Travel, for many, inspires, influences and adds perspective to all kinds of situations, be it in your personal or professional life. For Jamaican-born and Brooklyn-raised designer Kimone Young, experiencing various countries and cultures is not only a personal norm thanks to her heritage, but has proven to have a huge influence on her career.
After attending the Fashion Institute of Technology for Merchandising, Kimone discovered her passion for jewelry — one which was heightened by the traditional tribal pieces she’d glimpse while on her travels around the globe, and in 2011, she launched 84Gem. Offering statement-piece jewelry in both contemporary and traditional tribal styles, her work is influenced by organic shapes, natural gemstones, and mixed metals. Each piece is handmade and has to pass Kimone’s questioning of “do I love this?”, a test she’s run since making her very first piece, and one she encourages all business owners to ask themselves. Today, Kimone is elaborating further on this business tip and providing more insight into her process, how she got started, and the things she still struggles with to this day. –Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
I just wanted to make things that I liked to wear and see more of. When I first started, I wasn’t in a business state of mind. I worked off of my passion. I believe in always following your dreams and pursuing what feels right to you. I come from a very traditional family, and being an artist isn’t anywhere near what they expected of me. But I wanted to live for me and do what makes me happy. I wanted to start my own business because, honestly, I didn’t want to work for someone else for the rest of my life. At previous jobs that I held, I always felt like [the employer] held something over me, like I owed them my life. I’d rather do something I love and make just enough to live comfortably than [do] something I absolutely hate and [make] tons of money. Where’s the fun in that? I don’t think there ever was a job that I’ve held in the past that I actually loved. I am in a really good place right now and loving every moment. I’m seeing more and more people venturing off into starting their own business and that is such a great thing.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I discovered jewelry-making about eight years ago. I didn’t study jewelry, I didn’t go to school for it, I just started making things and learned as I went along. I’m a self-taught jewelry designer. I knew it was something I wanted to do once I realized that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I would always look at different styles of jewelry and it was always the first thing I noticed on a person. I developed this curiosity of wanting to know how they were made. I get bored easily and this is the one thing that I have started and haven’t given up on. When something is for you, you just know.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Before I started my business, there was a particular jewelry designer that I was inspired by and still am today. She was my biggest inspiration to becoming a designer. She’s very successful and does almost everything on her own, and the best part is that she’s self-taught as well. I emailed her asking her for advice on how to get started. Being that I had no experience whatsoever, I felt a little discouraged. Her response was perfect. I saved the email and whenever I’m feeling a little down or uninspired I always go back to it.
She said to me: “Follow your heart and make pieces that you would want to wear. If you aren’t enjoying your jewelry-making, you might as well be back at your desk at work.”
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
I would say the most challenging part of starting my business was struggling with insecurities of whether or not the product I was putting out was good enough. I was always concerned if people would gravitate towards my style and then I got caught up in trying to please everyone. The moment I stopped that, everything just came together. I stayed true to my style and only put out pieces that I loved. If I couldn’t see myself wearing it, it just never made the cut. After all, the reason I started all of this was because I wanted to make things that I loved. I had to accept the fact that not everyone will like what I do, and that’s okay. That’s the beauty of fashion. There are so many different styles and there is something for everyone.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Organization! This is something I’m still slightly struggling with. I juggle ALL aspects of my business. There’s no team behind the scenes or assistants. I’m also my biggest critic and I’m very hard on myself. I’ve thought about getting an assistant several times, but the idea makes me cringe. I’m not at the point yet where I can trust someone with such an important piece of my life. My business is like my baby and I’m not ready to hire a babysitter just yet. But I do understand that in order to grow, I must seek help in order to focus on other aspects of the business.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
I don’t know if this is necessarily a failure, but in that moment it felt like it was. The first year of starting my business was very difficult. Looking back at it now, I realize that it was normal. I had little to no sales and struggled with defining who my audience was. Going into my second year, I had a plan on improving all those things. I studied businesses that were similar to mine to see what it is that they were doing and why it worked. I took away things that applied to my own business and implemented them. The most important thing I learned was that my pieces are not for everyone. So I need to have a clear definition of who I’m targeting.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I would definitely spend more time organizing and planning. I always put off filing and organizing my materials. I’d rather spend my time creating. I think it would help me to be more productive in the way that I spend my time.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
The biggest sacrifice has been my social life. I put my business before everything else and because of that, I spend less time with my friends and family. If you’re not prepared to do this at some point during your start-up, you will most likely not make it. It sucks, but it’s a part of the hustle. You’ll also realize who your real supporters are. Those are the ones that regardless of how much time you spend with them, they realize how important your dream is and they will respect it. I’ve gotten farther by investing more time and making these sacrifices.
You have to surround yourself with people that support you 100% and other entrepreneurs with the same mindset, because it can get very lonely. The first year I started, I felt so alone. I felt like no one understood what I was doing and why. I questioned if what I was doing was the right thing over and over. I wanted to give up almost every day. I’m so glad I didn’t. Something in me just wanted to keep going no matter how difficult it was. I didn’t know the first thing about starting a business. I don’t have business owners in my family. I learned as I went and I’m still learning every day.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
The greatest success is still standing after four years! Never would I have thought that I would be doing this. When I look back at all that I’ve accomplished within the last four years, I’m still in awe. It’s a really great feeling.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I absolutely loved the book #Girlboss by Sophia Amorusa of Nasty Gal. It was spot-on [about] just diving into something that you have no experience in and just giving it your all. It was also very entertaining. I related because Sophia worked at several jobs that she didn’t necessarily have any interest in, she just needed the money. She utilized her resources and something she was good at and became a Girlboss! Loved, loved, loved it!
YouTube is my best friend. I reference YouTube a lot when I’m in a bind. You’ll be surprised at how much information is on there. I’ve learned so many techniques on YouTube just by watching tutorials. It has helped with building my website, Photoshop tips, and with jewelry-making.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
My business was built during a time that I was unemployed. I was laid-off from a company that I was working at for about four years. Technically, I wouldn’t call this a failure because it was a blessing in disguise. I used the time wisely and started my business soon after. I had all the time in the world and I saw that as the perfect opportunity to get started. I knew I wanted to start my own business before I was let go, but I just didn’t have the time working a full-time job. Being let go was one of the best things that happened to me. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m happy that it happened. I spent hours every day researching, building my website, and making jewelry. It was a great feeling to finally see it come to life. Then, seeing the reactions of people towards my creations was the best feeling in the world. I remember thinking, “Omg, people really like something that I actually made.”
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Is this something that you see yourself doing for the rest of your life?
It’s very important to understand that your business will become your life. You will eat, breathe and sleep your craft for the rest of your life. You have to become your brand. I knew that I would be happy if I could do this every day. About a year or two after I started my business, I worked for a few jewelry designers to gain more experience in the field and to see firsthand what it’s like to run a small business. These women ran their businesses from the comfort of their own homes. It was hectic at times, but I envisioned myself doing something like that and I just knew it was for me.
2. Are you willing to spend 40+ hours, 7 days a week on your business?
There will be countless days that you will spend all day into the night working on your business. You have to be okay with that. Last year, I got my biggest store order and I fulfilled about 70 pieces in a little less than a week because I had several things going on at the time and that week was the only time that I would’ve been able to produce them — otherwise the store would’ve never [gotten] the pieces in time for the season. This was also my last week at my last 9-5 job that I hope I’ll never have to go back to. Let’s just say it was a very trying week, but I love what I do and I made it happen. I got very little sleep each night and had to cancel on outings with friends.
3. Are you willing to sacrifice your social life and cut back on spending?
Here’s the social life thing again. If you talk to many business owners, this will definitely be something they will all agree on. But it will pay off. In order to be successful you must make sacrifices and unfortunately this is one of them. I also learned to say “no” to a lot of outings that required me to spend more than my budget. In the beginning, you will use a lot of your own money to fund your business. I spent so much money on materials, advertising/marketing tools and so many other things.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
The app that has been one of the biggest tools in getting me this far is Instagram. That would be the first one I open. Instagram has connected me to so many wonderful people, and many whom I’ve never met, yet [I] still have this crazy connection with them.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Just staying on top of literally everything. My mind is always running with ideas, deadlines that are coming up, emails that need to be followed up on, the list goes on. I’m such a do-it-yourself kind of girl, I want to do everything and be everywhere at once!