It’s no wonder that while we’ve spent the awards season obsessing over fashion’s new it girl, Lupita Nyong’o, Lupita has spent her awards season obsessing over Chicago’s own, Dana Rebecca. Not that this should come as a surprise, Dana Rebecca Gordon’s office walls are covered in some of the world’s most glamorous stars donning her designs, and her celebrity following is growing by the minute. Chicagoans should take pride in knowing that some of the most dazzling diamond jewelery being worn in Hollywood is being designed high above Michigan Avenue at Dana Rebecca Designs. We recently dropped by the DRD offices and showroom, along with our friend and aspiring jeweler, MaryPat, to get the inside scoop on what really goes into launching and running such a notable fine jewelry line.
How did you get started in jewelery design?
My family’s been in the diamond industry for 40 years on the manufacturing side. I was 16 years old on a trip to India with my dad, I pied in on a design conversation he was having and he was surprised. I had been making beaded jewelery for a long time but I said something very specific about the design of a piece of diamond jewelery. So that prompted him to ask me if I was interested, and that night he called a couple people and we had a couple meetings the next day with designers which lead to me producing a full collection at 16. I was very lucky! I couldn’t have done it without the support of my dad. It was a full collection of mostly emeralds, rubies and sapphires, so color stones. I launched my first collection at a gold outing for a children’s brittle bones in the summer and I sold out the collection in 48 hours. So I did that year after year, and then after graduating from Texas I decided to do the Applied jewelery Arts program at the GIA [Gemological Institute of America]. So I went to Carlsbad and I did the design program there. i wasn’t interested in becoming a gemologist. I had experience in buying stones, and I had so many resources in that at home that I wanted to get involved in the process of making jewelery. The program was six months and I did it right out of college.
What did you do after leaving the GIA?
After Carlsbad I came home to Chicago and launched Dana Rebecca Designs in May. My first collection was called It’s A Dana, it was a very young, child moment of family friends always saying “It’s a Dana” when people asked what their jewelery was, it was somewhat of a joke, but it became my business name at the time. Out of design school I wanted to have a more sophisticated brand, and that was when I launched Dana Rebecca Designs.
What was the process of growing your business?
I was very adamant that my first few years owning a business I would do everything myself. I worked out of my dad’s office and I did all the selling, all the bookkeeping, all the PR. I was the sole employee. I wanted to be in the know. I think so many people start businesses and they just hire, so I went into it really wanting to learn, and be the one and only person who figured it out. I’m a very creative person, but I’m very business minded. For me, the business is more important to me, while for so many people the creative overrides the business aspect. It’ll be seven years in May when I turn 30! So much has been accomplished, but think about it I started when I was 16. When I got married in 2012 I had probably 5 or 6 guests wearing something from my first collection. I’m very adamant that my designs will stand the test of time. No trends. There will be nothing that will eventually go out of style. Nothing that you will say “my mom bought this, it’s so ’80′s!”, I don’t believe in that.
Has there been a defining moment in your career?
My defining moment was probably in 2011 when I got a call from the producers at HARPO asking if I would take part in Oprah’s Favorite Things. Life changed when I got that call. It was against the advice of my father to be a part of it, because he felt that I was over extending myself. I made a very large investment into it, and the reality of the situation was that I was 25 at the time, and if things didn’t go well I’d have to get a job, and I’d owe that money for a very long time. I was also very fortunate that at the time, we had great relationships with celebrity stylists such as Rachel Zoe and Petra Flannery. In that same winter, Rachel and Petra both purchased holiday gifts for their clients from me. You can see her [points to photo wall] Mila Kunis, Demi Moore, those were some of the first girls wearing my Lauren Joy Mini Necklace, and the line took on a life of its own after that. Mila has been wearing that necklace for 4 years! She’s been such a dedicated fan of ours. I literally could not have built this business without so many people along the way whether it was Oprah, or Rachel, or Petra… I was so lucky to have so many great things happen at once, it went from zero to 100!
So when did you hire your first employee?
Right around then! So, 2010. Now there’s 9 total employees. It’s hard to believe that the toughest thing about being a business owner is managing people. I remember my dad saying to me “Hold off! Hold off! The minute you start hiring things will never be the same!”, and it’s so true. I remember thinking the first week I had an employee thinking okay, now I’m responsible for somebody else’s well being, and their paycheck.
What are the latest happenings for DRD?
I’m so blessed and honored that things have gone as far and as well as they have. Last year in February we opened up our New York showroom. We decided that we wanted to do it on our own and have control over how the brand is represented rather than going into an existing showroom and having somebody represent the brand for us. My sister lives in New York and she is running the showroom there, so all the stresses involved with expanding have been lessened tremendously by having my sister on my side! There’s of course positives and negatives of working with family, but it’s been the most incredible year! We’ve expanded to Bloomingdales and Nordstrom, in 2013, and we’re learning something new everyday!
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
I sit down with a lot of jewelery designers, I don’t feel like there was that much competition 13 years ago, but now everybody wants to be a jewelery designer. I launched right out of college, no business plan, no idea of where I wanted to be, but I always tell people that there is nothing better than having that plan. I always tell people to plan out that path! What’s your goal? What are your dreams? I never expected to have this beautiful showroom on Michigan Avenue, I thought I would work from home, or a family office, but as the business took off post-Oprah I wanted my name on the door. I wanted to have something that was mine. It’s very fun and exciting, but when I do talk to young entrepreneurs I tell them that I wish I had known a little more, but every mistake I made along the way has worked for me and gotten me there. I’m definitely a risk taker, and there’s not one thing I’ve done in the past 13 years that I regret.
SIGN: Taurus | GUILTY PLEASURE: Bravo | CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT: My buddha necklace | BIGGEST LAUGH: My husband on a daily basis – he’s the funniest person I know! | RESTAURANT: Shanghai Terrace at the Peninsula | BEST COMPLIMENT: My haircolor (natural) | STARBUCKS ORDER: Tall Blonde | DREAM JOB: Doing it. | BAG: Givenchy Antigona | SHOE: Jimmy Choo Rabbit Fur Boot | WATCH: Bangles took over my wrist so no watch | PERFUME: Kai | SIGNATURE ACCESSORY: My buddha necklace | MOISTURIZER: Jan Marini | LIPSTICK: Laura Mercier Gloss, no lipstick | NAIL POLISH: Essie minimalistic | HAIR STYLIST: Ashley Young – Salon Buzz on Superior – the best | FAVORITE DESIGNER: Nina Ricci | BEST DEAL: Old Navy Maternity | NEWS SOURCE: New York Times | SNACK: Skinny Pop | BEST VACATION: Viceroy Riviera Maya for my honeymoon | WORKOUT: Shred415 | BEST FRIEND: My sister | MOVIE: Adventures and Babysitting | HOTEL: Raj Villas in Jaipur India | CURRENTLY READING: The Dinner | DREAM DINNER PARTY: Olivia Pope, Quinn Perkins, and Huck.
[Photos by Hallie Duesenberg]