Brand With a Plan
What does it take to start, grow and maintain a jewelry label? Designers and industry business consultants weigh in.
The jewelry industry is growing fast. A recent McKinsey & Company report projected annual growth of 8% to 12% through 2025. Meanwhile, yearly sales are totaling above $200 billion — yet only about 20% of these sales are of branded jewelry. In a market with relatively few branded players, there is plenty of room for creative minds to build brands of their own. But untapped opportunity does not equal an easy ride, and it helps to have a roadmap for launching your business.
Identity, budget and logistics
If you’ve already asked yourself whether your jewelry brand is necessary in this oversaturated market and have reached a positive conclusion, it’s still a good idea to keep questioning yourself, advises George Root, founder of jeweler Milamore. “Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I want to deliver through my work? These are questions that I still ask myself every day,” says Root, who debuted his Kintsugi collection — inspired by the Japanese art of mending ceramics with lacquer and gold — just before the outbreak of Covid-19.
If a clear identity is the first element you need before even contemplating a launch, the budget and organization are the second and third. A brand needs to allocate a solid long-term budget to each part of the business — from production to marketing, to security, to public relations, to attracting the right professionals in the industry, says New York-based luxury business consultant Rafael Azzi.
Taking care of all legal requirements and putting a seamless logistics platform in place to cover production through delivery are essential organizational steps that a jeweler must take before pressing the launch button. “It is harder to try and fix things afterward, so I think it is important to use the time before the launch wisely, to make sure everything is planned out,” says Italian designer Bea Bongiasca, who orchestrated her eponymous brand’s successful US launch with military precision.
Still, it’s important to reevaluate as your business expands. Structural changes may be necessary, such as hiring more staff and redistributing the work load. Remember that a company does not operate the same way in its initial stages as it does once its size and scope have evolved.
Less is more
For a brand just taking off, a solid first impression is paramount — hence the importance of viewing your product as an ambassador of your vision.
“Focus on one very strong collection that identifies your brand,” recommends Root. “Editing down to a cohesive and strong collection is not always easy, but it is crucial.”
Trying to pander to popular taste by adding pieces for quick commercial wins can strangle a brand, as it dilutes the message and confuses the audience. A small but visually strong collection often means commercial returns will take time, so double down on patience.
“Things don’t happen overnight,” says Bongiasca. “Slow and steady is the way, in my opinion, as it takes time to grow.”
The wholesale question
A common debate is whether to sell direct-to-consumer or wholesale, but it’s not an either/or question; the two business models can and often should coexist.
Direct-to-consumer is a better financial proposition for emerging brands, according to New York-based jewelry consultant Francesca Simons, as it allows better margins, a more detailed knowledge of consumers, and a more predictable cash flow. It also avoids the common wholesale practice of consignment, in which the brand sends goods to retail clients and only gets paid for them once they sell.
Nonetheless, selling through a retailer has its perks. “When you say your brand is represented at Bergdorf [Goodman] or Moda Operandi, you don’t need to say much more,” Azzi observes.
As such, wholesale is worth considering not only as a selling channel, but as an advertising one, since it can expose a brand to a large audience. “Retailers already have a broad and established clientele that a young brand does not,” affirms Bongiasca. “Especially with e-shops that have a wide reach, your designs will be seen by people all over the world who otherwise would not know your work.”
Moreover, Azzi adds, partnering with a retailer can open the way for exciting collaborations and innovations, which can multiply growth opportunities.
Across the channels
A multi-channel model is key to marketing as well. “All marketing channels are necessary at the beginning, from social media — [such as] Instagram, including reels, [and] TikTok — [to other online channels], print coverage and celebrity product placement,” says Simons.
For the launch of Bongiasca’s brand in the US, publicist Simons took the unorthodox step of starting with celebrity placements, which trickled down to exposure through digital and print media. Once Bongiasca’s colorful, doodle-like rings began gracing the hands of pop star Dua Lipa and other A-list celebrities and influencers, it was easier to get everyone else’s attention.
But even in an age when an Instagram account is more powerful than a website, “followers don’t always create clients,” Root notes. He advises getting the jewelry in front of people’s eyes and in their hands physically so that “they make a connection with the designs and meanings,” and from there become customers.
Keeping up the momentum
“I have always said that the most challenging part of the process is not to launch a brand, but to keep the momentum going,” remarks Azzi.
Communication and consistency are to a brand what water and sun are to a plant. New products add chapters to a brand’s story. Old-school public relations and modern communication channels are essential to conveying a brand’s message, which needs to be consistent across all launches, drops and collaborations.
Perhaps most important to that message is cultural relevance, suggests a recent study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and fashion media agency Highsnobiety. “Cultural credibility for the new luxury consumer is driven by stories, lore, belonging and community,” the report says. In other words, if you are taking on the challenge of tapping into the saturated jewelry market, you can’t be shallow; your brand will do best if it can create a sense of shared cultural values among the consumers who seek out your product.
Images: Bea Bongiasca