When you run your own business, you’re always learning, no matter what stage you’ve reached. That’s the lesson Tracey Heinemann is integrating to her Wilton-based jewelry business, White Moth, which she launched in 2010.
The business started as a hobby. “It was me finding things at either flea markets or during travels–already made things like horns, old dog tags and vintage pieces, and finding chains to put them together. As I got into it more and started to learn about casting metal and the process of jewelry design, I found I was wishing I could make it a little more like this or I had that–I was always subject to what I could find. This past year I really changed it–it’s been less about finding things and putting them together, and more of designing things, drawing and working with a manufacturing facility to produce things.”
Surprisingly, while fashion and accessories weren’t Heinemann’s first career track, she’s been able to layer what she calls a “side addiction to jewelry” over what she used to do professionally–advertising and marketing. In her past life, she’d worked for big advertising agencies and corporations like MasterCard and Chase Bank, as well as a branding firm with clients like Snapple. “I always wished I could somehow parlay my profession and experience into fashion but never quite got there. Then a friend with a jewelry business showed me how to do it to take it to the next level, of taking something that is a true passion and turning it into a business.”
Mixing design with advertising and business gave Heinemann the learning experience to grow a small business, and she’s found it exhilarating. Taking the first step, she brought her burgeoning line to a trade show in August 2012 and met retailers who excitedly placed orders to got press coverage pretty quickly, including from VOGUE and Cosmopolitan magazines. “You’re in a league with people who have done it for a while and you see if you can play in the game or do you need to just go back to it as a hobby.
“From there, I started seeing that I have something here. I went from being in locally four stores, to about 30 stores across the U.S., all from meeting people at the show, as well as a store in Switzerland and another big account in Puerto Rico.”
The line itself is fashion jewelry, white the trade calls costume or bridge. It’s definitely stylish and is described as “rebel chic.”
“It’s got a kind of downtown edge with Upper East Side appeal. It’s a twist where you feel like you can be a rebel rock and roll chick, but still have a classic outfit on. You’re not going too far out of your comfort zone. I still want that edge, but I’m now moving into something that’s more sleek and modern, more refined. Still statement pieces, just not so P. Diddy with the chains,” laughs Heinemann, who jokes that with two boys aged 15 and 12, she’s enjoying the chance to bust out of the sweatpants-and-ponytail routine and get her edge back.
With the heat turned up to high on industry and consumer interest in White Moth, Heinemann has had to quickly learn the ropes of running and growing not only the manufacturing–managing quality control overseas along with production and timing of delivery–but doing the same to nurture the business.
“I’m also very interested in learning and producing fine jewelry.” As for the designs she’s currently working on, she’s modernizing the direction and trying to keep her relationships with the current boutiques that carry her and trying to grow into stores with more than one location. “I’m figuring out how to shoot for that as a goal, and how can I manufacture to achieve that?”
She’s excited not just by where White Moth’s current direction is headed, but she also finds it especially gratifying to see that consumers like it too. Like the first time she spotted someone she didn’t know wearing one of her original designs.
“This past April I was at LaGuardia Airport with my kids and I saw a woman and I thought, ‘She’s really stylish, I love her outfit.’ She ended up being on my flight and as she walked by I saw her wrist, and she had one of my bracelets on. I went ‘Ah!’ and my son noticed it and said, ‘Mommy! That was one of your bracelets!’ That was really great. You are very humbled by it, and grateful that people buy it and like it and appreciate your style. It was the first time something I had drawn, and designed and watched come to life from pencil and paper to an actual piece of jewelry.”
Heinemann’s success in the almost four years since jumping off with White Moth has been something she’s found incredibly satisfying. She’s looking forward to bringing it to the next level. Ironically, she’s working on that most immediately with the help of some high schoolers–specifically Casey Chase, Ingrid Wang and Jenna Lee (L to R) three Wilton High School seniors who are spending their last month of senior year interning with Heinemann.
“As you grow you business where is the time best spent. You want to do it all, and you can’t, so as you go you figure what you can and what you can’t. A business consultant once told me, ‘You can’t grow your business until you have a group of people, a staff that works for you and they should be able to do everything seamlessly, so you can be focused on sales and design. That’s the only place you should be, and until that’s running turnkey, you’ll be running everything and you won’t be able to grow.’ So for me, having the WHS interns has been wonderful–not only because I grew up here and went to WHS and always want to support it, and the girls have been amazing–but it’s given me the opportunity to see if I can successfully [delegate] and they make it happen…and they can. It’s a great learning process for me too.”
What the Interns are Learning
White Moth’s three interns are helping Heinemann not only with day-to-day functions but they’re also helping her produce a special Jewelry Summer Sale, this Thursday, June 5, at the White Moth studio at Heinemann’s home, at 200 Dudley Rd..
“It’s fun jewelry at a really great price, and it allows them to experience how we market it, what we do on social media, how do we advertise it. Today’s project is for them to paint a sign to put out in front for people who aren’t on Facebook or on my email list, to let them know there’s a sale going on.”
Heinemann has compiled some checkpoints of starting a business that she’s hoping the interns will learn during their time working with her. “At times they’ll be working in fulfillment and shipping things; other times they put together marketing pieces; we’ll probably visit stores and see how they take the brand from your house and what it looks like out in the world; they may scout new markets I want to enter, like Greenwich. We talk about sales, new business development, account management, putting together target lists–they have a feel for the esthetics and the line, they’ll go check out stores they think are the best fit and why.”
For Ingrid, who is going to study engineering at USC because she really likes math and science–but she also likes art, and likes to do arts and crafts, to sew and to do origami–the experience has broadened what she’ll consider pursuing. “I like the creative, artistic aspect, and seeing how Tracey has started her business from scratch is really interesting–how it’s done, how it can grow and how it can be successful.”
Casey agreed: “For me what appealed was the marketing and advertising, but also learning how she started her business from a hobby. It’s been great real world experience.”
Jenna enjoys the different learning environment: “Today we’re making a sign; another day we did a photo shoot, we’ve made jewelry. It’s cool to see everything that goes into making the line. It’s not just sitting in a classroom.”
Heinemann says the interns have added so much to White Moth. “These three women happen to be star performers. They’re all academically over-the-moon achievers. They already have a business sense, they bring me great ideas, and they have a way about them you know they’re going to take over the world and be successful.”
Heinemann and her intern team are all excited about the sale on Thursday. They’re selling one-of-a-kind bracelets, necklaces and rings no longer carried in stores at a great discount. There will also be items the interns have designed themselves. Pieces from White Moth’s current line in stores usually retail $150-$400; sale items will range anywhere from $30-$70, or up to 50 percent off what those pieces were sold for when they were carried in stores.
In addition, there will be a DIY “make your own charm necklace” station for attendees to select chains or leather strands to choose some of the unique and fun charms to build their own unique design. Heinemann will also give a gift to anyone who spends $100 or more at the sale.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to make it work, and I love it with all my heart. It truly is not a job for me. I want to be sitting back here in my office, designing and working on it all the time.”