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On Becoming a Brand | Brooklyn-based Designer Gwen Beloti

Welcome to the Retail Rundown, your go-to weekly podcast where RETHINK Retail teams up with industry experts to discuss the news, trends, and big ideas that are redefining retail.

In this episode we hear from up-and-coming designer Gwen Beloti as she shares the story behind her namesake jewelry brand, the Gwen Beloti Collection.

Founded in 2019, the Brooklyn-based brand is committed to providing women with stylish everyday accessory options that are high quality, accessible and size inclusive. Gwen Beloti was also featured at the NRF’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Showcase during its Big Show last month.

Shop from Gwen’s collection at www.gwenbeloti.com

If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by subscribing to our channel and giving us a 5 star rating us on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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Hosted and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

Post Transcript

Gabriella Bock: Hello, and welcome to the Retail Rundown podcast. I’m Gabriella Bock, RETHINK show producer, and today’s host. Today, we will hear from up and coming designer, Gwen Beloti Gwen is the founder and designer of her namesake jewelry brand, Gwen Beloti. Founded in 2019, the Brooklyn-based brand is committed to providing women with stylish everyday accessory options that are high quality, accessible and size-inclusive. Gwen Beloti was also featured in the NRF’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Showcase during its big show last month. But long before Gwen launched her brand, she was a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, where her love for jewelry was first ignited during a trip to the mall with her friends. Gwen Beloti: I forget what day it was, but I think we were in eighth grade, it was definitely junior high school, and you play hooky periodically. Me and my girlfriends, we wanted to go to the mall because a new designer at the time had come out with some jeans, so we went and we’re all standing there. Everyone’s looking for their size, but unfortunately, I was twiddling my thumbs because they didn’t have my size, and that really sucked. That’s the story of my life, especially in my younger years. So instead of wallowing in that moment and in that space, I would venture off into the jewelry part of the store, because even though there are concerns as it relates to fit with jewelry, not so much as apparel, and I needed to find a space to still be creative and to feel at home and feel like there were opportunities for me. I definitely found that in jewelry and that’s really what sparked my love for Julie at an extremely early age and has built to where I’m at today. Gabriella Bock: So in the eighth grade, you really started experimenting with accessories and looking for your personal style, and crafting your personal style that will serve as the blueprint for your designs later on. But first you go to college and you study psychology. You actually have a master’s degree in psychology. Was your intention to become a psychologist? Gwen Beloti: I think initially I studied psychology, I’ve always had a love for people. I think I have an innate ability to connect with people and to understand where they’re coming from. I particularly studied human behavior and organizational psychology, which is similar to ergonomics, so that’s the psychology of spaces and how that impacts your mood and productivity. So that was a way for me to intertwine being creative and also this human aspect of it as well. So I didn’t actually pursue psychology out of college, but I think we all use psychology in some way or form daily. I think it’s definitely had a positive impact on my business because I do work with customers and they are the heart of the company. I thought I would move into that space, but life has a way of turning out how it wants to, regardless of whatever plan you set out. Gabriella Bock: Your background in psychology has to help so much in understanding the customer, their wants and their needs. Fashion and accessorizing, it’s such a personal thing. So how, and when did the idea to start your own jewelry company occur to you? What was the spark? Gwen Beloti: Before I started formally designing jewelry, I was actually an apparel designer. So I needed to solve the first problem that I have, which was finding clothing that fit well and that accentuated me in a positive way. So I taught myself the art of design and apparel cut so straight, all of the above, and I started a small clothing line. I had never thought that I was going to be a clothing designer or a business owner, but I started to make clothing for myself, initially and then family and friends, they were really supportive and they said, “You have a great product here. Why don’t you do something with it. Can you make something for me?” and that grew. Then a few years in, I introduced jewelry just as a compliment to the apparel and people responded to it beyond what I could have imagined. Gwen Beloti: Then eventually, I decided to lean just into that. But I think there was always something there. I spoke about my story as a young girl, my love for accessories, my first love if you will, was even before apparel. So I think in some way or another, I’m doing what I was intended to do. I couldn’t see it back then, but in hindsight, I had already collected my jewelry collection is insane and it doesn’t have to do with price point or anything like that. But when you find something that you like, that you love, that looks good and that feels good you want to have more of it. So I think it was really natural the trajectory from the apparel to the jewelry. Gabriella Bock: can you tell me a little bit about some of your very first designs and what served as the inspiration behind them? Gwen Beloti: So the very first piece that I designed was a necklace that had Brooklyn on the front of it. I love my borough. I love the city that I live in, where I was born, and it really sparked my interest in creating. I had already had a love for utilizing and wearing jewelry, but not necessarily being the maker, so there was a couple of tweaks that I wanted to make about the piece. So I started exploring how I could make it my own. I visited a bunch of different jewelers and I was like, “Wait a minute. I can totally do this myself.” It wasn’t easy to figure out, but that’s where my love for jewelry really started as far as being on the maker and the designer side. It definitely has something to do, something that spoke to me personally, the city where I’m from, and I still own the piece to this day. I look back on it and I can’t believe we’ve come as far as we have starting with just that initial piece. Gabriella Bock: Taking it back to those early days, so you are creating your own clothing and designing a little bit of your own jewelry and your friends and family take notice and they’re like, “Hey, we want some too.” Then, it occurs to you, “I can make money off of this.” So you launch your first apparel collection online, you start to build a following. How did that feel? Gwen Beloti: It felt new and different, because I had been making clothing for myself and then making clothing for family and friends and they were my first customers. But to actually be in essence a business owner, because it wasn’t something that I set out to do, it was unfamiliar, obviously, but also it was just really new, but also exciting. Doing something new is exciting. So I was able to create pieces that made women look and feel beautiful, but I was also able to think about my own pain points just as I do with jewelry, but with apparel and think about ways to create designs that were ideal for everyday wear, but also flattering. Gwen Beloti: Some people had issues with finding things that fit them, just like I did. I often try to speak to my customer who understands and speaks my language because they’ve had a similar experience or similar issues, so it was exciting. It was really new. I was really young. I definitely didn’t give the business side of it as much attention as I should have. Maybe I could blame it on age or just blame it on being a new, small business. But it was an experience that I wouldn’t trade in. I think it definitely has led us to where we are today, so it was meant to be a part of the journey. Gabriella Bock: So you’ve on your experience with apparel and how important it is to find the right fit. Your brand statement also mentions inclusivity when it comes to jewelry. I think that’s something that many of us probably don’t think about too often. So what does it mean to be truly size inclusive for a jewelry maker and what are some of the challenges that you’ve seen in that area? Gwen Beloti: Yeah, for sure. So we often throw around the word standard, but standard isn’t standard. Even in the jewelry space, people don’t often associate or think about size issues or size concerns when they think about jewelry, but it is a concern for a number of women right here in this country. Over 70% of women in the United States where a size 14 or larger you hear about a size 16-inch necklace being standard, but that’s not standard. It’ll fit, feel, and look completely different from one woman to the next. Most ring sizes you’ll see, go up to a size seven. Not every woman wears that size or even anklets might go up to a nine inch. Gwen Beloti: So it was really important for me to consider my own personal experience with fit both as a maker, as well as a shopper and a business owner, and bring that to the forefront. I wanted to create a brand that was inclusive so that women of all sizes can enjoy jewelry, particularly in the minimalist space, you don’t see a lot of larger sizes. Women of larger sizes, they will delicate and dainty too, so I really had to stop and think about some of my own personal pain points. It was really important for me to consider those when I decided to fully launch the jewelry collection. Gabriella Bock: So you started off with apparel and designing clothing that was really focused on fit. Then, you decided you were going to lean hard into jewelry and focus on jewelry. So what factors led to you making that decision? Gwen Beloti: Yeah. In full transparency, when I introduced jewelry to the collection, like I mentioned a little while ago, it took off and the sales were way higher than the apparel was, and that was one reason to focus solely on that. That’s an important part of running a business is generating revenue and the jewelry was definitely generating way more revenue than the apparel was. So it was a way for us to stop and really assess the business, and it was also around the time of the pandemic. That was definitely a time to consider what’s working and lean more into that instead of wasting resources. So it was at that point that I decided to just focus on the jury and it was hard. Gwen Beloti: It wasn’t an easy decision because for the most part, people associated me with fashion and apparel. So when I decided to change the title to a jewelry company versus apparel or versus apparel and jewelry or just fashion, that was a really, really tough decision, but it was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made, because something in me said and told me that this is where you’re meant to go. Looking back at my history with accessories, I knew it, but we get in our head sometime, and we assume that people are going to think X, Y, and Z, but no one was thinking that. The positive energy and response that we’ve seen as a result of launching the jewelry collection was amazing. Gabriella Bock: So when you started to lean more into jewelry, it sounds like you had all this energy buzzing around you, then 2020 hits. As we know, the pandemic was especially challenging on small businesses and creators. So how did the pandemic impact you as a small business and what measures did you take to move forward? Gwen Beloti: Sure. So, just talking about the pandemic in itself, it was just a tough time for everyone. I think there are silver linings. My business definitely saw one. With all of the attention that was being put on small businesses, in particular minority-owned businesses, we were able to see some growth. It also gave me an opportunity to really focus and tune into our customer. We weren’t doing pop-ups anymore, and that was a regular part of the company. We would do weekly pop-ups, sometimes monthly and even travel to do them. But because there weren’t any in-person events, we really had to focus on our website as well as our email marketing, so we got really personal with our customer. We wanted to know what they wanted from us, how we can do things better. We hosted a number of focus groups and sent out surveys and whatnot. Gwen Beloti: I think that was the ideal time to do that, because people were home and people were just looking for ways to connect. Leaning into all of that, I’d have to say we saw growth and the business is in a better place today than it was prior to the pandemic. Even though it was a tough time, I’m thankful for the opportunities. We had an opportunity to partner with companies like American Express and some other big retailers who wanted to shine a light on small businesses, because we tend to struggle more than bigger businesses and our access to resources are limited. So in that regard, I’m thankful for the opportunities that we were presented with and also with the opportunity to really make our customer a priority, not to say that she wasn’t a priority prior to, but definitely we paid a lot more attention to her. We were listening to her. We wanted to hear from her, because we knew that she is the heart of the company, and that’s going to lead us into the next phase and to allow us to do things bigger and better. Gabriella Bock: I think it’s amazing how much you were able to grow during the pandemic. We didn’t really see that from too many small businesses. Part of the reason you were able to do that was because you deployed these tactics that really we only see from bigger brands or more established retailers. Can you tell us about some of the strategies you put in place over the last year to reach new customers? Gwen Beloti: Sure. So I can speak to a couple. We have a brand ambassador program that we launched not too long ago. For us, it was really important to have brand ambassadors who look like our customer. We’re talking about size inclusivity, quality and whatnot, so it’s really important for the customer that we’re marketing to, to see themselves and the women that we feature in our marketing campaigns and the women that are on our website and in our ambassadors, because ambassadors are real women, so it’s important that women see other men who look like them. When they visit gwenbeloti.com. We want them to feel at home, so that program has definitely played an integral role in helping us grow and reach more consumers by way of our ambassadors and them utilizing their audience. Another thing is our subscription, so we have a quarterly subscription it’s called Golden Stories. Gwen Beloti: That came about because the reviews that we were getting on the jewelry were just really great. We have currently almost 100 five-star reviews on Google. What’s unique about our subscription model, it’s designed to build out a collection. It’s not just random pieces, so everything is interconnected. I sell a product, we design a product, but we’re definitely trying to build community and that’s really important. So we try to infuse that community aspect in everything that we do. So with the Golden Stories accessory box, we’re connecting with our members and asking them what are they looking for? It’s really important that they have a complete and perfect collection, if you will, and not just miscellaneous pieces. That lets them know that we’re thoughtful and really intentional about how we’re serving them. So that has also been a nice addition to all of what we are doing at Gwen Beloti. Gabriella Bock: That’s amazing. It sounds like you’ve created this truly authentic connection between your brand and yourself and your customers and ultimately, it’s that connection keeps them loyal. So as you look to the future, what do you envision for your brand? Do you see partnerships with retailers? Do you see boutiques of your own? Gwen Beloti: Yeah, so that’s definitely the next phase. We definitely want to grow and scale so we can serve more golden beauties as we call our beloved customers all over. Right now, we are primarily Ecommerce. We are on a few key marketplaces, but definitely looking to move into more retail spaces in 2022 and perhaps, some bigger retailers as well, and also one day have a flagship store. That’s definitely a part of the plan. That’s the goal to reach more women. We have a product that we believe in that our clients believe in, and if the right people, our people, have the opportunity to experience a product, we believe that they will find a home in Gwen Beloti. So that’s our goal to be a household name for the clients who are looking for what we have to offer in that style, inclusivity and quality that is accessible to all women. Gabriella Bock: Well, I certainly hope to be able to visit your flagship store one day. As we wrap, I wanted to know if you could go back and tell yourself one thing before starting your brand, what would it be? Gwen Beloti: If I could tell myself one thing? I don’t like to believe in regrets, so I would really just say hone into what feels right. The one thing that I spoke about today that really always speaks to me and stands out for me, was a tough decision to move into a space that people didn’t know me for, and that was really tough. But my gut told me it was the right thing to do so instead of waiting, maybe that would be one regret. I waited a little bit long to just own it. So I would say to my younger self, “If you feel it, go with it. Easier said than done. I know it, but try your best to just really believe, believe in you, and that’s believing in that feeling and just really owning it.” Gabriella Bock: Well, I certainly think that’s solid advice, not just for young entrepreneurs, but for all of us, but I must say the future looks bright for Gwen Beloti. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for your brand. For our listeners, you can find links to the Gwen Beloti Collection in the description of this episode, as well as on our website at rethink.industries. Thank you so much for being here today, Gwen. Gwen Beloti: Thank you so much for having me.