Jennifer Fisher's Soho studio feels more like a boutique than a showroom. It's probably thanks to her extensive and inviting display cases that houses some of the 4000 charms available in four types of gold, various bangles and cuffs and rings and earrings ranging from girly to gothic. Pretty impressive for a woman that came onto her career by accident and describes herself as 'the little engine that could.' The little engine is now among the 10 finalists for the 2012 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Competition.
A California native, Fisher began her career in LA doing wardrobe styling for commercials, television and movies. She was always more into fashion than jewelry, but found herself wanting something special to honor the birth of her first child. Frustrated with what was on offer, she created a dog tag charm with his name on it. You can guess what happened next: friends and colleagues all wanted the cool style of custom charm, and a business was born. Fisher's business background combined with her resourcefulness proved a success, and six years later Jennifer Fisher jewelery shows no sign of slowing down. We chatted to Fisher, who is as hardworking as she is laidback (very LA-meets-New York), in her glam office to learn more about how she does it.
Fashionista: Tell me about what you were doing before you started the business? Jennifer Fisher: I was a wardrobe stylist, mostly for commercials and TV. I worked with Aaron Spelling back in the day if you can believe it. I went to USC for business and I studied marketing, and wanted to be at a fashion magazine. I interned at LA Style and Detour, but then I realized I wanted to be more on the fashion side rather than marketing. Internships really are so important for pinpointing what you want to do. Anyway, my friend recommended me for a job as a wardrobe stylist with a big director, and I ended up being really good at it so it became my career.
How did you go from that to designing jewelry? Shortly after I started dating my now husband, I found a tumor in my chest, so I had to do chemotherapy. I was still styling throughout that time. Once I got through it all we got married. We decided we wanted to have kids, but my oncologist said it wasn’t a good idea since the tumor can grow from estrogen, so she urged us to try a surrogate. We tried for years, but it just didn’t work. Just when we decided to adopt, I became pregnant. I gave birth to Shane naturally and stayed healthy throughout. I really wanted something to wear after he was born, but not something generic, something baddass. As a stylist I was resourceful, so I found someone to make this dog tag charm necklace for me that I still wear on a long, cool chain. Charms then became the core of my business.
Why charms? I always liked charm necklaces and used to collect them as a child. I remember once deciding as an adult that I wanted some charms, and people told me it was outdated. I remember going to a place and asking to buy all the charms separately to wear on one chain, and they thought I was crazy.
How did it go from one charm to a new career? People started asking me to make them. I would always wear these slouchy tank tops and the necklace would pop out and people would comment. I was still styling at that time and selling necklaces on the DL. I’ve been in business now since my son’s birth six years ago, but it was always so quiet since I didn’t sell in store. I created a website first thing so I could reach people. We get orders from everywhere. Last night someone in Kuwait bought something. It is so cool to see the reach.
Tell me about some of the early challenges you faced?
Tell me about some of the early challenges you faced? The only obstacle is managing growth. Since I have a business background, I always feel that it is so important to have a strong foundation. I want to make sure the infrastructure is there, and since you are dealing with fine jewelry we must keep track of what is happening with the gold market, weights and measures. And, of course, I need to have time to design too.
How did you build the business? Honestly, I was really working by myself at the start. I used to have a tiny office on Prince Street, and when I’d leave town I would forward my business calls to my cell phone. I started in my bedroom with a laptop and a couple charms. It really is my own sweat, blood and tears. Every day is challenging. If you try to do the right thing and be a good person, you are rewarded for that. I really try to enjoy every aspect of it, and not to grow to fast. It is important that the stability of the business is there.
When did you expand from charms to the huge selection you now offer? It’s always been about the charms, and people ask for them. We can’t really take any of them away because at some point, somebody will want it. The other day we sold a charm that nobody had bought in ages.
Have you always had a thing for jewelry? No. I always liked clothes. Since I was little, I was obsessed with clothes, not jewelry. When I was young my mom got me a Vogue subscription, and I ended up creating wallpaper in my bedroom. It was sort of my first mood board. When we sold house, the buyers actually wanted to keep the Vogue wall. I’ve always been resourceful with clothes too, if I can’t find something I make it.
Where do you draw inspiration? My mood board doesn’t even make sense. I just pull things that are cool and interesting from magazines and websites. I don’t produce in seasons, except for the brass pieces. Stores aren’t buying entire collections, they want little capsule ranges and then they refresh with other pieces. They don’t want the risk of buying too much. I think jewelry isn’t about trends, so why design for specific seasons? I really don’t want to be a trend-based designer.
What are the most popular pieces? From the brass line, people are loving the skulls, bones and nails. And from the fine line, people love the tags and lettering. People love to put their child’s whole name or weird dates or some phrase. It is all very personal. It is neat to see people wanting to buy my jewelry to represent important things to them.
Have you ever had any really weird requests? I think we made a frog charm for someone’s frog that died. We have had a lot of crazy stuff. Lots of Latin phrases and poems. I don’t find them weird though. Once a guy wanted his German Shepherd’s head as a charm. So he sent a picture, and we designed it and it actually looked just like his dog. I won’t do just anything, no ice cream cones or anything, but we try to do whatever people want.
Do you follow fashion? What do you wear? I have always done my own thing. I used to be really into Rick Owens until people started ripping him off, now I'm loving Margiela and Phillip Lim. I am always changing. The other day I bought APC jeans that are awesome. Last year it was Alexander Wang tanks, and now it's not. I really jump around, and mix high end and cheap, which is the stylist in me I guess.
Tell me about getting involved with CFDA? Oh my God, it has been a dream. I always thought I was too small and not ready. Last year we wanted to do it, but we missed the chance because we were so busy. So you have to apply, and see if they are even interested in you. I made it through the first two rounds and then I had to present a huge portfolio. You really put yourself out there. To make it to the top 10 is amazing; I feel like I’ve won already.
Has there been a moment where you feel like you’ve made it? Honestly, I haven’t had one. I still feel like the little engine that could. The CFDA is a big deal, so that is amazing. But I appreciate everything that comes and appreciate what comes to me. Just having a successful business is so rewarding.
Any exciting plans for your company? We definitely want to open a store. Our collections are so large, so it would work well in a retail space. Also, the web is where everything is, so that is important. We are going to be redoing our site over the next year. I really want to revolutionize how people shop for fine jewelry. People get nervous because it can be so expensive, but I think if you hit all those price points then people can feel comfortable.