Facebook ads, which have drawn views to our shop. In the time I've been doing this, I have noticed customers will see great designs and quickly spread the word. Do not ever underestimate the power of happy customers. They will assuredly tell ten more customers about your product or be your lead on a large wholesale order!

HB: Before being immersed in the world of jewelry, did you have another profession? If so, what was it?

IP: I was a computer program trainer for an energy management company. I later became a manager of a team at that same company. Both of these jobs proved invaluable as a current small business owner, as they helped me effectively hire, train, and manage our employees. At this time, we employ 12 people. Some employees work completely from their homes, others come to our shop to work. We have both part-time and full-time employees. (Presho counts her "supportive husband, Nick" among the folks she relies upon and has trusted in.) Interestingly, when I started DistinctlyIvy, my goal was to make jewelry full-time and quit my job. I felt successful when I gave my notice to my manager and worked my first day as my own boss. It took three and a half years from opening DistinctlyIvy to be able to quit my full-time job. Still, I am always pushing myself, so while I am so proud of our business for accomplishing this goal, I have now made several new goals!

Ivy Presho

DistinctlyIvy has earned its reputation and ranking for its combination of custom personalization and respectful customer service.

HB: Is IvyByDesign one of the new goals? Or at least a new business challenge?

IP: Our sterling silver shop, IvyByDesign, has recently started offering wholesale prices on pendants and necklaces. IvyByDesign and DistinctlyIvy are different [companies]. I am very proud of our work at DistinctlyIvy and love to share it with others! I do not believe artistry should be kept secret. Others should be able to enjoy it, take part in it, and even help create it. We do thousands of custom orders every year!