Bossy Ladies: Jewelry With a Cause
“Bossy Ladies” is a place to show off some of the remarkable women-run businesses we’ve discovered throughout the country. Our first installment features a Wall Street broker turned jewelry designer with a passion for helping others. Jenny Schretter’s Kolton.J jewelry designs are absolutely stunning and have been worn by celebrities and featured in magazines, but it’s not just about making you look fabulous. 10% of every online purchase from Kolton.J goes to a women and children’s charity of the customer’s choice. We love Jenny’s designs and her business model that’s full of compassion, so we asked her a few questions about how she has achieved such success:
1. As a young woman establishing yourself as a designer and starting your own business, what challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
I started my company in an industry that was completely foreign to me so my first hurdle was taking the very steep learning curve head-on. I had to fully acclimate and immerse myself into the business by learning the industry vocabulary, supply chain logistics, website development, e-commerce platforms, vendor lookbooks/linesheets, and the list goes on. It was a whole new ballpark for me but I was determined. Because of the dynamic of the costume jewelry business, a lot of information is kept close to those in the industry because in the handmade jewelry space, your supplies and resources are in a lot of ways what separate you from your competitor. I had a lot of trouble in the beginning with sourcing gemstones because of the natural cycle of that market (which can be fickle), but was able to solidify a few dependable suppliers through trial and error. I received the wrong gemstone order three times in a row from three different suppliers – even after supplying picture documentation and having multiple conversations.
As luck would have it, all of these supply problems happened right as I was getting ready to launch my first limited edition collection so I had to scrape my pre-existing designs and make an entirely new 25-piece collection in a 48-hour time period for our set launch date. I actually think those are some of my best designs to this day. Because I hadn’t located a US-based manufacturer (US-based manufacturing is important to me especially because of our current economy and unemployment figures) at that point for larger scale orders and was operating under a 24-hr time period, I had to make 75 intricate pieces for the three sample sets within 24 hours. That was not so fun!
Truthfully, as an entrepreneur, you face a multitude of challenges and no matter how many books or articles you read, or how many people you talk to beforehand, mistakes and unforeseen challenges are going to arise. It’s just the nature of the beast and my situation was no different. I think any entrepreneur would agree that these challenges are daunting but truly make you a better business owner in the end, and in a weird way, it’s part of the fun because it becomes your story as well. In terms of overcoming the challenges, I think it all comes down to maintaining a good perspective, having a strong support network, and truly taking it day by day. When all else fails, just laugh and move forward. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
2. You used to work on Wall Street, What made you switch career paths?
The transition was extremely organic and not as linear as people may think. I actually started the company out of customer demand when I was in Boston doing psychophysiology research at Harvard after I left Wall Street. When I was living and working in NYC, making jewelry became an incredible hobby of mine. I was always on the lookout for unique pieces and started teaching myself beading and wire technique. After I moved to Boston and introduced the vintage element, I started continually getting approached by strangers, including people in the fashion business, if they could buy the jewelry off of me. When I noticed the increasing demand coupled with my genuine love of jewelry making and design, that’s when I went for it. My thought process was: best case scenario, this becomes a dream turned into a reality; worst case, I don’t have to buy jewelry presents for people in the future! I didn’t over think it. Because my expectations were small to say the least, I launched a gallery website of a capsule collection of one-of-a-kind pieces. I actually had no e-commerce capability on the site when it launched (side note: I would include this as one of my mistakes). Within 5 days of my “launch,” (i.e. me posting it on my Facebook account), I was getting international orders after being featured on popular international blogs and everything happened much faster than I ever expected.
3. You donate a percentage of your proceeds to women and children’s charities, what motivated the decision to include that in your business model?
Philanthropy is important to me, and I am deeply passionate about supporting women and children-based initiatives. I am especially passionate about enabling and encouraging women to achieve their true potential and having the emotional, physical, and financial resources to do so. I personally believe very strongly in “for good” business or conscious capitalism, and I created a business that strives to create positive social change and adds social value. I genuinely want to help people and for me personally, I wanted to use my business as a mechanism to do that.
4. What’s your favorite piece of jewelry that you own and why?
A very simple bracelet that’s one strand of c1950 gold plated vintage chain and a “J” initial pendent given to me by my grandmother. I never take it off.
5. What advice would you give to women who want to start their own business?
Follow your heart, trust your gut, and lead with your head. Consider all the resources that are available to women business owners and take advantage of them. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice; you don’t know everything (just 99%). Nothing good comes easily. Pick trustful advisers. Build your network. Talk to every business owner you know, no matter the industry. Don’t be afraid to fail; failure is actually the greatest form of success. Lawyers – get to know one. Stick to your budget. Document everything. Be organized. Believe in yourself. Surround yourself with people that support you no matter what. Make a plan for the sake of having one, but expect life to draw outside the lines – it likes to do that. Pat yourself on the back no matter how small the accomplishment may seem against the canvas of the bigger plan. Utilize resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners– that’s what they’re there for (hello, QuickBooks!). Research your competition; carve out what makes you better (be your own customer – what would you want?). Mistakes are inevitable but they will make you better because of them – own them, learn from them, and move on. Accept that there will be some things you can’t prepare for and it’s OK. Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day, but that’s what tomorrow’s for. Make a 30-second elevator pitch about your business and practice it – you never know when it will come in handy. Rome wasn’t built in a day; revel in the process of it all. Give it your everything. Stay true to yourself and your brand. No matter what happens, all you can do is try your best –you’re incredible and courageous for pursuing your dream and I am proud of you. Be proud of yourself.
Most of all – dream big and don’t forget to have fun. Your life is your own, and in the end, the only person that stands in your way is yourself. Now, get to it!