11 Indie Jewelry Designers On What Helped Their Brand Take Off
A DM from a celeb can make all the difference.
One DM from Bella Hadid, a stylist’s urgent request for a Lizzo music video, running into a stranger at the grocery store wearing your designs — these are all the kinds of unique career-altering occurrences that can change everything for designers. Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. But for many indie jewelry designers, there are a few pivotal moments like the ones mentioned that signal positive change is on the horizon; that hard work is about to pay off.
Choosing to create your very own jewelry collection is choosing uncertainty. Between a saturated market and general entrepreneurial struggles (especially after the last year), it can feel like an impossible feat to gain any sort of traction. But as the eleven women below illustrate, with a point of view and uncompromising determination, success is well within the realm of possibility.
Ahead, hear from designers like Sophie Monet, Jenny Walton, and Nathalie Schreckenberg as they share intimate, defining moments for their brands, and don’t miss their advice for aspiring jewelry designers (hint: when in doubt, just keep pushing forward!). Also, if you need to stock your fall wardrobe with a few new pieces, you can shop their edit of standouts including statement earrings, pendant necklaces, and chunky rings, among others.
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Having just launched her brand last year (“unofficially end of 2019, but semi-officially May 2020”), Brooke Callahan is off to a considerably strong start. Her approach has been to hone in on who she is as a brand as opposed to churning out product. “I've been tempted by what I would call ‘get rich quick schemes’ — making things that aren't really me, but I know would sell like, say, beaded iPhone chains,” she says. “I could have made a buck, but it's not me.”
Instead, crafting a defined point of view is what she considers her most valuable asset. She’s perhaps most recognizable for her XL flower pendant necklaces, which fold in nicely with the current push for more expressive dressing; the style even caught the attention of Bella Hadid. “Can’t say that wasn’t a moment,” she laughs.
Before Callahan’s jewelry brand took flight, she was working a 9-to-6 corporate PR job. “My biggest milestone and turning point was when I was able to quit my full-time job and focus on jewelry,” she shares. “It is a dream to now get to dedicate all my time to something I truly care about and do something creative for the first time.”
“The trajectory of my brand changed when I got an email with the subject line ‘Urgent Lizzo Pull’,” Yam Founder and Designer Morgan Thomas tells TZR. At the time, she was doing a pop-up in the Lower East Side when she received the message. “I happened to have everything the stylist requested, so they stopped by, picked it up that night and I got confirmation a couple of weeks later that they used my pieces.” Lizzo wore Yam in the "Good as Hell" music video. “It’s still such a surreal moment,” she adds.
Yam launched in 2017 and is now known for its handcrafted jewelry that leans on upcycled materials and a vintage aesthetic. “My most popular piece is the Posy Choker,” Thomas shares. “It's a design that was inspired by a series of sculptures I was working on in art school.”
Having worked on her brand for almost five years now, Thomas has acquired a few tidbits of advice for aspiring jewelry designers: first and foremost, don’t let yourself get discouraged. “It's simple advice and hard to follow, but looking back at where I started, it's really important to remember,” she says. “I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on pop-ups with no return (which is a lot of money when your barista job is funding your business). I've had to track down inventory and money from an event after the coordinator stopped answering my calls.” She continues that in the beginning, she emailed her linesheet to over a hundred stores and got two responses back (they were rejections). “I've had celebratory moments paralleled with times where I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. It's all a part of the process and it's all a learning experience despite how it feels in the moment,” she says. “The year before last, I applied for a part-time job at a popular jewelry company and never got a call back. Last year, they emailed me about doing a collaboration. You just have to keep going.”
If you’re at all inclined toward minimalism you probably have come across J. Hannah, the jewelry brand founded by Jess Hannah Révész back in 2016. Thanks to a few key retailers like Steven Alan and Need Supply, her collection quickly had more visibility. “J. Hannah started getting inquiries from stores who wanted to stock the designs before I even learned what a linesheet was,” she says. “Looking back, I'm thankful that they made a choice to support such a new and independent designer like myself.”
Instagram also helped to play a key role in cultivating the brand message. “Having a platform to add content besides my own designs provided much-needed context, and a forum to speak directly with customers,” she explains. “Using it as a space for storytelling and connection was especially essential to build trust — made-to-order jewelry like mine strikes such an intimate and personal chord. The conversations we have been lucky to have through that platform have given J. Hannah its shape.”
The designer’s biggest piece of advice (similar to others) is to simply keep going. “Any designer starting out needs to go through phase one of producing not-their-best work, but that's such an important part of the process,” she says. “You actually wade through this to get to the good ideas, but it can be exhausting. It's painful for your skill to be developing when your taste is already honed. It makes it really easy to look at your work and know it doesn't have that special spark that you're searching for. The most important thing is to push on, because that's the only way anyone arrives at a good design.”
Did you join the seashell jewelry bandwagon sometime over the last couple of years? If so, you should know it is, in part, thanks to SVNR Founder Christina Tung. The entrepreneur launched her label back in summer 2018 with upcycled and recycled materials — many of them featuring seashells — and the trend took off. “I had never planned to launch a brand! I was just making jewelry for fun when a friend of mine who worked in sales posted a photo on Instagram,” Tung says. “A few important retail buyers DM'd her and I thought it was worth sending photos to some editors. The Vogue News Editor at the time wrote back in five minutes asking if she could have the exclusive. It felt so surprising and incredible.” Tung shares that she still gets emotional thinking about all the support she’s received.
Her advice for aspiring jewelry designers is rooted in the effort. “I come from an old-school philosophy of putting the time into learning about the industry,” she says. “Working with brands that you admire and soaking up as much as you can.”
A recent highlight that Tung shares was a celebrity editorial placement. “This summer, Gabriella Karefa-Johnson styled Hailey Bieber in our Amalfi necklace for Vogue's June issue,” she says. “Sales really spiked for us!"
There’s been a definitive shift toward bolder, more exuberant jewelry in recent years with bright colors and playful patterns taking shape — Annele is one such brand that checks off all of those boxes. “There has been a great mix of organic and special moments for our brand since it launched in the summer of 2020,” designer and maker Iina Annele Rantala says. “Be it our Instagram page or, on the other side, we can definitely recall celebrity placements as moments that have been a momentum driver.”
Take a quick spin around the brand’s Instagram page and you’ll see faces of ladies like Gigi Hadid, Millie Bobby Brown, and Hailee Steinfeld; you couldn't ask for more as a new brand. But their advice is easy to follow. “We truly believe everyone has the potential to be successful. The main component, we have noticed, is authenticity,” Ethan Welch (who does “everything else" at the brand) says. “It really does cut through. It’s what we love about other brands and it’s what we really represent. This is from every touchpoint, be it a reply to an email, to the packaging, to our content. It’s creating that synergy of what you want to represent.”
Their products are joyful and among the most popular pieces are the Raspberry Jelly Earrings: 18k gold-plated hoops featuring Czech glass beads in the shape of grape clusters. “It’s been a piece that people are connecting to,” Rantala says.
I’MMANY Founder Tina Xu had an idea that resonated with jewelry-lovers everywhere: create pieces crafted with real flowers. “We launched in 2019 and sales started picking up quickly after the release of my first real flower collection in spring ’19,” she says. “Sales spiked in the summer when I released the fruity jewelry collection. I only started to realize that we were getting noticed by fashion insiders this year when celebrity stylists asked us to loan them pieces for styling.” Actresses like Sophie Turner bought jewelry from the brand and boutique stores inquired about stocking the brand’s jewelry in their shops, she adds.
Something Xu’s been thinking about lately is the distinction between trends and fads. “Some brands are able to withstand the test of time and some aren’t,” she observes. “I'm only at the beginning of my journey and I intend to keep the brand independent and sustainable so that we can go to extra lengths to take care of our customers and create truly unique pieces.”
While going viral could no doubt help any brand gain momentum, Xu knows that’s not the only path to success. "It's a tactic, not a strategy. If you got picked up and went viral, that's great. If not, don't lose your focus or try to be what you are not in pursuit of virality.”
Jewelry designer Nathalie Schreckenberg launched her brand in 2017. Fast forward to 2019 and a turning point occurred. “Net-a-Porter was interested in our collection and placed an order,” she shares. “Also, around the same time, we had some important press coverage from outlets including British Vogue.” She is a German-Brazilian designer with a background in fine arts and her handcrafted jewelry nods to timeless pieces with organic, raw qualities.
Her advice for aspiring designers is to be consistent and resilient. “Stay true to your instinct when creating,” she says. “I believe these are important qualities to eventually acquire a distinguished style that becomes recognizable and stands out in a rather saturated market.”
Schreckenberg’s most popular designs are the Nara and Caju rings. “They are bold yet perfect everyday pieces,” she says. “Also, the glass version of the Caju ring that was launched this year is also becoming popular quickly.” Another achievement is her first glass homeware collection that launched at SSENSE. “It´s a collection of two flower vases and a jewelry plate made of handblown glass, all sustainably crafted in Barcelona. Having the visibility of larger retailers or platforms that promote independent designers is very valuable.”
If you follow street style in the slightest, you’ve come across Jenny Walton. She’s the petite-statured illustrator and designer perennially dressed in joyful colors, unexpected silhouettes, and more often than not, a glorious vintage find. Walton introduced her own jewelry brand in the fall of 2019 and sharing her appreciation for fashion nostalgia with customers has been a defining experience. “For me, the important thing is connecting with the customers and because my pieces are often vintage-inspired, it’s finding the customer that has a similar love for these specific designs,” she says. “The thing I found the most important was people writing me notes at the check-out point, saying how much they connected and loved the pieces. It means a lot to me to be able to bring beautiful little moments and pieces and be a part of people's lives.” Walton shares that some customers even wore her masks to their weddings or during their engagements. “That made me feel really proud to be a part of their special day.”
A unique building block of her brand is that she serves as both designer and the face of the brand. “Because of this, I only sell things I would wear myself,” she says. “Being known for my unique sense of style, the key for me is showing how I wear my own pieces.”
Her most popular product to date is the white double drop earrings. “They always sell out because I wear them almost every day myself,” Walton explains. “I would say really believing in your product and making it personal by showing the customer how you would wear or style it can be incredibly powerful.”
While some (rather fortunate) jewelry brands experience swift success, PATTARAPHAN has followed a different path. “As I wasn’t working on the brand full time until mid-2020, my brand’s growth has been a slow and steady process with a few turning points,” founder and creative director Pattaraphan Salirathavibhaga — aka ‘Nok’ says. “I think people are very used to seeing overnight success on social media. However, I don't think that that was how it happened for me.”
Before she had celebrity placements, a local following came first. “Some of our initial signature styles were becoming recognized in the niche local market. So I'd say that breaking into this market first in Thailand was one of the first major turning points for us,” she shares. “After that, Gigi Hadid wore two of those super well-loved styles (Pressure Pendant Necklace and Diamond Pressurized Earring) then we started to see other really cool people — like Tei Shi, Hailey Bieber, and Lucky Blue Smith — wear PATTARAPHAN.”
But beyond celebrity recognition, Nok had another goal in mind. “Although getting placements in magazines and seeing celebrities wear our jewelry has always been incredible for us as a small brand, one of my personal wishes has been to randomly see a complete stranger wearing my pieces in real life,” she says. “This finally happened a month ago when I was grocery shopping! I'd honestly say this is the latest turning point for me as a designer. Best feeling ever!”
"I feel like a Vogue article is a defining moment for anyone in fashion and it definitely was a ‘pinch me’ moment,” Serendipitous Founder Sydney Ziems says. “It was something I had always dreamed of. The article introduced me to so many new people and it still does today.” Her collection of vibrant accessories was launched in February 2020 and has cemented itself as a go-to for a bold necklace or pair of earrings.
Having achieved in a relatively short amount of time what many designers wait for years to succeed at, Ziems advice is worth taking note of. “It's important to really understand what makes you different, especially since jewelry is such an oversaturated market,” she says. “It's also important to just keep going. There will be plenty of peaks and valleys on your journey. It's important to not lose motivation, especially on Instagram, when you are constantly comparing yourself to other people.”
Mentorship is another factor that played a part in Ziems identity building. “I have had the pleasure to do a brand workshop with Christina Tung from House Of and SVNR. She really helped me hone my voice within my brand,” she says. “My work with her fueled so much creativity from product design to social media content — it's really been priceless. It also made me realize how important it is to work with others because sometimes you are in your own bubble and need someone from the outside looking in.”
For those who delight in materials and craftsmanship, Sophie Monet’s story is a good one. She founded her jewelry brand based on a single piece of wood; her father is a sculptor and she chose to create her entire first collection cut and crafted of wood (this was 2012). Fast forward to today, and she reflects on turning points in this journey. “It feels like a bunch of little events and pieces that collectively built up to gain momentum. Seeing my earrings in The New York Times Style Section, being featured on Vogue.com, and seeing strangers out and about wearing my designs is probably what strikes me the most,” she shares.
Among the more rewarding moments, she notes that partnerships and collaborations stand out. “It’s always a great idea to work with other creatives, even if they’re not in the same field,” she says. “It’s an incredible way to challenge yourself, your craft, and learn from others about how they create and their processes. Those are the moments when I feel most inspired with renewed excitement about both my line and the future of the brand.”
Her advice for those who want to create their own brand is simple enough. “Try new things, be adventurous, and never be afraid to ask for help and advice from friends, family, and resources within the industry.”