From Apartment Floor To 1000s Of Top Retail Floors With American Jewelry Designer,Gorjana Reidel

In a world where so many other people are doing the same thing, how do you combat that? For Gorjana Reidel, it was to provide excellent customer service and looking at what’s working and what’s not working. Gorjana is an American jewelry designer based in Laguna Beach, California, who, alongside her husband, is redefining the contemporary jewelry space. Today, she chats with Keri Murphy to share her journey – from immigrating as a teen to the US from the former Yugoslavia to discovering her passion for jewelry design and launching her collection and fulfilling orders from their apartment floor to growing into a multi-million-dollar powerhouse.

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From Apartment Floor To 1000s Of Top Retail Floors With American Jewelry Designer, Gorjana Reidel

Did you know that according to statistics, over 80% of startups fail but what about the 20%? What makes them thrive? I am beyond excited to sit down with California chic jewelry designer Gorjana Reidel who started her design from her apartment on the floor years ago. It’s now in over 1,000 retailers and in fourteen retail stores of her own.

We got introduced through a mutual friend years ago, I loved your story then and I love it now. I’ve been dying to sit down with you because I find it so wonderful and exciting that a woman-owned business is accelerating at the rate that you are and also jewelry. Gorjana, everyone and their mother, brother, and sister want to start a jewelry line and everyone can, especially now.

When we started, my husband and I do this together. He would call stores and then we would go on appointments. They said that the most amount of calls to get is for jewelry because it’s the easiest thing to make yourself and to learn how to make yourself. It’s not the easiest thing to scale yourself but in terms of starting, especially in California or in New York where there’s the jewelry district we can go and get supplies. That was an easier avenue which starting out gave me so much anxiety. I was like, “There’s 100 of me calling you.”

That is one of the things I hear especially with female entrepreneurs. It’s like, “Why me when there are so many other people out there doing or trying to do the same thing?” How did you combat that? How did you say, “I’m going to do it anyway?”

It was a means of survival. We were determined to make it work and survive. We didn’t have car insurance. We were like, “We need to pay the bills. Let’s get to these stores.” We were down to earth. From the beginning, we realized we had to provide good customer service. We looked at our boutique partners, because that’s how we started, as partners. We said like, “Is it not selling? What’s working? What’s not working?” We would work with them to an exchange and get it back so they felt that they had a partner in us and we weren’t going to sell them something and never call again. We cared about how the products sold to their customer and not how we sold it to them.

You started out small. A lot of people now with the way social media looks, it looks so easy, Gorjana, to be like, “I’m going to start a business and it’s going to become super successful overnight. If it doesn’t, something is wrong.” We have to go back to remembering that we start out small and then you scale and grow which I’m very excited to talk about as well. You and your husband, Jason, started this business together. Why did he want to partner with you on this?

I majored in Marketing in Arizona State. I thought I could go work in marketing and then realized that meant an office job. I had my little Banana Republic cardigan set when I go on these interviews. I wasn’t getting the jobs because it wasn’t connecting. I thought, I worked in retail through college, I’ll go back to that. I got a job at Neiman’s because I thought that sounded more professional. It was at least a bigger corporation. I thought, “Let me go do that,” and then realized that wasn’t necessarily for me but I learned jewelry. I fell in love with jewelry there because all they had was an opening as an assistant manager in the jewelry department.

I went and worked for a jewelry designer that sold to Neiman’s that needed an assistant and learned the business. She did fine jewelry. I was 22 and I was like, “I can’t afford this.” It was great but I can’t afford a $1,500 necklace and I wanted it to be more fun and easy. I loved the mixing and matching of it. I thought, “I love gemstones. I love this product. I can make it myself,” because growing up in Serbia, my grandmothers made everything. They crocheted tablecloths, knitted my sweaters and sewed my clothes. It was all this stuff that I learned to do.

You learned textile and that sort of thing.

I knit my Barbie sweaters back in the day. I always love working with my hands. It was fun for me at the beginning. I thought, “I’m going to start making some stuff that I want to wear.” It may not be the best quality of gemstones but it’s still beautiful. It evolved from there. I was modeling at that time too. That’s not consistent. You’re always waiting to get a call and going on so many auditions. I thought, “I’m going to do this and let’s see if we can make a business out of this.” It’s funny because when we were doing that, we had all these other business things that we were thinking about doing. This was supposed to be something that we still do a little bit of jewelry to get us through until we started her skincare line for men.

It wasn’t even the focus. It was one of the many things you were trying.

It was something that was flowing and we were doing but I don’t think at the beginning, neither one of us thought it was going to be what we did.

I love that because people get so stuck with trying to figure it all out in the beginning and not letting it organically grow and evolve into being the thing. We put so much pressure, Gorjana, on getting it all right and doing it perfect from the beginning. You’ve allowed yourself to evolve.

I don’t know if it’s to a detriment, but I feel that in my life if something isn’t flowing, I don’t know if I almost give up easier now, but I’m like, “That’s not the right direction. We need to adjust.” I’m very sensitive to it now. I’ll push but the other thing I feel like we’re told is, “Push through the struggle. Go through it,” but you have to know when you’re going up against a wall over and over again. That’s not going to work. You need to adjust course.

I talk a lot about that too in entrepreneurship. If you’re constantly having to force and outcome and there’s not that flow, because we are taught to go big, go home and keep pushing. Especially as women, we are more intuitive and we can say, “I keep knocking and no one’s answering. Let’s go to a different door.”

You have to know if you have to find that balance. For me, it’s my gut. I will know. I’m like, “Something isn’t flowing,” too creatively here when we’re designing products. Sometimes we’re trying to be innovative and something will come in and it’ll be great off the that. If something isn’t then we’ll go and rework. We get to a point where I’m like, “Let’s take a timeout. Let’s put this on the back burner for a few months. It’s not flowing right now. Maybe it’s not meant to come out right now.” It’s that adaptability. A huge thing for me is being adaptable.

You have to be when you’re growing a business.

We’ve been doing this for many years and I’ve seen so many people succeed, fail, go in and out of business. My husband read that book Who Moved My Cheese?. We’re always like, “We’re hemming and hawing.” I’m like, “Are we in the wrong corridor?” You have to be able to stay moving and saying like, “That’s what worked then but it’s not what’s working now.”

Many people succeed and fail and go in and out of business, and a lot of that is because they’re not adaptable. Click To Tweet

It’s such good advice. It’s being able to change things and adapt. It’s like, “What makes that 20% successful?” There is that resilience but if you’re not able to adapt because life changes so fast too.

It’s so much faster. My husband and I talk about it all the time. I feel like before with media and how everyone was consuming everything, it was like, “On Sunday, you would sit down and watch Game of Thrones.” It’s why you waited for your episodes. Now, so much is coming at you that to sync everyone, it’s five minutes of fame and now it’s two seconds of fame. Everyone is here and gone. It’s hard. There is so much coming at you.

We’re talking about being intuitive and as a visionary leader, they say that intuition is one of the number one trait that a visionary leader has. Being a woman too, we’re a little bit more innately intuitive, although men have intuition too.

My husband is highly intuitive.

I want to go and talk about that. I see more and more men joining women-owned businesses because they’re growing at such a fast rate, but you guys started this business together. Can you share with us some of the things that you’ve learned with that partnership?

For me, you either know that you can work with your partner or you cannot. You should know based on how your relationship is in general. We wanted to do something together. We were a little naive of how difficult working together was, but we always had that strong connection that we felt like we had a good grounding and base for it.

I say sometimes being naive is one of the greatest things when you’re starting a business because if you knew what you were supposed to know.

You would never do it. I’m like, “I can’t go back.” For us, we have very high communication. We’re in a good flow now. As the business grows, it becomes easier because you divide and conquer. I have things I work on. He has things he works on. Obviously, we come together on the big things, but you have your spacing. There are days I don’t see him all day here.

In the beginning, I’m sure it’s very different because it was just the two of you.

You’re in one room with two other employees so you’re not going anywhere. If someone is having a bad day, it’s very clear. As you grow, it becomes easier because you find your footing too.

Gorjana, let’s talk about that growth. You started out on your apartment floor creating this jewelry and you were doing a lot of trade shows.

The first year, we used our parent’s frequent flyer miles hotel points. My sister lived in New York and we would go and go door-to-door to boutiques. That was it. We didn’t know what trade shows were. We were so naive. My husband laughs as he tells the story. He called one of our first boutiques. He’s like, “Do you have a line sheet? Do you have a showroom? Will you be at market?” He’s like, “We got to figure out what a line sheet and showroom is.” We had no idea. We spent the first year doing that.

That’s part of the reason we succeeded in that first year is because the boutique owners were so grateful that we went to Miami. We built the relationships and they got to know us. That’s how we started. We thought, “We have to be able to scale this somewhat.” We got into our first trade show which was Accessorie Circuit in New York. We did that and we primarily worked with boutiques for a long time. If you had a website as a brand, it was like faux pas. It’s fine if you had one as to show product but if you sold on it, it was a big deal. You were then competing. It was a whole different world.

There wasn’t that eCommerce that there is now. You had to have a site, but you couldn’t sell on the site.

You have to have little pretty pictures on there and that’s it. Talk about being adaptable. It’s one of our biggest revenue streams. You have to adjust. I feel like almost a dinosaur in this industry because I see everyone. I laugh even now because these buzz words come up. It’s D2C and I’m like, “That’s what gap is. It’s not a new revolutionary product.” The concept is there. People sell directly to customers and have forever. These are new eCommerce brands. It’s different.

What do you think makes your line so different?

The quality of the product was so huge, authenticity, and making sure that it lasts. We also have a happiness guarantee. We want you to be happy with it. If something happens, sometimes the plating with certain people in their chemistry doesn’t last as long, we will replate it for you. We stand behind that. We also want to design a product, at least from the beginning is that I want you to wear something and still love it in two years. It cannot be trendy where you’re like, “What was I thinking?” We have things that we do that are more fun. Years ago, we did these tassel earrings and people will be like, “Tassels are out.” I’m like, “Not for me.” When I’m in Mexico, my hair is in a bun, I wear my tassel earring. I still wear them because we still did them in a classic way. We were on-trend but do it in a more timeless way.

I love how adjustable everything is. It’s one of my favorite features. You could wear your necklaces at different lengths. Everyone has different wrist sizes. I love that.

You wear the jewelry; it doesn't wear you. Click To Tweet

In jewelry, one of the differences is that you wear the jewelry, it doesn’t wear you. There’s a lot of jewelry out there that it’s the first thing you see on someone. That’s not my goal.

It’s a statement piece where yours is compliments. I love all of the layers, too.

You can layer it and make it more statement so it feels like it’s yours. That’s my thing. I want you to play with it and figure out your layer. Maybe you only want to wear one or you want to wear four.

Depending on your mood, there are so many options. A girl loves her options. You did a good job capitalizing on that. I want to know when you decided to scale. As a lot of us who are growing businesses and we’re seeing some success, when do you hire more team? When do you decide to open up your first brick and mortar store? By the way, your stores are stunning. I know from being an entrepreneur for so long, that’s a lot of overhead and risk. I’m so curious to know, when do you know it’s the right time to level up?

In terms of hiring, I always say it was to the point where in the beginning, I can’t sleep. We’re here all day. We need to get help with this. We try to instill that in our teams now too because it’s so easy when you’re growing to say, “I need this person to do this.” Do you need that? Is that going to make it more effective and productive? Sometimes people farm things out that they don’t want to do and that’s not part of it for me. You have to do the grunt work. Everyone has grunt work in their job.

There are things I do that I don’t want to do and that never goes away. It’s always there. There are always things that you would rather not do but that’s part of having a good work ethic. In terms of scaling, that was intuitive. I have to be on it. There’s a store. That’s where our flagship stores here in Laguna. It’s a corner we drove by most mornings on the way to work. We never talked about opening our own stores. We were wholesale and eCommerce-focused. All of a sudden, there was for lease sign and we have a lucky number and the address was the lucky number.

It all was serendipitous. We’re like, “We need to do this.” It made no sense. There was no reason for us at that time to open a store and there wasn’t anything that was telling us to and we thought, “Let’s give it a shot.” Once we did, it was so amazing. To have people to interact with the customer directly is so huge. To be able for them to interact, come in and see what our brand is about, get to see all the product and everything and tell our story from our own mouth, it makes a huge difference.

It’s hands-on touch. We’ve lost that in a lot of ways. In a lot of retail, you don’t get that anymore, but you walk into your store and you feel your essence. You did a beautiful job with that.

Thank you. I love shopping out. I’m a shopaholic. I like physical retail. I shop online but that’s once I know the brand.

I’m with you. We won’t take the risk usually in the beginning.

I’ll say, “What is this?” I had to buy this bedding and I love Parachute, that brand, and they had a store. We happen to be in Chicago. I went in and I felt the different sheets. I thought these are the sheets I want. I went to purchase the ones. It’s hard when you can’t feel. There are some things I need to feel. Also being in there, I’m like, “I love this brand. This is so cool.” You become attached and then you can transact online wherever you want to but that’s important. I still take my daughter back-to-school shopping. It’s fun.

I had memories of doing that as a young girl with my mom.

People say like, “Retail is done.” I’m like, “I don’t think so. It’s evolving.”

Again, you have to be adaptable.

One hundred percent know what your customers are there for and how people are interacting. A ton of people come into our stores and do just that. Interact with the brand and see it. Maybe they don’t transact but they do when they get home.

They don’t make the decision there but then they go online and purchase it there. Being a risk-taker is part of being an entrepreneur.

You have to be partly crazy.

You have to be. It’s so funny because someone said to me when I was talking about it, they’re like, “You have a little crazy in your DNA.” I’m like, “Yes.” You have to be willing to take that risk and to trust.

You got to have blind faith.

Retail is not done; it's just evolving. Click To Tweet

What do you do when you make a decision that wasn’t a good one?

Honestly, we go back and say, “Let’s look back. How did we get here? What were the things that drove us to make this decision? Why is it not working?” We don’t wallow in it. We say, “What are we learning from this? Let’s move forward.”

For a lot of people that run a business, they expect much quicker growth and a straight line up. Have you experienced that with your line?

Everyone is like, “When was the moment you’ve realized you’ve succeeded? I’m like, “I still don’t feel I’ve succeeded.” To use a sports analogy, everyone wants that home run. I’m like, “Be happy if you can hit singles.” You’re good. It doesn’t have to be this big thing. My very first trunk show I did with another designer who had these skirts. They were everywhere and so cute and she was blowing up. I remember being like, “It’s so great.” She’s growing so fast. Two years later, she was gone. I see that all the time. You don’t want to be that flash in the pan.

You don’t want to grow too fast.

No, because you have so many operational issues that come with that and that’s not my forte at all. It’s rough. It’s not easy and you don’t want that growth. Even now, there are opportunities to open more stores, but we know we want to open and how many. Having everyone have a level calm head and productive piece because otherwise, what is the point.

One of the things that I love about your brand and why my company is called Inspired Living, Gorjana, is because when we can build businesses that are making an impact in the world in some way. Whether it’s B2C or by giving back in a charity sense, that is inspired living. When you can create your own income, you have freedom, you have autonomy but you’re also giving back, that to me is what inspired living is. That is one of the reasons why I’ve loved you and your brand so much as well. Let’s talk a little bit about the philanthropy arm and where did that come about?

One of the things I remember producing being on our apartment floor and we’re doing this thing. Both having a conversation, we would say like, “We’re not curing brain cancer here. We’re making pretty jewelry.” In the beginning, we both have this altruistic need of wanting more and giving back. We realized that but how we’re going to do that is by building a company, taking that, giving back to causes that are important to us and helping those around us. It doesn’t have to be that what we do or we have to run a nonprofit to make it fulfilling. That’s been the motto.

It’s so important for us to give back. It gives so much meaning to what we do. Even for me, as this has grown, having customers share their personal and emotional stories of how they’re connected to the brand and the product is so fulfilling and so rewarding that I didn’t realize at that time what I was putting out there. Jewelry is different. You’re not emotionally attached to a t-shirt. Maybe, if there was given some circumstance but with jewelry, there’s meaning to people. Even I freak out and be like, “I lost that earring.” Jason is like, “Are you serious? There’s a hundred of these.” “It’s that one.”

You have a piece and every time you put it on, you can think of something or you know it gives back or there’s a story behind that. That’s the beautiful thing about jewelry that it does make you feel something. By the way, every brand should make you feel something.

One thing with the stores that’s great is we have this we have these giving back charity events that we do. If you have a charity that you love, you can come in, throw a party and we’ll give 19% that goes back to your charity of choice. That’s one way, we like to give back. We also have bigger corporate things that we did. Years ago, we started Team Hunger. Once a year, we set up at all the grocery stores around here and ask people to pick up extra canned goods as they’re inside. It started as a fun little way to get our employees and ourselves to do something fun together and a way to give back. Now, we do it every year and it’s cool. It’s little ways like that. They’re small but they mean a lot altogether. It doesn’t have to be this huge thing. At one point, we did talk about starting a charity arm and we were like, “That’s a whole another business.”

You don’t have to do something on this grandiose scale. You’ve created deeper meaning for your consumers and for you. That is inspired living. That is a way to go. Let’s wrap up. Give me your top pieces of advice for people that are looking to start or grow a business.

One of my biggest things is truth. It’s being truthful and honest with yourself. Being truthful and honest with your employees and having those check-ins of like, “Does this feel right?” Don’t do things based on what you think you should do but be honest to yourself and authentic to what feels good to you. It’s what we talked about is adaptability. You have to be adaptable. You have to be able to realize when something isn’t working but not too adaptable where you’re all over the place. You have to find your grounding, your authenticity, be you, know the why of what you’re doing something and then be adaptable as to the best way to make that happen.

It’s great advice, Gorjana. Thank you for sharing with us. Check out her beautiful jewelry line if you don’t know about it yet. If there’s a retail shop near you, you have to go check one out too because it is quite the most beautiful experience going in that shop. It’s hard to leave. I had my daughter with me or else I might’ve stayed for a long time. I hope this inspired you. We would love to hear from you. If you are inspired, take a minute, take a breath, and share this with someone because when you’re inspired, you inspire others. That is what this world is all about. Gorjana, thank you so much.

Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

As always, remember to keep dreaming it, living it and being in it. Until next time.

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Our blog features a series of interviews with some of the most visible and inspiring people world wide (ILTV) PLUS inspiration, business tips, and advice from Keri.