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Introducing Racked National's newest feature, The Breakfast Club, wherein we convince all sorts of people in the fashion industry to eat breakfast with us and, totally beknownst to them, we plonk a tape recorder in the middle of the table while they eat.
Today's breakfast club victims are Rebecca Richards, left, and Jessica Bohrer of Dalla Nonna jewelry. Richards and Bohrer's customized calendar necklaces—customers choose a month and a date to mark with a sapphire—have been featured on the Ellen Degeneres show and worn by celebs including Jessica Alba and Giuliana Rancic.
Jessica: We were in a house together in college and I think we connected more on the entrepreneurial side. We both had businesses when we were little. I wish I had my business cards—I had multiples!
One of them had my name and, when I was young, I let people call me Jessie, which I don't now. My family members always called me that, so my mom had business cards made that said Jessie Designs, and it had a conch shell and it was turquoise. I have to find one. I made barrettes, hair things with shells, and personalized visors—they were perfect south Florida things.
My grandmother, the one who passed the [original] necklace down, she's 89 and up until a year and a half ago, she was a full-time real estate agent. She lives in South Florida in one of those apartment complexes where all the people her age live, and there's tennis courts and all that stuff. She doesn't play, but she goes to the pool and walks around and she was like, "I really need a new visor." And I thought, where are we going to get a new visor? But then I happened to be in the Marc Jacobs store in Boston on Newbury Street or wherever it is, and they had a whole set of visors, so I bought her a Marc Jacobs visor.
She loved it.
Rebecca: I had other entrepreneurial ventures, but none involved business cards. Mostly, like trying to get my neighbors to buy grab bags of old toys or Garbage Pail Kids—remember those? They were terrible. I loved them.
Rebecca: So we used to actually go to dinner once a week, and over pizza we'd brainstorm business ideas. We had a bunch of them, it was really fun to think about what a business could look like and what it would involve. I think we wanted to start out with something we both loved, and jewelry seemed like a great place to start because it's something you can wear, and you could have a personal connection to it.
J: I think all of our ideas ended up in the design sphere—in sort of the tangents of fashion. Jewelry—with the sentimental attachment, you can make it as modern as you want or as classic as you want—just worked out. We've come a long way from visors and Garbage Pail Kids.
The jewelry that we like has a family connection. That's one of the bonding points we always had was our family connection and the importance of family. We have similar family dynamics.
R: And I think too, just taking sort of family and making them a part of what you do, but in your own way.
J: After college, I worked for three years.
R: And I lived in Italy. I had a really random job, where I worked for this online travel magazine that totally failed. It was right when we graduated college, in 1999-2000 when people were launching things all the time that didn't make it. But it was really fun because I was living in Florence, and, at the time, nobody had a personal computer or iPhone or anything, so I'd go to the internet cafe. I'd spend a week scouting out restaurants, bars, concerts, or whatever, and then I would go and have the computer crash 15 times before I got my short article written about what's going on in Florence that week.
J: Imagine, that didn't take off.
R: The idea was so forward-thinking at the time. People would be traveling, especially students, and you could just tap into it instead of carrying around those big guide books. Nowadays it's so commonplace, but at the time it was very forward thinking but the technology and the ideas hadn't meshed.
J: I worked at a conference production company. We did business seminars. I think we sort of hit the ground running at a time when it was crazy. Thank God we didn't lose our shirts somewhere, but I feel like if you had an entrepreneurial mind at that time, you could learn so much about so many different things. That was true for me—I didn't know what I wanted to do and I didn't really know what different jobs were like, so, for me, to be in a place where we could research different businesses, and what was going on, and who was leading them, was really a nice opportunity to learn. Because the internet was changing everything—marketing, ecommerce, how it works.
And now we have an ecommerce business.
Then I went to work for New York City economic development. And I was doing business development for the city when 9/11 happened so I switched over to business recovery. So we advised and counseled business that were trying to rebuild. We were helping businesses get back on their feet.
And then I went to Duke for law school, so I was out of the city, back and forth.
R: I think that, with a law school education, we learned valuable skills that translate to our business—in terms of being organized, trying to get non-disclosures or contracts in place.
We reconnected when Jessica moved back to New York. I was already living here because I'd already graduated law school and was working. And we really started making jewelry soon after.
J: In 2005, I graduated and started working at The Firm. Maybe in the beginning I had zero time, so we saw each other socially, but we weren't really focused on the business. But it was within my first year that we started—because I remember I had an officemate, and I would close my office door and would be, like, "Dave, sorry, we're having a conference call." And we'd have a call about business ideas and my officemate would be doing his work.
R: We had some other ideas first—like, we were going to start a bag company or do some promotional product—we started networking with people just trying to figure out where we were going to land.
J: So sometimes we would have to have a call with somebody for research purposes during a normal business day and she would be in her office and I would be in my office with my officemate and it would be like, "Well, you're bound by confidentiality because we're all lawyers." And we would sort of trap him into our business calls.
I don't think we ever saw [starting a business] as an exit from practicing law. Becca's on sort of a hiatus from practicing law right now and I'm still practicing. We always just saw the business as a new venture, another outlet.
R: I think when you're used to having a lot of things you're interested in doing, sometimes your job doesn't meet all of your interests. So if you're really entrepreneurial, you want to satisfy that craving.
We have all this energy we want want to use in a positive way, and I think the business was always a way to sort of have a more interesting balance.
J: Without seeing it as one exclusive to the other. I don't think we saw it as giving one up to get the other, but as a way to use a lot of energy that wasn't being used.
I know, people think it's crazy, but we're sort of crazy.
R: I think it's one of those things that when you're busy, at least for me, sometimes when I have a lot to do, I end up being so much more productive than when I don't have a lot to do.
J: I think, also, in some ways, we had all these ideas, but when we found the right idea that we really connected with, it took on a life of its own. We certainly chose it, but once it clicked, we started getting more an more energy out of the project.
There were some naysayers in the beginning, but we sort of squashed them and moved on.
R: We had been talking about the jewelry idea and Jessica was in the Hamptons and she said, we have to do it.
J: I said, this is it, we're going for it, this is the idea. I just knew that people were going to respond to it the way that my mom responded when my grandmother gave it to her, the way that people responded when I wore it. I went home and we started sketching.
R: And then it really took on a life of its own. Once we saw what the product could be, we got really into it and excited about it.
J: Even though some people, from a business perspective, were like, "I don't know how you're going to build a business out of this idea," we always thought, in the beginning, that the concept really was going to resonate with people and that the business would grow from that. That people would connect with it the way we connected with it.
Literally, from that time we talked in the Hamptons, and said this is it, we went back and started sketching, started meeting people in the Diamond District here in New York, played with sketches, played with molds, and played with different sizes—because the size isn't the same as the original pin—we played with different ideas. Like, what kind of metals we wanted to use. And we chose to use sapphires because I didn't know you could have sapphires in, literally, every color of the rainbow and that idea just clicked. My grandfather's original piece was a sapphire.
R: We started brainstorming in '05, '06, but we didn't launch until '09.
J: It was crazy. We launched the company and had an informal party with our close friends in March of '09 and then in April we were in Entertainment Weekly and Daily Candy and in May we were on The Ellen Show. It was like all of a sudden we just burst onto the scene.
We got a huge response, we had lots of people contacting us, lots of people placing orders. Because it's custom, and you have to wait for the product, there's a little bit of a gap. I think if you have a product that's for sale and you deliver in 48 hours, then when you're on a show like Ellen or on Daily Candy, you probably sell out because you're not prepared, and you don't have the inventory to service that. But because we built in a window to make the product custom for each customer, sort of gave us a little cushion.
On Ellen, it was Mother's Day, and all the women in the audience were expecting moms, their babies are all being born at different times.
It's kind of amazing that's only been a little over a year since we officially launched.
We started with a necklace, but we also have a bracelet. We also launched a charm bracelet, which is the calendar with a couple of extra diamond charms. Those are the main products. We're getting ready to launch initials—we're calling them the Little Letters.
Everything is made in New York. It's interesting because your'e dealing with an old-fashioned way of doing business. When you're dealing with the diamond district, or the garment district, there are a lot of folks there who have been doing business for 30-40 years.
R: They do all their business based on a handshake, literally.
J: On a handshake. They don't all use email. You have to go there, they don't have business meetings. You just go to their shop. I was joking with Becca because I recently watched "Stranger Among Us" with Melanie Griffith where she goes undercover. They have a shop on 47th Street and they show 47th Street inside the shop. It's exactly the same, nothing has changed since the 70s.
· Dalla Nonna Jewelry [Official Site]
· The Breakfast Club [Racked]