I mentioned a few weeks ago how I’d met Jillian for coffee, but little did you probably know, it was our first time ever meeting up! Jillian is a recent entrepreneur, so when she suggested we get together and talk shop, how could I resist? And I’m so glad I didn’t. Her jewelry shop, Sweet and Spark, carries amazing vintage pieces — the kind of stuff you always want to find at a flea market or garage sale, and really only do like 10% of the time (how cool are all these necklaces she’s sourced??). Jillian has a true passion for costume jewelry, and Sweet and Spark is filled with classic options at great price points. I was so excited to learn more about how she launched her e-shop and her background in person, that I just had to share her story with you for a Style to Inspire column!
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get interested in costume jewelry, and why did you decide to launch a shop featuring found pieces?
I have over 5 years of corporate buying experience for large American brands- Bloomingdales, Gap, & American Eagle Outfitters but have always been entrepreneurial at heart. My dadâ€™s been an antique enthusiast for over 30 years and I grew up being competitive at yards sales with him on the weekend. I never saw any glamour in the chase but, I did always find awesome jewelry that my friends would always comment on! When the new brand I was working on for American Eagle Outfitters closed last year, I chose to leave corporate America and pursue my dream of building a brand that bridges the gap between contemporary & vintage. My mission is to make vintage costume jewelry cool, accessible & affordable again.
How do you go about finding all the treasures featured in the shop? What’s your favorite part of the curating process?
Leveraging my dadâ€™s experience, weâ€™re doing the â€œdirty workâ€ and scouring flea markets, yard sales & antique stores. While my dad spends his summers in Upstate NY and winters in South Florida, my home base is San Francisco, so we are both out there every weekend shopping both coasts. Costume jewelry is competitive so in order to get the best pieces, you have to be first at flea markets and that means getting up as early as 5am!
My favorite part of the curating process is building meaning out of a bunch of amazing, random pieces. In order to do this, I have a stockpile of inventory that Iâ€™m always re-sorting based on whatâ€™s happening in the current jewelry market. The goal is to build seasonal collections mimicking current trends. Right now we have a black & white and bold gold collection online, which are both spring trends!
When it comes to costume jewelry, there’s such a wide array out there as far as style, quality, and obviously time periods. What does Sweet and Spark mostly focus on? What are some tips for gals who are shopping for jewelry at flea markets, estate sales, and garage sales?
Our focus is to make vintage affordable and accessible to everyone. The core of our brand is timeless classics- gold chains, bangles, tassels & pendant necklaces. Our average price is $30 and we focus on pieces from the 1940s-1990s. The majority of our assortment is designer signed by the likes of Monet, Napier, Avon, & Liz Claiborne.
For starters, I recommend going to antique stores as they have the largest variety and best quality. For the gals that donâ€™t mind getting out there early (& getting a little dirty), flea markets have some of the best treasures for the best price. While I believe a little wear to the finish gives a piece character, make sure to stay away from pieces that are broken, missing stones or have any green gunk on them. They are more trouble than they are worth!
The online jewelry industry has evolved so much in the last few years, putting increased power in the hands of consumers as well as small start up brands and individual sellers. Especially with the influence of blogs and social media, how do you think the industry will continue to evolve over the next 5 years?
There is so much opportunity in the jewelry market. Most of the time, jewelry is an after thought for apparel companies. Thereâ€™s been an abundance of small jewelry brands that are popping up and the market is wide open for someone to become the â€œmust haveâ€ contemporary jewelry brand!
As far as vintage goes, I think thereâ€™s even more opportunity as people are looking to standout from the crowd. Jewelry is the easiest way to add personality to any outfit.
Whatâ€™s the best part about owning your own business? The most challenging?
The sweet notes & instagram pics from friends and customers about how much they like their new spark keep me energized. Also, some woman just bought a pair of earrings for her wedding day, which is so incredibly special to me.
The biggest challenge is balancing the long-term vision with the day to day. The possibilities are so exciting; you just have to work as hard as you can & remember to believe. Passion is the only thing that gets you through those tough days.
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in starting their own business? What about those that are interested in launching an online shop?
Just start! Start a blog, meet someone interesting for coffee, attend a conference, take a class, read a book. You evolve from there. Itâ€™s been amazing how open people are to helping when you just put yourself out there.
I started sweet & spark as a lifestyle blog (& it still is @ blog.sweetandspark.com) in April 2011 as a platform to teach myself some new creative skills (photography, basic coding, photoshop, graphic design) because my experience was weighted on the business side of retail. Before re-launching as a vintage jewelry brand, I attended the Independent Fashion Bloggers conference in NYC to network with other bloggers, took a few Skillshare classes, spent a lot of time watching Youtube videos & posted ads on craigslist for help on things I couldnâ€™t figure out on my own. And I still have a lot to learn!