Last month I had the pleasure of sitting down with jewelry designer Kendra Scott outside her new Chicago store at 900 N. Michigan.  I’ve been familiar with Kendra’s gorgeous pieces for awhile, and loved hearing the stories behind them as well as learning more about her journey as an entrepreneur along with her endless philanthropic efforts.

How did you get started in the jewelry industry?

The first business I had was a hat company  I had a hat store, and I actually made jewelry for the store and friends and family.  People started gravitating toward the jewelry.  Then on the other hand, I always had trouble finding the jewelry I wanted.  I wanted affordable pieces with semiprecious stones.  I started to realize that if I could create a way to give women custom, beautiful, hand-crafted jewelry that was attainable that would be white space in the market.  So in 2002 I set out to do just that and Kendra Scott was born.

What was the first piece of jewelry you designed?

It was always colored stones.  My first collection was very turquoise heavy, with a lot of blues, but it was always about mixing stones and colors together.  The iconic piece came once I had enough production to start cutting my own stones and stone shapes and that is our Danielle Earring.  That gorgeous slab that you see on the red carpet and on celebrities.  That’s our crown jewel, our identifiable, iconic piece.  Now every single stone is faceted and cut by hand.  We’re always trying to do something fresh and unique when it comes to semi-precious stones and interpret them in new and different ways.

What is your design process like?

Well, I’m always designing.  The next collection is always designed about a year out.  I’m inspired by everything!  Our summer collection is inspired by a trip I took to the French Riviera and vintage Cote d’azur with multi chains, blue waters, and shell.  We look at what’s trending in the industry in terms of color pallets, and we bring our design team in to all collaborate together.  It’s a long process from deciding the shapes and making all the wax molds in house in Austin, Texas.  We hand carve the stone shapes out of wax and send them off to be faceted.  I get so excited when the collection finally launches because it’s been a year of work leading up to it.

What’s on trend for jewelry at the moment?

Layering and statement.  We think you can layer small delicate pieces to be a statement.  Or, an ear climber, or a statement earring.  You could also have a “hand party” with a bunch of different bracelets.  It’s not as much just one piece anymore, as it is combining pieces.

Is there one woman you’re dying to see a Kendra Scott piece on?

We have so many amazing celebrities wearing our jewelry!  I get so excited when I see anyone wearing our jewelry, let alone a celebrity.  I love Jessica Alba.  I think she’s a powerhouse of a woman, and she’s a mom, and she buys our jewelry and wears it because she loves it.  So I often feel like the women I admire are already wearing Kendra Scott.  It’s amazing!

How do you find a balance between running a company and spending time with your family?

I think if any woman tells you she has it figured out she’s lying, because every single day it’s a balance.  I think you just saw me walk in here with my youngest son.  Every day you just try to do the best you can.  We make it work, and surround ourselves with great people that know family comes first, and that their families come first. We really believe that in our company.  You can have a wonderful high powered career and be present for your family. My team knows that when I pick my kids up for dinner time they shouldn’t bother me unless something is burning down.  I don’t let anything get in the way of those precious evening hours with the kids, but it takes discipline.  When you start to enforce boundaries like that a funny thing happens and people only respect you more.

How nice that you’ve set that up not only for your family but your employees.

Yes, our corporate headquarters has a wellness room for moms that are pumping, with pictures of all the babies on the wall and cashmere blankets.  We want to have that.  We have a new room where we’ll have an xbox and a computer at a study desk for older kids who want to come after school and do their homework.  We want the parents at Kendra Scott to know that we support their families, and regardless of what stage your family is in.  As a mom of teenagers and now a toddler I can really relate to that.

Hopefully your workplace environment only continues to spark that trend in other offices.

I hope that our company is an example to other business owners and entrepreneurs that one you can have a company that is very fiscally and financially responsible that also puts families first and treats employees well, and two- you can give back to your community.  This year alone we’re giving over a million dollars from Kendra Gives Back, and over 50,000 pieces of jewelry to different causes nationwide.

What else can you tell us about your philanthropic efforts through the business?

In our 38 stores we do Kendra Gives Back events, and anyone can call us whether you’re a big charity or just have a friend in need and we’ll give 20% back to the cause from the evening’s party.  Then if you have a non-profit that needs something for a silent auction or raffle item give your local store a call and we’ll never say no.  We always have something we can give.  I’ve done this since I started the business in my spare bedroom.  I could always make an extra pair of earrings or an extra necklace.  So we’ve kept that going for the past 13 years and we’re not going to stop anytime soon. It’s exciting to get into the communities and help.  A lot of business just have one or two philanthropic focuses, which is great, but we really want to get into the communities and be a sense of support, engaging on a local level.  I grew up in a small community in Kenosha, Wisconsin and learned that you always help your neighbor.  It’s how I was raised.

Being from  the Midwest, is there anything you’re looking forward to doing while in Chicago?

This is my favorite city in the whole United States!  I’m staying for the whole weekend and we’re going to take the baby to The Children’s Museum and ride the carousel if it’s still going this time of year.  We love the boats at Navy Pier, and going to Millennium Park.  The food is amazing!  I do live in the South, and in Texas people are very friendly, and I find it’s the exact same here.  When I interview people from the Midwest I instantly know.  Our team here in this store is made up of the most loving and caring people.

[Photos By Hallie Duesenberg]

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