ADRIENNE WILEY ON QUITTING YOUR DAY JOB
Adrienne L. Wiley is the founder and lead designer for Frolick Jewelry. She launched Frolick in 2004, from a desire to create a collection of jewelry that was vintage inspired but contemporary and effortlessly chic for women of all ages. Adrienne initially learned to make jewelry as a hobby at age 15, but rekindled her interest years later after taking a class at a local bead store. In the beginning, she made her designs at the kitchen table and sold them to friends and family. Six months after launching the line, Wiley decided to leave her job at a Fortune 500 company to pursue Frolick Jewelry full time. She spent the first year traveling around the country participating in shopping events and searching for premiere retail locations to carry the line. Frolick Jewelry is handcrafted by skilled artisans in Wiley's San Francisco design studio. The line garners the attention of publications such as WWD, Lucky, Marie Claire, In Touch, SF Chronicle, and more. Celebs also love the line. Hollywood A-listers, including Chelsea Handler, Rachael Zoe, Mariah Carey, and Serena Williams, have been spotted wearing Frolick. Adrienne is also the owner of Covet, a jewelry and gift boutique opened in 2009 in SF's Inner Richmond neighborhood. Most recently, Wiley wrote Adventures in Wholesale, a book dedicated to helping emerging designers navigate what they'll encounter while building a wholesale business.
Adrienne started making jewelry as a hobby at age 15. She got introduced into jewelry metalsmithing at her local museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and fell in love with it. She did it and forgot about it, and then years later she worked near a bead store and began taking classes again.
Initially, she just wanted a creative outlet from her corporate job, she was processing accounts for insurance, which “is as boring as it sounds,” and her job absolutely has the whole “office space” vibe going on. She started making jewelry, like tons, more than she could ever wear, and she decided she might as well sell her extras! She turned her cubicle into a jewelry store, hung necklaces from the cubicle walls, and sold to her coworkers.
It was one of her coworkers that suggested she start selling her work in stores. So She started venturing out on her lunch hour, jewelry samples in hand, and seeing if stores would be interested in selling her pieces. Adrienne started selling her jewelry on consignment (she would get paid 50% of sales after the jewelry had sold. Wholesale is generally the 50% upfront). She started making traction with her sales, and decided that this could actually be her full time job, if she had the time to do it.
For 6 months, she saved up. She would go to the mall and see a shirt and say, “Do you want to wear that shirt to your crappy job? Put that shirt back and save the money. ” She saved for 6 whole months and then she left her job.
When she quit, she sent her coworkers an email from her Hotmail account, “Either you guys will see me in InStyle or folding khakis at the Gap. Either way today is my last day here!”
MAKING IT HAPPEN
After her initial freak out after quitting her job, she focused on consignment/wholesale as the main revenue source for her business. She started pounding the paving and just visiting shops to get more accounts.
She got to 150 store accounts driving around on her own.
She decided to diversify her revenue and started teaching jewelry classes.
Adrienne enrolled in her first tradeshow, and it was horrendous. After researching why she didn’t succeed, she learned there are different tradeshows for different kinds of businesses and buyers, and even different sections. These sections can literally make or break your show.
She tried the show again, and it went really well. At one point she was doing 17 tradeshows a year, and a couple of direct to consumer craft fairs around the holidays.
Adrienne feels her brand recognition truly came from the tradeshows initially, and built on word of mouth. Her online presence came later.
“Don’t be afraid to think out of the box and get creative to make ends meet in those lean start-up times.”
Her good press came from stylists walking the tradeshow. One of Rachel Zoe’s stylists found Adrienne’s jewelry at New York Gift. Mariah Carey and Serena William’s stylists also found Adrienne’s jewelry at a show. She even got her friend to send some items to Chelsea Handler, who Adrienne is a huge fan of.
She does think reaching out to press may be more accessible through social media now.
She suggests looking into Amy Flurry’s Recipe for Press to learn how to pitch yourself, and Amy also sells a list that she updates twice a year for direct contacts of media publications.
Good PR is sometimes hard to see the metrics, the ROI. But you never know who may see your stuff!
Adrienne calls herself an “accidental retailer.” Covet was originally a studio space, turned store! She literally got lost one day, wound up in the Inner Richmond in San Francisco on the way to the airport, and found herself in front of a vacant split level studio space. A week later (in 2008) she signed a lease.
Originally, it was mostly a studio space, no proper hours, door would be often if Adrienne was there, but then she got a call from the Chronicle and they wanted to do a feature on her for the front page of the Style section! After she did the interview, she went to the studio one day, and there was a line out the door. Waiting for her! They had their record week, and it built the buzz for the store, because it actually became a store.
ON BEING 1 OF 3 BLACK OWNED BOUTIQUES IN SF
Covet is one of 3 Black-Owned Boutiques in San Francisco.
Adrienne says sometimes people don’t even believe she is the store owner (!) Sometimes she has been mistaken as the cleaning person or the painter or the gardener. And of course, sometimes she does do all those things as a small business owner, but she also runs the business.
ON COVID RE-OPENING
-She has changed her hours to match the new cadence of her neighborhood
-She changed up the set-up of the store to create more space
-6 people can enter the store at the time (including the person who is working)
-Hand sanitizer stations at the front, you must wear a mask, and staff wipes things down often
ADRIENNE LEAVES US WITH SOME SAGE ADVICE
Adrienne has spoken at Dear Handmade Life’s Craftcation, SfMade, and Alt Summit. Her advice,
“Don’t be afraid to pitch yourself!” Put yourself in front of these event producers.
Be flexible with your minimum order requirements during this time, as we all don’t know what the future may hold, stores may be ordering less quantities.
Perhaps sign up for Faire, or Bulletin which gives retail stores flexible purchase options.
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