The delight, as they say, is in the details. But while the direct-selling brand is known for “just-us-girls” house parties and versatile, eye-catching accessories, it’s quietly building a group of entrepreneurial women who are redefining professional independence.
Stella & Dot is a boutique-style jewelry and accessories company that utilizes independent consultants, whom they term stylists, to sell products directly to consumers through at-home trunk shows and through e-commerce websites. The company has more than 10,000 active stylists worldwide, in countries ranging from Puerto Rico and Canada to the United Kingdom and Germany.
Last year, Stella & Dot’s sales were expected to exceed $200 million, and the company was No. 57 in the Inc. 500 list of the 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies. Herrin was named a Top Ten Female CEO by Inc. Magazine, and Harris received the Rising Star Award for Accessories from the Fashion Group International. In November, the company received the ACE Award for Retail Innovation from the Accessories Council.
In other words, this isn’t your grandmother’s Tupperware party.
“When you talk about a flexible business for women,” Herrin says, “you really have to think about what’s possible today, and why would that be different, because the woman has changed, technology has changed, consumers have changed. You really have to start from scratch.”
In 2003, three months pregnant with her first daughter and working as a senior manager in e-commerce at Dell, she had a vision of solving, as she saw it, the “modern woman’s dilemma” – a career that offered a livable wage yet provided the flexibility that a corporate career wouldn’t.
She became intrigued with reinventing flexible entrepreneurship, she says, recognizing that women today are fundamentally different than they were 20 or 30 years ago.
Herrin began experimenting with the idea of do-it-yourself jewelry sold through house parties. The serial entrepreneur developed the concept while she was still working on another company she founded at Stanford Business School in 1999: WeddingChannel.com, which was sold to the Knot in 2006. Her new company, called Luxe Jewels, was profitable, though Herrin admittedly was “bootstrapping” it and creating all the designs herself.
The DIY idea had been scrapped. In its place was Harris’ expertise and eye for design. A former student and artist in residence at Parsons Paris School of Art and Design, Harris had stints at Cartier, DeBeers and Banana Republic and had earned an MBA from Columbia University.
Herrin envisioned a design-driven product that stylists could be passionate about and proud to share, combined with multichannel selling opportunities. She wanted something that could be sold and shared person-to-person, on the go with an app, on a website featuring video-style tips or by gathering friends to create a social experience.
Direct selling – basically, distributing goods directly to consumers, according to the Direct Selling Association – isn’t new. From Tupperware to candles to clothing, women looking for some spare income (and an excuse to socialize), many of them stay-at-home moms, have been organizing trunk shows at the homes of friends and friends of friends for decades.
“I think we really innovated this concept,” Herrin says. “We said, what if you just started with a blank piece of paper and designed a business that worked for today’s woman? It really was about putting the business into a modern age.”
Stella & Dot stylists earn 25 to 30 percent commission on what they sell, and the hostess of the party is offered up to 25 percent of party sales in free jewelry, and up to four items at 50 percent off. The average trunk show earns the stylist between $250 and $300. To get started, stylists buy a starter kit for $199. Many stylists go on to mentor and train sales teams, which generates additional income.
San Francisco’s Lindsay Walsh is one example. The mother of three young boys, Walsh had worked in high-tech public relations before taking eight years off to raise her family. She wasn’t really looking for a job, and she had never worked in sales, but an article on the company in the San Francisco Business Times intrigued her.
In less than five years, she has become a platinum director, meaning Walsh has about 4,000 women across the United States on her team. In November alone, she estimates they sold more than $2 million in jewelry.
“Our sales teams are growing organically,” Walsh explains. “People are coming to the trunk shows, having a great time, loving the product and seeing that it’s an opportunity.”
Walsh declined to give specifics on her income, but says, “A six-figure income for someone who is pursuing it, and who has had success, is very plausible.”
“We have stylists who do this because they want to earn an extra $300 a month, they want to earn $1,000 a month, or they want to earn an extra $1,000 a week,” Herrin says. “We have a stylist who just earned over $70,000 last month, and who will earn close to a million dollars this year.”
The range is broad, she explains, because there are no sales quotas.
Stella & Dot is a member of the Direct Selling Association and adheres to their code of ethics, which strictly monitors direct-selling businesses to prevent pyramid or recruitment schemes.
“Here we define success as happiness,” Herrin says. “If you’re happy, then you’re succeeding, and you have to decide if that’s part time or full time.”
“We have a lot of stay-at-home moms, but now we have stylists who are much younger,” Walsh says. “We have grandmas, and we have doctors and lawyers, and people who are architects.
“They are smart and motivated and have something to offer, but they can’t plug into the traditional workplace right now,” she says.
The company also offers a unique excuse to socialize.
“I’m in my early 40s, and women in my demographic – there is no way that we are going to meet a bunch of girlfriends, have a coffee, and go shopping on Chestnut Street,” Walsh says.
“But can people pop over to their neighbor’s house after dinner, have a glass of wine, and spend that time catching up and buying a necklace? That whole communal experience is a really important part of it.”
And while social selling has a proven track record, Stella & Dot has added mobile shopping and social media to the mix. Stylists can have a personal e-commerce website for $99 a year, and product pages are often accompanied by an instructional video featuring Herrin and Harris
“Our store,” Herrin says, “is every living room in the world, every mobile device, every computer.”
Stella & Dot introduces a new line of accessories with a catalog twice a year, in addition to occasional capsule collections.
Harris, along with her New York design team, has a background working in fine jewelry. She recently relocated to the Bay Area for most of the year, along with the new print development and handbag design teams, making the effort bicoastal.
“Every element is custom done; we work with in-house model makers,” Harris says. The piece she is wearing, the limited-edition Virginia Bib Necklace, was made by the same workshop that does work for Lanvin, Prada and Manolo Blahnik.
For Harris, joining Stella & Dot was as much about the mission of the company as it was the chance to design a quality product for the underrepresented midrange accessories market.
In the beginning, it was a small company, and by default, Herrin was the designer. “It was very ugly in the beginning!” she says with a laugh.
The designs are a combination of crowdsourcing and intuitive trend-forecasting.
Before they begin work on the upcoming season, Harris says, “I take a step back and set the vision. My jewelry design director and I travel to Europe twice a year to see vintage dealers and look at art and architecture and, most of all, street style.”
“While we get a lot of information from our customers,” Herrin says, “it’s also about being ahead of trend. There’s always a piece that when I first see it, I think it’s crazy. And luckily, Blythe has that vision to be far ahead of that.”
The pieces are deliberately meant to work for a range of women, both geographically and age-wise. For every piece, Harris asks, “Is it flattering? Is it feminine, versatile, wearable and special?”
Stella & Dot has been photographed on celebrities (Sofia Vergara, Selena Gomez, Katherine Heigl), spotted on TV (“The Bachelorette”) and featured in magazines (Vogue, Real Simple). But Harris and Herrin agree that their favorite place to spy a piece of Stella & Dot jewelry is “passing a random person on the street.”
Prices range from $16 to $300, and half of the line is less than $50.
“I think we have totally nailed it from a product standpoint,” Walsh says. “We have the price-value ratio perfect. It’s super-cute, really high-quality, but because of our channel, able to be delivered at an incredible price.”
“We want someone to tell you that you look amazing in that jewelry,” Herrin says. “We love surprise and delight … and we want to go beyond your expectations.”
For Harris, the potential is as much stylistic as it is empowering. “As a culture, we’re not very comfortable accessorizing. India is one of my favorite places to get inspiration,” she says, “because everyone is wearing layers of bangles, and it’s incredible. Wearing accessories is part of living a bold and joyful life.”
“I meet women at trunk shows all the time who say, ‘I don’t really wear jewelry,’ ” says Herrin, who, along with Harris, attend at least one trunk show a month.
“And those are the ones I like to help the most, because I’m like, ‘That’s OK – I’m going to help.’ ‘”
Stella & Dot spring 2013, starter pieces
For the spring collection, released January 11, the inspirations were twofold. One of the major themes, Harris explains, was a “modern take on a desert road trip,” including the hues of a desert landscape. The design team was inspired by traditional Navajo elements, chevron patterns, fringe, mixed metals and more. “You can’t help but feel adventurous and daring,” Herrin says. The second theme is a nod to both one of the earlier Stella & Dot collections, as well as Harris’ own grandmother. “One of the starting points was my grandmother’s flower brooches,” Harris says, with bold colors and fresh whites. “Imagine what you would wear to a chic, hip garden party,” Herrin says.
Not a “jewelry person?” Have no fear. They advise women to start small, experiment with layering and eventually build up to statement piece. Here are some recommendations.
Starter Piece: “A personalized necklace from our charm collection is the perfect everyday piece. Start out with an initial and a birthstone charm and layer over time. Layered bracelets are also an ideal way to start wearing more jewelry.” (Charm necklace is about $66.)
Statement necklace: “For this season, I love the Dot Bloom necklace. It is so happy and fresh and works over any color.” ($198, available January 11)
“Non-Jewelry” converter: “The Pegasus is a showstopper. It transforms any outfit into a ‘wow’ and is perfect for day or night. Each piece takes over two days to hand-embroider.”($198)
Best day-to-night: “The Zoe Lariat looks effortless and chic over jeans and a T-shirt and has the perfect amount of sparkle and sexiness to take you into evening. It can be worn as a wrap bracelet or a necktie.”($98)
Most versatile: “The Gitane Tassel necklace is a great delicate statement that has a removable tassel. It can be worn long, doubled or tripled as an everyday layering necklace.” ($69)
“A-ha” moment: “Our Tempest Necklace can be worn with the sparkle on the outside or reversed for an edgier daytime look. It’s like transformers for girls!”($198)
Work essentials: “Our new delicate layering styles for Spring (Valor, Maya, Avalon) or our signature link styles (Odette) offer a timeless sculpted look.”(All starting at $39, available January 11)
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