Today’s Biz Ladies profile comes to us from jewelry designer, Melissa Joy Manning. Melissa’s career in the jewelry world seemed destined from the get go, having made her first piece of jewelry in preschool. She later went on to study silversmithing and jewelry design, and eventually open her own business. Most recently, she was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Today she shares with us her career journey. Thank you, Melissa, for giving us this glimpse into your business path! –Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I’ve always made jewelry. I crafted my first necklace when I was four. However, I never thought that I could pursue art as a business. So, after completing my degree in metal smithing and jewelry design, I continued working in high-end retail. After a few years of this my mom sent me to a vocational counselor who told me I should be self-employed. The counselor asked what I could do and when I replied that I could make jewelry, she told me to start a jewelry company. So, with my $1000 savings (all I had) I bought the tools I needed and created my first collection. I remember walking around to stores I liked, and asking them to carry my work. Thank god they did! I continually reinvested back into my business, building it into the brand it is today, remaining self-funded. Today we are a CFDA member company with offices encompassing wholesale and retail locations on both coasts.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I was lucky enough to have an amazing teacher, Paul Terry, at the Renaissance Center in San Francisco, who taught me the importance of vision. He taught me to envision my success and what it would encompass. I used these goals as benchmarks when building my brand. Every time I reached one, I would sit down and create another. As the “visions” kept coming true, they emboldened me to think bigger and more creatively each time. I’m really convinced that success can be attributed to manifestation and tenacity. If you believe in your vision you will make it happen.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Never take “NO” for an answer. I’ve learned that a no is simply a request for more information. Or, it’s an indication that the company is doing something wrong and has a chance to change approach and reposition- whether it’s a sales campaign, marketing strategy or something bigger. I’m a big believer that every mistake is an opportunity. Learning and growing each day is part of running a successful business.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Having the courage to not take “no” for an answer! I ran into a lot of people who told me that running a socially and environmentally sustainable business wasn’t possible in the fashion industry. It was hard to ignore this advice as it was coming from some pretty successful consultants. However, I remained true to my belief that you can, in fact, create proactive change through business practices. Now, being a social entrepreneur is widely accepted and I’m happy to find myself in an engaging and exciting community of people who believe the same.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Trust your gut. I’ve worked with a lot of people who’ve gone to fancy business schools. They get so absorbed in crunching metrics and researching possibilities that they forget to tune into their feelings. Nine times out of ten I find that when I listen to my instincts about people or projects they point me in the right direction. I find that I can make the best choices when I trust myself, the people around me and the experiences we all share.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I think failure is an interesting word. When I think about this question I can think of some initially disappointing moments. However, when I think of them in relation to my business, I can’t think of them as long-term failures. For example, we decided to invest in a trade show in Japan way back in the day. It cost a lot of money to invest in the show and we didn’t make one sale. At the time, it was a big bummer. However, Japanese sales now account for 20% of our gross sales. Would I be able to say the same if we hadn’t have gone directly to the market and experienced it first hand? I honestly don’t think so. So, I realize that my current success wouldn’t have occurred without “failing”. Being a good entrepreneur depends on your ability to think long term. If you do, very few things are true failures.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
Building strong relationships. We spend most of our waking hours at work. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to me to nurture our corporate culture with both team members and clients. I also feel extremely fortunate to be able to explore different categories through incredible collaborations such as my most recent project with West Elm.
I think one of my proudest moments actually occurred in the market downturn of 2005. We, like most of the industry, had experienced some pretty dramatic losses and were looking at a very dire economic outcome. I sat my team down and shared our books and asked them what they wanted to do. Did we want to fire someone or did we all want to take voluntary furloughs? Everyone voted blind yet every single person decided to take an unpaid leave rather than let go of someone with whom they worked. I have never been prouder of my company and my team, than I was on that day. We’ve had some tremendous sales successes but the fact that we have created such a strong and healthy organization brings me true joy.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
You know, I don’t know- I haven’t read any! I think, for me, remaining open and engaged in other areas outside of my industry is incredibly useful and more important than reading books about building a business. Inspiration and creativity can come from anywhere. I spend a lot of time watching TED talks, going to museums and theatres, attending various lectures. Keeping my brain active and challenged means I can create better solutions and think much more creatively.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
Make sure it’s what you want to do. If you really love doing something consider how it will change when it becomes a business. I meet a lot of people who loved a hobby but when they had to economize it on a daily basis, found that they lost all joy in it.
Know that your life will change: your friendships, relationships, how you view the world…everything. When you take charge of your life by forging your own path, a lot of lessons will come forward that you didn’t consider. In some ways, it’s like a veil lifts in how you see the world. Remaining true to yourself and your passion will carry you through any unexpected reaction or loss that success may bring to you.
Always, always, always listen to your heart. If you are true to yourself you will always succeed.