Reprinted from Sept 2014 Jewelry Business Advisor:
Lizzy James has always been a hardworking and motivated person. From a career on Wall Street to spending her time as a real estate broker, psychiatry researcher, student at Yale, and even a professional photographer, Lizzy lives her life to the fullest and has never let anything hold her back. Not even cancer.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2011, but this diagnosis ultimately had a silver lining. It led her to her, “most exciting career to date,” as Lizzy would say, a jewelry designer and manufacturer.
At the time of the diagnosis, Lizzy owned a professional photography studio in Del Mar California. Lizzy decided to take the cancer head on and get a mastectomy. After her surgery she was unable to work with the heavy equipment that photography requires, due to the pain it caused in her arm, so she began to look for another creative outlet.
Knowing the road to recovery with a mastectomy and chemotherapy was going to be nearly two years long, Lizzy knew she needed to find something to keep her as busy as she had always been, so she decided to try making jewelry.
At first it was just a chance for her to be creative, a way to feel busy regardless of how little energy she had. After a couple months of teaching herself and working on her own, she began taking classes.
“I could see that everyone in the class was doing the same things, and it was very boring to me,” Lizzy recalls. The classes taught her the techniques she needed to be successful, but more importantly, inspired her to push beyond what everyone else was creating, and design pieces that were truly unique.
Once Lizzy started making more creative jewelry, her husband noticed her designs and made a point to tell her how good she was. “I thought he was just being nice…because, you know, I had cancer,” she lightheartedly jokes. He suggested she get some of her pieces into jewelry stores to see if they would sell. Lizzy agreed and decided to give it a try.
Not too long after the discussion to sell her jewelry, Lizzy rented a small space as part of a co-op with other designers where her work could be featured and there was someone who worked there who waited on the Lizzy James customers. “I made 400 different pieces, no exaggeration,” she recalls. She debuted her designs in that co-op in full force. She used different types of material and techniques, from silver-smithing to leather work and even beading.
After about 3 months, and as things really began to take off, Lizzy noticed a pattern with one of her styles that was selling rather quickly. Since she still had an open lease on her photography studio, she decided to turn into a retail store. Here, Lizzy sold handmade work designed by other artists. “I wasn’t even thinking about myself at that point,” she says, “but I thought about putting some of my own pieces in one day, and I didn’t even tag them as my own. After just a few months, I was doing very well at the store and all of my pieces kept over selling.” The line of work that was flying off the shelves and out selling all the other products in the store is now known as the Lizzy James Boutique line, and features the “Lizzy Wrap,” which consists of leather, knots, and silver.
A few months later, Lizzy and her husband decided to try and take her line wholesale. They headed to a wholesale show in San Francisco and ended up opening twenty accounts during that show.
Flash forward to today, and you will discover that Lizzy James Designs are now in over 400 jewelry stores in the country. “I just kept pushing forward. I told myself I was going to work and do something while I’m getting better and it really turned into a new career for me, and it’s my favorite career,” Lizzy confesses. “It’s my favorite career because it makes a lot of people happy, and it is not that stressful,” she continues.
Today, Lizzy is feeling great and living life to fullest. She has five full time employees and travels to shows all year round. In her studio, which sits on her property, they produce 5,000 pieces a month.
The Lizzy James Boutique line consists of 17 styles that are all on leather. The line offers 50 different colors in 10 sizes and includes the use of silver plate, sterling silver and also offers stainless steel. All those options add up to over 4,000 possible variations. “I make them in every size so that every woman can wear my bracelets and necklaces,” mentions Lizzy. Everything is a wrap bracelet as well as a necklace. Lizzy worked hard to make the line versatile. Each piece can convert back an fourth between a bracelet and necklace, some can even convert into two different kinds of necklaces: short and long. All the pieces also include larger clasps, so they are easy to put on.
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