Hi there—It’s Kate, owner and curator of Sky Trading Co., and I couldn’t be happier to bring you my very first post on Sky’s the Limit: a blog of Q&A-style interviews featuring the shakers, makers and mostly badass women around Columbus, OH. This is a space where I’ll feature someone who’s making bold moves in their life. Hopefully, their stories will inspire you to live fearlessly. Enjoy!
Last week I met two inspiring ladies and jewelry designers, Kaleigh Shrigley and Claire Lowe of ONE SIX FIVE. Both are Ohio natives who became fast-friends while working together at a local boutique in the Short North Arts district of Columbus, OH. In 2014, they started designing out of Kaleigh’s attic and today they’re running a successful business from their bright pink lifestyle shop and studio in Clintonville. Major online retailer, Shopbop carries their line and they have an editorial feature in Harper's Bazaar hitting the stands soon. Slow and steady is their motto, yet in the last three years Kaleigh and Claire have grown ONE SIX FIVE from a small collection of rings to a complete catalog of high quality, accessible jewelry. Below is their story and advice for young entrepreneurs and wannabe bosses…
In three words describe each other…
Kaleigh on Claire: Claire is funny, an animal lover to a fault sometimes, if that’s possible, and creative because she’s great at creative problem solving.
Claire on Kaleigh: Kaleigh is a creative force, super fashionable and a great friend.
Where did you two meet and what inspired you to partner up and start One Six Five?
Kaleigh: We met working at a clothing store (Rowe in the Short North). Claire was working part time as a manager, and I was in school at CCAD studying jewelry design. I was selling jewelry at Rowe and working there part time on the weekends, and Claire always had an interest in jewelry design. Once I graduated I wanted to take the leap to design and sell jewelry full time, so I asked Claire if she would do it and she was crazy enough to say yes. We both quit shortly after and started doing odd jobs to make ends meet.
Claire: We still do odd jobs now and then!
How would you describe ONE SIX FIVE’s Style?
Kaleigh: It’s everyday jewelry, but with a twist and an offbeat characteristic that makes it different and unique. It can pull together an entire outfit because it’s simple enough that it doesn’t always steal the show, but it is unique enough that you notice it.
Going back to the early days, can you tell me about the process of launching One Six Five from concept to reality?
Kaleigh: First we got our LLC in place, a vendor’s license and other legal mumbo jumbo. We started working out of my attic, which was less than great. It wasn’t temperature controlled so it was either really cold or really hot. It was also very dark with no natural light. We started sending out massive amounts of cold emails to independent stores asking them if they want to look at our jewelry. Only about 2% of people responded, but that’s all you really need! We then launched a website shortly after. We launched on Squarespace because it was easy and free. We have since switched to Shopify, which is super easy and user-friendly. We also hired a PR agent. She was an important first step. When we updated our space, we had to stop using her for PR because it was our budget trade off.
Claire: Our PR agent got us into some great magazines and helped with our credibility because people were able to recognize that we were in Lucky magazine, for example.
Did you have any fears before you launched?
Kaleigh: Yes, definitely, but looking back I feel like I should have been more afraid. To me, it was more like this is what I have to do, this is what I’m doing, it wasn’t an option. I guess I was afraid of money but I’ve never let money decide what I’m going to do. I think if you are passionate enough about something the money will come.
Claire: I had fears, but I was ready to not be working at the boutique any more. It was a welcome change and working for yourself is awesome.
How did you fund your business when you were first starting out?
Kaleigh: We still don’t have any debt. We didn’t take out any loans. We are on the slow and steady path. If we can’t afford it, we can’t do it. In the beginning, we started with $2,000 which is what we had in savings. That got our legal stuff done. We were working out of my attic and we just bought enough materials to get us going.
Claire: We always wonder how small business go from nothing to huge. They must have investors. The slow incline is better because there is less risk of failure.
Kaleigh: We could close our doors tomorrow and not have a dime of debt personally, which is a good feeling, but it also prevents us from having that overnight growth because we don’t have money to invest in that sort of thing.
How would you describe your customer?
Kaleigh: Our customer is a conscious minded consumer who cares where her stuff comes from. Obviously, she’s fashion minded, she wants to look cool and she wants to be up on the trends, but it’s definitely not the fast-fashion customer. Our customer respects a well-made piece and understands an investment piece, and even though our pieces aren’t that expensive, it’s something that you can have for years.
Claire: I feel like our customers value gold filled jewelry, which is what we sell, versus gold plated jewelry. Gold plated jewelry is a thin layer of gold over brass that tends to turn your finger green, so we try to educate people on our process and I think they appreciate it.
Have you had any recent “OMG, pinch me” moments as a business owner?
Claire: When we landed Shopbop – that was the craziest moment. We’ve also talked to Urban Outfitters. We try not to get too excited because you never know if they are going to order anything, so when Shopbop made an order we were floored.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Kaleigh: A man I used to nanny for told me that owning a business isn’t that hard, just don’t do anything stupid. It sounds like that means nothing, like it’s just a sarcastic comment, but it applies to so much. When we are making decisions, I try to think of how this could go wrong.
For the dreamers, the young entrepreneurs and the people looking to start their own business, what advice do you have?
Claire: Just do it! Start small, don’t feel like you have to take out loans, don’t feel like you have to have this insanely beautiful state-of-the-art website or space. You can just work out of your home, have a tiny website with non-perfect photography, but you just have to start.
Kaleigh: There’s never going to be a perfect time. There’s always going to be something. You are never going to miraculously have all this money to do it, you just have to do it. Like I said, when we first started, we started with $2000 and that’s all I had. Don’t do anything stupid and baby steps is the method we take.
Claire: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We always ask people for help. We have no shame in that. I’m sure you know someone who is good at something and you can trade with them. Trade is great.
When you say trade, what do you mean by that?
Claire: Trade your services. Trade jewelry for photography or trade jewelry for graphic design.
Kaleigh: I think a lot of people are afraid to ask because anytime you are talking about money people get uncomfortable or weird about it but I think most people are willing to trade.
How do you promote your business?
Kaleigh: The biggest thing we do is free, which is social media. We try to be super ‘up and up’ on social media, especially Instagram, but I just link everything together so one post goes to twitter and other social sites at the same time. We try to post every day or most days and give our followers insight to what goes on behind the scenes.
Claire: Doing events, like the Columbus Flea, helps a lot too. We get to meet so many people that know of us or have never heard of us and they come back later. This is the same with doing the New York trade shows. We get to meet so many people just from that. That’s obviously not free but it’s a huge marketing thing we do.
Do you have any social media tips?
Kaleigh: We always talk about authenticity especially with Instagram. It’s so frustrating to see so many people try to have this perfect life…people try so hard to over edit. I think people can relate more to you if they feel like you are a real person, not just a faceless beautiful page. We also strive to have a beautiful page, but we want a beautiful page with personality.
Claire: We’ve found that people like to see who is making the jewelry. There have been times when I’m looking at a store or jewelry shop and I cannot find a single picture of the person who owns the shop, which I think is weird. It’s a small business and I think it should have a face. We try to give people insight on how our jewelry is made and how we live our lives.
What has been most rewarding about owning your own business?
Kaleigh: Mondays don’t suck!
Claire: We actually don’t work on Monday’s.
Kaleigh: Well…I mean Tuesday’s don’t suck. I never dread coming to work. There are certainly days where I feel tired or there may be a task that needs done that day that I don’t feel like dealing with, or whatever, but for the most part I look forward to coming into work.
Claire: I agree, I like to be able to make every decision. Even if we fail at that decision, we got to make it.
Congrats on launching your new fall line! I want everything! What are two of your favorite items for sale right now in the shop?
Kaleigh: My two favorites are the Sunshine Hoops and the Question? + Answer! Earrings.
Claire: I love the Triple Hoops Earrings. The middle line is gold and I love mixed medal stuff. I’m usually not a huge ring person but I love the Chunky Mixed Medal Ring and the Chunky Stacking Ring. I love these because they are more impactful than the thin bands but still simple.
Are you a part of any networking groups in Columbus?
Kaleigh: Creative Babes – it’s so fun. It’s really nice to have a community that is similar to you. A lot of the people are business owners and creatives that are out there flailing and trying to figure it out, so it’s nice to be able to talk to like-minded people. It’s a super open community with zero competition, which is nice. Everyone wants to support each other.
In terms of other entrepreneurs, who do you look up to and why? Is there anyone local that inspires you?
Kaleigh: Yes, in Columbus – Tina De Broux from Under Aurora.
Claire: There are a lot. Most of the people we carry in our shop, we look up to. I feel like, if you’re from Columbus and a woman, you have to look up to Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams because she’s obviously killing it.
Also, let me know if there is anything you are curious about or think I should ask during my next interview in the comments below!