Carol Marie is an awesome New York-based jewelry line designed by industry vets and close friends Heather White and Jennifer Kramer. Their vintage-inspired statement jewelry launched for fall 2010 and has already been picked up by Henri Bendel, Shopbop, Revolve, Free People, Endless and several other smaller boutiques and websites. Both designers still work in the fashion industry--Heather in PR and Jen in editorial--but have managed to grow a successful jewelry line on their off-hours.
The young designers have proven that it is possible to have success in the middle of a recession by making smart decisions and really cute jewelry. Despite juggling multiple jobs, Heather and Jen took some time to answer our questions. Click through to find out how they're making it.
How did you two meet? Heather: Jen and I met over five years ago while working at W Magazine. I was working as the fashion assistant and Jen was working in the accessories department.
Jen: There’s a lot of bonding that takes place when you’re working 80 hour weeks together in the fashion closet of a major magazine…
When and how did you decide to do a jewelry collection together? Heather: Jen and I always loved scouring flea markets and purchasing pendants, turning them into necklaces and making jewelry for ourselves. We both have friends who work as stylists within the industry and used to have friends request to have us make specific pieces they couldn’t find in the market for their upcoming shoots. As pieces were shot and began to be featured in the magazines we realized that we might be able to transition our hobby into an actual business. We began with making all pieces by hand out of Jen’s apartment and have now transitioned into working with manufacturers who help us realize our designs.
Jen: We’d been talking about it for a while and dabbling around with designs and whatnot, but it really became serious when I decided to quit my job. I had been working in editorial and was really burned-out and basically said, 'Heather, I hope you’re actually serious about this jewelry thing because I’m quitting my job and we’re doing this.' Luckily, she was on board!
Where did the name Carol Marie come from? Heather: Carol Marie is a combination of our middle names. Jennifer Carol Kramer and Heather Marie White
How would you describe your inspiration and design process? Who does what? Heather: Our designs are very collaborative. We have very similar tastes in jewelry and often what one of us is thinking is reflective of what the other is also thinking in terms of design. We work a lot with metals and love for styles to be layered and worn together. Everything has a slight vintage undertone, so our metals are often tarnished and look worn. We love to travel so often our collections begin with taking a trip – we’ve been inspired by the Moroccan Bazaars and the Mosques of Istanbul.
Jen: We take a lot of inspiration from other cultures and civilizations. We’re obsessed with anything old with a history behind it. We have fairly different styles but love the same types of things when it comes to jewelry so I think that we both bring something different to the table but can always agree on designs.
What did you both do before launching the line? What are your fashion backgrounds? Heather: We both still currently work within the fashion industry. We met and both began our careers working at W Magazine, where Jen stayed on the editorial side working for Vanity Fair, Marie Claire and is currently working closely with the InStyle Accessories department. She is also an online contributor for SheFinds covering the shoe and purse markets. I transitioned out of working in editorial and switched over to PR. I have worked at a variety of Fashion PR Agencies including Tractenberg and Blue Stripe and am currently the Fashion PR Director at Keri Levitt Communications.
How did you raise the funds to start the line? Heather: We are completely self-funded. As a result, we have had to be smart about the way in which we grow our brand and prioritize how we spend our money.
Jen: Haha…um we’re still trying to raise the funds. We’re taking donations if anyone is feeling generous…
What so far, would you say has been your big break or biggest success? Heather: We have been incredibly lucky with working closely with a lot of really great retailers and online boutiques from the beginning. We were picked up by Henri Bendel and Shopbop our first season and have had the opportunity to work closely with Singer 22, Free People and Revolve Clothing. Endless has picked up the Spring 2012 collection and we are really fortunate to have the support of these very influential sites.
Jen: When we were first starting, all of the designers that I know in the industry used to tell me stories about how they had one moment that was their big break that finally made them really successful. I don’t think we really had a moment like that. For us, it’s been a slow & steady process of trial & error. We’ve been really fortunate to pick up some amazing retailers who have been very supportive of us as new designers, which is always exciting & has kept us going. Maybe our big break is yet to come!!!
What is the ballsiest/bravest/craziest thing you have done for the line? Heather: I don’t know if this would be considered especially ballsy, but we waited in line at the Henri Bendel’s open call for new designers beginning at 5:30am in the morning in the freezing cold. We showed our first collection that was completely hand made to the head accessories buyer and were asked to come back for an in-store trunk show event.
Jen: I think just starting a company in general was crazy. Especially in the middle of a recession. If I knew then what I know now about what it actually takes to get a company going, I’m not sure that I would have been so brave. Apparently ignorance really is bliss.
Neither of us had any background in business, design, sales, etc. It’s been a huge learning experience. Every little thing that we get done seems like a giant accomplishment in my mind.
Who has helped you the most along the way? Heather: We are so fortunate to have friends who work within the industry as each have offered helpful advice throughout the process of starting our line. From helping us get initial support with product placements to approach retailers with, to suggestions on manufacturers, to suggestions on sales showrooms to helping us find the right graphic designer to create our website.
Jen: All of our friends have been amazingly supportive. Whether it’s been through using our jewelry for magazine photo shoots, buying our pieces, helping us put together a lookbook shoot or just listening to us talking about the line non-stop. They’re all amazing and we’re so lucky to have them around.
What is the most fun thing about designing and working together? Heather: We really enjoy getting to be creative and working on a project that we are both really passionate about. How many people have the opportunity to identify jewelry they are missing and can’t find to buy for their closets and then get to go out and design an entire collection around. We have so much fun getting to play with the jewelry and plan out what each next step might be in the process. From coming up with creative ways to shoot lookbook images with no budget to googling how to make a homemade light box so we can take still life product images for our linesheets.
Jen: What girl wouldn’t want to have a company designing jewelry with her best friend? Starting your own business is stressful and a lot of work, so we’re very fortunate to be going through it together. It makes working all of those weekends and late nights a lot more fun when we’re working and laughing together over cocktails at my kitchen table.
What is your biggest challenge now? Heather: Our biggest challenge at this point is turning a business that is now self-sustaining to the next step that would allow Jen and I to work on the brand full time. It’s learning how to continue to grow, but in a smart and controlled way.
Jen: Making sure that we keep growing at the rate that we’ve been expanding. I love to play the 'where were we last year at this time?' game to keep reminding myself of how much we’ve grown since we’ve started. As long as the company can keep going at this rate, we’ll be fine.
What's next for you guys? Heather: We are putting our final touches on the Spring 2012 collection and planning our lookbook shoot for Spring 2012. We are also working to revamp our website adding more social media components with a regularly updated blog. We are beginning to sit down and discuss Fall 2012 next week….
Where do you see Carol Marie five years from now? Heather: In five years we would love to be working on the collection full time and to add to our retail list with both overseas accounts as well as a wider distribution of boutique retailers throughout the united states. We would also love to expand into other categories with the accessories market.
Jen: We’d love to be able to be bi-coastal (we’re both from warmer-weather climates and we can’t stand the winters here in New York) so hopefully the company is at a place where we can be working from California during the winters. We’re also really interested in expanding the company into other types of accessories so hopefully we’ll have the jewelry category figured out by then & we’ll be branching out into other things.
What advice would you give to an aspiring jewelry designer? Heather: It’s a lot of work and just when you think you have it figured out you realize you’re lost again and there’s a new challenge that is presented. Stay true to your design aesthetic, and don’t get discouraged.
Jen: Remember that it’s supposed to be fun!