In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Heather DeSimone, owner of Leetie Lovendale. Leetie Lovendale sells jewelry made with vintage parts, is based in Chandler, Arizona, and has been in business for nine years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Heather: We cleaned out a warehouse full of vintage plastic jewelry parts way back in 2004. These jewelry components were originally manufactured between the early 60’s and the early 1980’s, and we stumbled upon the contents when we had a bead store and specialized in selling jewelry components to the DIY jewelry makers.
In 2013 a move brought us across the country, so we closed our store and moved all the plastics with us, from Maine to Arizona. I started making jewelry with those parts and turned it into a full time business.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
H: When we first cleaned out the warehouse, the gentleman there who had run their business for years showed us what they used to do with the jewelry components they made. They worked with huge companies back in the day such as Avon, Coro & Miriam Haskell, making components to spec for their lines.
At the time, we were buying the plastics to resell in our store to other makers. But my husband took note of how their old-timer machines were built and when we decided to start Leetie Lovendale, he hand-built our machines so that we could circumvent using adhesives in our jewelry.
From there, simple stud earrings with a post grew into new ideas such as connecting these parts in other ways. We now have a line that includes sculptured statement necklaces, statement earrings, and cocktail rings just to name a few of the newer items.
R: How do you make your product? What’s your process like?
H: We have a garage bay full of vintage plastics. When we want to start a new design, we’ll consider new color and shape trends and basically ‘shop the parts’ in our own warehouse and play with the layout and structure of the new piece.
We make everything in house and there are now three of us who work with manipulating the old plastics for new designs as well as production and filling orders.
R: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
H: I’m a mom of two teen boys and my business is still in our home. Although we are fast out-growing our studio, I’m hoping to keep ‘in-house’ until our kiddos move out. We have dedicated storage and studio spaces, but they definitely spill into my every day momming life as well.
I get up and get my kiddos out the door for the day. I will sit and look over emails and social media over coffee and check in with my husband Chris. Then when the ‘work day’ starts, my assistant will show up and we go over the daily goals, prioritizing orders, online and computer work, production work and more.
Of course, my favorite part is the creative end of the business. I love coming up with new custom colors and combinations as well as new designs. The reality hits when we have a new line developed and then comes the real work of photographing, adding them online, promoting them on social media and more.
Each little piece of jewelry really has a life cycle from inception to sale. I do enjoy parts of all the process, but we have grown a lot in the last two years and I do have help in getting a lot of the daily stuff done.
R: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
H: Well, we actually invested in the plastics and initial warehouse buy-out when I owned an entirely different business. When that business closed, I purchased the remaining plastics with savings. And then the business has just been self-funded by reinvesting profits up until this point.
R: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
H: I actually started selling Leetie Lovendale on the side during the time I owned and ran the bead store. The first place I sold was actually at a local flea market in Portland, Maine called The Portland Flea for All.
Then we expanded, taking our products to market in Boston at a show that was super popular called SOWA. Once we got to see peoples’ reactions to the product on the streets, we knew we had something we could brand and expand online.
I do miss those days of interacting with shoppers on the street, face to face. They loved seeing the booth space with all the colors set up like a candy store.
People love to dig through the vintage shapes and designs to pick their own collection. They also love that the jewelry is lightweight, and that we are not putting new plastics out into the world, but repurposing old stock.
R: Where do you sell your product now?
H: Online and in 100+ boutiques.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
H: I’d love to expand to larger, well-curated stores.
R: Do you have a favorite product?
H: I love our Donut Drop Earrings and Bangle Hoops. Both styles are big and unapologetic, yet light weight and easy to wear.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
H: Yes, it’s a huge part of our business. I love Instagram and we post daily to our stories and regular posts. We also have a growing Sample Sale VIP group on Facebook where shoppers get the first peek of new designs and can shop even before styles hit the website.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with Leetie Lovendale?
H: Trying to do it all. As we grow it has become super important to delegate and ask for help, which is not necessarily something that comes naturally to me. But that’s getting better and our growth explodes when we are able to get our team working and I have time to get creative, make new things, and start the process all over again.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with Leetie Lovendale?
H: We have been featured in some great press including jewelry placements with popular TV shows and award show gift bags. We were really happy to be in 100 boutiques and are celebrating that recent milestone by doing ‘stockist features’ on our social media to get the word out and share where ‘Leetie Lovers’ can find Leetie locally.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
H: Listen and be willing to learn. There is so much information available to us. There has never been a time in history where everyone has had the ability to build a hugely successful company.
As you listen and learn, you have to be willing to say no to some things that might present themselves as opportunities so that you can say yes to others.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
H: I love that quote ‘A rising tide raises all boats.’ I also love to help other fellow makers and entrepreneurs and share things I’ve learned over the years. I know that I’ve benefited greatly over the years from the generosity of information from others, so I try to give that back when I can.
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
H: Freedom. It doesn’t come without its sacrifices, but I love that I have the ability to make my time my own.