Ethical Diamonds of the Future
In the spirit of Women’s History Month, we interviewed four-year Start Small Think Big entrepreneur and designer, Gwen Beloti. Gwen has recently accomplished a new height in her entrepreneurial journey by being announced as one of the six designers a part of the 2023 Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative by the Natural Diamond Council.
The mission of the Natural Diamond Council is to advance the integrity of the modern diamond jewelry industry as well as inspire, educate,and protect the consumer. Launched in 2021, the Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative (EDDI) was created to support and elevate Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) diamond and fine jewelry designers. As a part of the program, designers such as Gwen will receive a $20,000 diamond credit at cost, retail opportunities, selling support, press opportunities, and diamond education. They also receive monetary funds for production, CADs, and sampling are provided to. As part of the EDDI program, the designers will create and launch a natural diamond jewelry capsule collection and will also be invited to present at this year’s Luxury by JCK Show, taking place May 31 – June 5, 2023 in Las Vegas.
Opportunities like this oftentimes feel larger than life for an entrepreneur of a small business. Gwen herself had considered applying back in 2021 when the program had first started but found herself having feelings of imposter syndrome and ultimately decided not to apply that year. However, not only did she submit an application for the 2023 EDDI, she was encouraged to. Making this Women’s History Month feel like a full circle moment for her entrepreneurial self from two years ago.
When did you first begin making jewelry?
I’ve always been a fan and have been obsessed with jewelry since I was in my early teens or maybe even younger. As far as making it—about four years ago, I started tweaking pieces that I currently own. I would take it to a jeweler and ask them if they can modify it in this way or that way. Then I took a couple of jewelry classes, not formal jewelry education, but I just wanted to have a better understanding of the ins and outs of how to handle it and make some minor adjustments. But I’ve always been obsessed with jewelry. It’s not that it’s super expensive, a number of pieces didn’t cost a lot of money, but they are valuable because they’re special to me. It’s special because of how it makes me feel, because of the look of it, and because of the memories that I created wearing it.
What inspired you to create your own business?
Before I became a jewelry designer, I was an apparel designer and maker, so I am trained in apparel cuts. At one point, I was actually doing both; I was selling and designing apparel and jewelry. To focus on both started to get really difficult, and also the jewelry was just doing way better. It was selling and that was really exciting! So I decided to just focus on jewelry. And that was hard to do. I did deal with a bit of imposter syndrome, if you will, because everyone knew me for apparel. And this was also around the time of the pandemic, so I was all in my head that people are gonna think—she’s doing this just because the clothing didn’t do well. But there was really always a passion there. I never knew that I would be a jewelry designer. But anyone you ask knows that I’ve always been obsessed with jewelry. It was really kind of a natural trajectory in that sense. I think this is where I was meant to go.
Has your identity played a role in your entrepreneurship? How?
It can pose some challenges. Jewelry, especially, you know, when it comes to manufacturing and sourcing, is a very male-dominated space. So navigating that can be tough at times, and also just in business in general, when it comes to raising capital and trying to secure support in that way can be tough. I’m happy to be a woman, but it comes with some challenges in certain spaces. My identity as a woman, I think, is what makes me special. I do appreciate femininity, the aesthetic of the brand definitely lends itself towards a more minimalist, dainty, delicate feel. I think that draws from what I appreciate about being a woman or how I describe femininity because everyone has a different description of it. For that reason, I think it’s really special. And it has a huge impact on how I design and who I design for.
What has been the most empowering feat for you thus far as a woman-owned business?
Checking off things on my goal list and being able to look back on things that I’ve always wanted to achieve and say,”Oh my god, I’ve actually done that!” One in particular is being carried by renowned retailers. We are available online at Saks Fifth Avenue, and that’s been on my vision board for a really long time. To see that come to fruition, I’m still in disbelief. It helps because if I was able to do this, my goodness, what else can I accomplish? I’m choosing to be optimistic. On those days when running a business is really tough—and there are a lot of them—I remind myself of what I’ve been able to overcome and get done.
What does this opportunity mean to you?
It’s huge. I’ve always wanted to expand my line.iIt’s something I probably would have gotten to eventually, but I think it would have been a lot more difficult. With this program, we have access to mentors. I mean, these are people who have been in the industry for years who are lending and sharing their expertise just out of the generosity of their own hearts. It’s helping me get to a place where I’ve wanted to go a little bit faster, and also with a deeper appreciation and a deeper education. I think that will impact the end result. I’ve always wanted to explore diamonds, and I’m a big research person, but it’s different when you get first-hand knowledge from people who have been doing this for years. This deeper understanding is invaluable. When I’m selling, I’m not just selling, I’m also educating the consumer. There is a deeper connection emotionally, when we’re talking about the stones, talking about the quality of the metal. So I just think, [this opportunity is] going to heighten what I would have eventually got into.
How do you believe this opportunity will impact your business?
I think [the Natural Diamond Council] is adding credibility and they’re validating us. They’re saying that there are a whole lot of jewelry designers out there, regardless of if they’re BIPOC or not, but you guys are talented enough to make six out of however many that applied. So for me that acknowledgment means a lot. And I think it means a lot to other people.
How do you empower other entrepreneurs?
I try to share my story whenever I can. I’m not a public speaker, but I don’t turn down opportunities to share my story. Even though I get a little anxious sometimes, I know how valuable it can be to hear someone else’s story. I listen to a lot of podcasts, I read a lot of books, a lot of autobiographies, and just listening to someone else’s journey, it can be just like one little thing. And that can have a huge impact on a decision that you make or what direction that you go in. So, I think that’s why I try to share whenever I can in that way. Also just to be encouraging. There’s a lot of negativity out here, there’s plenty of it to go around. I’m just always trying to be positive. Not to say that business is always easy, but it helps when you’re optimistic.
What advice do you have to share for this Woman’s History Month? For other women entrepreneurs?
I would say if there’s something on your heart that you feel called to do, to just do it. Easier said than done, I know. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our thoughts and doubts that we don’t ever get around to just doing the thing. I don’t know where I heard this but, someone said, “Even if you’re scared to do it, do it scared, even if it’s hard. Find a way to move past the challenge.” In hindsight, it’s better when you do it. I know that’s been my experience. I’m always looking back like, “Oh my God, I said that I could never do that, and look where I’m at now!” So just go for it, even though it’s hard, because trust me I have my moments. I feel like we always have this gut feeling about how we should move, so just go with it.
How has SSTB supported you to reach this point in your entrepreneurial career?
I love you guys. And I say this all the time. I’ve been saying it since I was [first] a member. The services that you provide for small businesses are invaluable. What it would cost to navigate some of those services on our own would be really expensive and perhaps out of budget for many. Even beyond that, I think you guys just care so much, and it’s evident. You’re always wanting to tell our stories, the opportunities with volunteers that you bring in, it’s just such a genuine feeling that comes from the services that you all provide, and you genuinely want to help small businesses. I’m so grateful I did my renewal a few weeks ago. I’m like, “Yes! I get another year!” I just told one of my girlfriends the other day, you didn’t apply? What are you waiting for? She was like, “Oh my god, I’m on it!”
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