How did a jewelry designer who started her business at her kitchen table end up having A-list celebrity clients and retail shops in cities like Palm Beach, Beverly Hills and New York?
Helen Ficalora is the founder of Helen Ficalora jewelry which creates classy and personalized jewelry that is loved by customers all over the world. Here’s the story of how she built her business and the things in life that inspire her.
Publicity Received by Helen Ficalora Jewelry: The Today Show, Oprah.com, People.com etc.
How would you describe Helen Ficalora Jewelry?
It is a designer collection that I’ve designed as pieces that are meaningful to people. Pieces that you can customize and personalize. The core vision behind the whole business was to create signature designs to inspire beauty, love and peace. And sort of backs the spread and the foundation that I built the collection on. The pieces are meant to be worn close to your heart where people can see them, where you can see them, have a relationship with the jewelry and put together pieces and looks that are meaningful to you as well as stylish and timeless.
Did you always want to be a jewelry designer even when you were a kid?
I took jewelry making when I was in high school and I loved it, but in my high school I was lucky enough to have it. I took it the first semester of my freshman year of high school and then you couldn’t take it anymore, you couldn’t stay in the jewelry world unless you were an art major or something. I kind of got to do it and loved it and I was very passionate about art and making things like craft and it was always kind of there, always putting things together. Even from when I was little making necklaces out of plants. Anything you can imagine like taking stones and just kind of being in nature and being involved with it, and great if you can figure out how to put it on yourself and wear it, you know.
When you started your jewelry business you were actually running another business. What was that business?
Running my family’s beach resort and doing other things and that was as a result of my husband’s getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and turning the whole situation around into a positive thing. It’s a very difficult time and taking that and going, “Okay, what are we going to do and how are we going to do it and what can we do?” Running a hotel and running out of rooms, at a point building the hotel business stuff and then going well starting jewelry on the side and going, “Wow, I don’t ever have to run out of the jewelry, I can do that.” And it worked. For almost 14 years I did two businesses. I ran the hotel in summer and I opened stores in the winter to do the jewelry business, first mail order and then started opening the stores. So I’d run the hotel from May to October and then I’d open stores in November, and I did that year after year after year, I did both things.
Your designs are very unique, they’re very classy and they have their own personality. Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
Well, the main thing that I want all my designs to have, along with the beauty, love and peace, that component that has to do with the design aspect of it is the beauty. So, for me, I want my pieces to be beautiful. I also like them to be meaningful and to be something that someone will really cherish. So when I approach a project that’s what I’m looking for, not always that it’s perfection or rigid but I always want my jewelry to be comfortable and for people to enjoy wearing it. So I think that it’s great that shoe looks good on you but if you can’t wear more than a half hour, what’s the point? So I try to make sure there’s not things that are going to stick up and catch on your hair and your clothes. Different little things that come from, for me, like a woman’s perspective of using and wearing something, and making the best product that you possibly can and then how it functions like interacts with the person, with their environment, with their lifestyle, with their outfit, all those components go into developing the product.
You’re pretty famous for your charms, so I was wondering if you can explain your inspiration for creating the charms, and also maybe some of your other pieces like your dogwood flower ring. Where does all that inspiration come from?
The charms came from the idea of wanting to do something personalized. Like a piece that you could wear all the time. I did the angel collection before I did the charms, and the idea for those was to be like acknowledgement for people as they were going through different things in their life, kind of life there’s a prosperity angel, so there’s a hope angel and a peace angel and a love angel. So just as a reminder of what was happening with the person, and each one was meant to be part of an affirmation or, “This is what I need in my life right now. I need serenity,” or, “I need love,” or, “I need to remind myself to either love myself or to love others,” or whatever it is that people go through as they go through like the stages of your personal development in your life.
That’s where the beginning of the idea of personalized pieces and things that were meaningful were feeding themselves in my travel through creating this jewelry company. The alphabet charms were something that was personalized. I had this piece from my grandmother that was small and it had the shape of my initials on the back and it was just beautiful and of all things, it’s the only things I’ve ever lost in my whole life. I lost that. So maybe me doing this was to re-create that for myself and it turned out to be something that everybody else wanted too.
The dogwood ring was designed in the idea of I love flowers and I love nature. My collection is inspired by nature and the beauty of nature and the elements and all those different things that surround us, and to remind us to be part of the natural world, not just separate from it but, you know, to stop and smell the roses kind of philosophy is what I like about life. I love flowers. The dogwood flowers in particular was outside the house where I grew up. On Long Island there was a dogwood tree that always bloomed about my father’s birthday. The ring was kind of a tribute to my dad from me, but it was part of creating things that were beautiful and that were meaningful and if it had a meaning to me, maybe that flower has a meaning to someone else, and that was the idea that I was going to create things, each piece with the idea of having meaning in mind.
Lots of people have the alphabet charm. But each person’s alphabet charm is unique to that person and the same thing with the dogwood ring and the cherry blossom ring, its meaning to me might not be the meaning that it is to someone else and you’re allowed to bring your meaning to my collection.
What do you enjoy about your business?
I get to do work that I love. I get to create pieces that make people happy. I get to provide assistance for organizations or groups or to help organizations in different projects.
I love that people love my jewelry and I love the celebrities wearing and I love the television shows and movies. The important part of the business part is that you can follow your passion, you can get there. Again, it’s not easy but it’s possible.
Celebrities love your jewelry. What’s it like to have celebrity wearing something that you’ve created?
I think it’s flattering. Certainly they have an opportunity to select from a vast array of things and accorded by many people to be involved with their products, so it’s exciting and it’s a big honor. Celebrities that have worn my jewelry include Katie Holmes, Brooke Shields, Jennifer Garner, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rihanna, Britney Spears, everyone from Dakota Fanning. Just lots and lots of really interesting and talented women are fans of my jewelry and I certainly appreciate that.
Have they communicated with you or do you just find out? Are you just paging through a magazine and, “Oh, there’s a celebrity…” and this woman happens to be wearing one of your pieces?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have relationships with quite a few of the people who have my jewelry, there’s some who have this in Beverly Hills, in Soho I’ve met people. My business has been successful from the kindness of others. These women are very, very nice and very, very kind and really helped me by wearing my jewelry publicly.
It sounds like when you started, your business grew from word of mouth. Can you explain how that happened?
One of my funny stories is from way, way back, before the internet, people barely using the internet or whatever. There’s a person shopping, walked down a street in Chicago, before any stores. And they saw someone wearing a necklace and they crossed the street to ask them about the necklace. I didn’t know who the person is but the person who bought the necklace… I was answering my phone and told me the story.
They run into the person and they asked them about the necklace and they whipped out their cellphone and they had my number in their cellphone like the number to call for my business in their cellphone. And so then the person called and ordered. So that’s kind of the grassroots thing I was telling about this phenomenon that was happening, it was like a multiplying thing that just kept… you know, like those FedEx commercials where the room starts filling up with boxes, I mean, so fast. I’m like, “Go, go, go, go, okay, go, go, go.” Up to like 4 a.m. my house and there will be packing packages to go out, you know, always try to get everything to everybody and just kept growing and growing. It grew as fast as we could grow it, you know.
Did success come easy to you or have you experienced struggles like many other business owners?
My business started from the kitchen table. It’s been a long, long journey built out of cashflow, blood, sweat and tears, all that fun stuff. But something I’m very passionate about and really thankful for the opportunity to create pieces that make people happy and that’s been a big thing that keeps you going. Do you face challenges as a business owner? Of course, I mean, everybody faces challenges in their day-to-day life. I wish I could say it’s always stuff goes one way. It goes both ways but I think what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or whatever. There’s plenty of adages for all these things that you experience as you grow and change and things require focus, flexibility, different aspects of hard work.
I wish I could say it comes easy. I don’t think that things come easy. I think you have to work very hard at them. But if you’re passionate about what you it doesn’t feel like that. Are there sacrifices? Of course, you don’t maybe go on vacation. So my solution is to live in places where I want to be, have my business in locations that I love so that where I’m working I’m happy.
Do you have a favorite social media site?
I think Pinterest is probably the most fun because you can go in and just kind of find things from all over the place and everybody. My other part of my life like I have a Masters in Science. I am a researcher so I love anything where I can go in and search. I like searching, so it’s very searchable.