This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of So Scottsdale! magazine.
Kendra Scott laughs that she grew up in the fashion mecca of the world: Kenosha, Wis. But the jewelry designer credits that Midwestern upbringing and work ethic for where she is today. “I'm thankful for where I grew up,” says Scott. “That hard work ethic helped shape me.” It has obviously paid off – big time – for the designer, who now owns six boutiques around the country (with a seventh opening in March) and has online sales, as well.
Where it all began
Scott knows exactly when her love of fashion began. Her aunt was fashion director for the highly celebrated, but now-defunct, Gimbels department stores. Her aunt would travel the world and return from fashion shows with slides. Scott would sit in her parents’ basement, watch the slides, and at the tender age of seven would learn from her aunt how to forecast trends.
“I was fascinated with it,” says Scott, with the same passion she must have had at that early age. “It was an industry I knew I wanted to be a part of even then. I focused on fashion and knew it was what I wanted to do.” When it came time for college, however, her practical Midwestern father encouraged her to study something more real-world. “I’m glad I have that experience in marketing and advertising,” says Scott. “I’m thankful to my father for that. I’ve been able to use my knowledge of branding in my business.”
Never say never
After moving to Austin, Texas with her mother and stepfather, Scott’s passion turned into her first business at age 19. When her stepfather was diagnosed with brain cancer, she watched a lot of brave women looking for ways to feel better about themselves during chemo. “I saw a need to blend my love of fashion with giving back to my community,” explains Scott. Thus was born her first business, designing custom hats for women.
She had two retail locations in Austin and one of the very first online hat retail shops–HatBox.com. She kept the retail shops for five years and swore she would never have another retail business. She had worked harder than she had ever worked in her life on the shops.
After college, Scott worked for Destinations Weddings and Honeymoons magazine, traveling the world to exotic and romantic honeymoon locations–alone. It gave her plenty of time to think about her true love of fashion. “I began sketching accessories then and knew I wanted to get back into fashion.” Her chance came almost out of necessity.
When she was pregnant with her first son, now 11, she knew she wouldn’t be able to travel as much. In fact, she ended up on bed rest during much of her pregnancy. It was a terrible time for Scott–pregnant and her husband unemployed. She got a few beads and began designing basic jewelry. When her son was three months old, she decided to try to sell some of her work–their lives depended on it.
“I took $500 out of our account and that was a lot for us,” remembers Scott. “I put my jewelry in this wooden tea box we’d gotten for a wedding gift, put the baby in a Baby Bjorn carrier, and set off going store to store in Austin. I promised my husband I’d bring home $1000.” She laughs. “I don’t know if they liked my jewelry or they felt sorry for me, but I placed orders. At the last store, I had to sell my samples so I could afford the materials to make what I had sold.”
Little did she know where those first sales would lead. “I walked back in the house that night and told my husband, ‘We’ve got ourselves a business’,” Scott remembers. Now, back in the retail business again, she thinks back to her promise of never owning another retail store. “I guess the lesson is, you should never say never,” she laughs.
Scott finds inspiration everywhere–in nature, botanicals, leaves, peacock feathers. “I’m here in California for the new store and I was inspired by the chandelier at the Hotel Bel Air,” she says. “I started taking pictures of it, of the silhouette.”
Yet the real inspirations for her designs, according to Scott, are the women who wear her jewelry. “Women who wear jewelry are dynamic, outgoing, vivacious, energetic. My customers might be 14 or they might be 75–it doesn’t matter because they’re the same girls, only one is older.”
A trademark of the Kendra Scott jewelry lines is color. Scott uses semi-precious stones, unique colors. They buy all of their own stones in the rough, often infuse them with unusual colors, and cut them to their own shapes. “Everything is handcrafted in our own studios in Austin,” says Scott. “After we create them, then we make a mold. Nothing is mass produced.” That includes the clasps. Scott says her goal is to make sure a woman looks as good leaving as she does coming.
Scott set out to design jewelry for a broader range of women. She wanted a quality product that was affordable. Her signature earrings, the Danielle earrings, are $60. One of the other key concepts Scott is known for is customization through her “Color Bar.” Women in the design studio in the Austin headquarters enjoyed going to the walls of colored stones and empty silhouettes of earrings to create their own pieces for an evening out. Scott thought that would be fun to take to the customers. Despite people telling her she was crazy for wanting to let customers “play” with the jewelry, Scott was determined and it has become a big hit.
“I call it my Build-a-Bear for grown up women,” laughs Scott. Customers come in to create their own jewelry, play with the piece, see how it will look using touch screens and walk out with a custom piece of jewelry. The experience isn’t expensive. For example, to fill a beautiful chandelier dangle earring–the Gwen Earring–with a seascape of blue stones would cost about $100. Scott says it has become a great treat for bridal groups or parties, with the women showing up with champagne and cupcakes and building their jewelry together.
Scott is involved in each location as it opens. She helps design the interiors, picking out every piece of hardware and design element. She did the same at the Scottsdale store.
Scottsdale was a perfect match for the Kendra Scott line. In fact, Scott loves the area and has a collection inspired by Arizona. “I visited the area and Scottsdale Quarter,” explains Scott. “I loved the idea of the area and the customer-driven feel. It was a good fit.” Scott says the women of Scottsdale are ideal customers–fashionable, chic and love to get dressed up. She says they are the perfect Kendra Scott woman.
Looking to the future
Scott hasn’t decided to sit back and let life roll past. She has big plans for the future. Already she has six boutiques, a seventh opening in Newport Beach in March. There are plans for up to five new shops in 2013. Customers can purchase her ready-made pieces at Nordstrom, Niemen-Marcus, Bloomingdales and more than 850 specialty boutiques across the country. But Scott doesn’t want to stop with jewelry. “I have so much more I want to do. I believe my design aesthetic and color is perfect for other designs and accessories,” she explains. “Jewelry is just the beginning.”
Despite all of her success in the industry, Scott says she is a mom first and foremost. The three most important things in her life and her company are family, fashion and philanthropy. She is a single mom raising her two sons and wants to always be there for her boys. As a company, Kendra Scott believes in giving back to the local community and encourages local stores to remain involved in their communities, particularly women and children’s charities.
“I want to be able to look back when I’m in the rocker on my porch and know that we were able to contribute in a meaningful way, while supplying great jewelry to women.”
View the Kendra Scott collection online at kendrascott.com or visit the Scottsdale store at Scottsdale Quarter.
[Susan Lanier-Graham can be reached at www.wanderwithwonder.com]