Create & Cultivate 100: Fashion: Shelley Sanders

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Shelley Sanders designed jewelry for 15 years before she decided it was time to launch her own collection. Enter The Last Line, a direct-to-consumer model that aims to turn the traditionally-stuffy jewelry industry on its head: no walking into a shop full of glass cases, a snobby salesperson giving you a side-eye; no markups; no hassle.

Shelley’s pieces range from classic tennis necklaces and simple studs to bold cocktail rings and zodiac collar necklaces. She’s invested in the creation of every piece, sketching every single item before it goes into production—talk about hands-on.

Below, Shelley gives us the down low on why she chose a DTC model, what she wants to change about the industry, and how she knew it was time to start her own venture.

How did you get your start in the jewelry industry?

I have always been creative, even as a little girl, but truthfully I didn’t understand the capacity of how that trait would play out in my adult life. From super young, I was attracted to jewelry and not just the glamorous, “dress up” side of it but actually the intricacies of a piece–– the shape, the design, the metals, and of course, the stones! I would collect coins and doodle shapes and designs which at that time I didn’t have any clue that I would one day make career of this. Fun fact: I draw every piece we make before we even begin production.

With time my creativity and curiosity to design built and it became more of pursuit for me to see how I could continue to create and maybe make a career of this. I love to design and create and have been known to get sucked into a design because it’s technically interesting or challenging. I studied Fine Arts at Parsons, but they cancelled the Metals program and I was so bummed. A West Coast girl at heart, I ultimately returned home to California to train with Master Jewelers in San Francisco and almost immediately knew I was going to work in jewelry for a living, but I don’t think I ever thought I would do it at this level. And after working on lots of other people’s lines for over 16 years, I decided to launch my own!

You’ve previously said you actually enjoyed working for other people. What made you want to start your own company?

Working for someone else, no matter the industry, is an excellent learning tool, especially if you have any inkling of wanting to be an entrepreneur. I always liked working for other brands because I love the challenge of designing through someone else’s eyes whose style is not identical to mine. I loved interpreting different vibes and becoming their designer and using my knowledge of design to translate their vision. Now designing my line I still design for other people but this time it’s our customers, which is still a challenge to create something that can speak to first-time buyers and all the way up to seasoned collectors. I have always love creating jewelry for all types of people, the wide range is actually what I miss about my old job. I live for a design challenge, constraints are what sometimes what inspire the best creative thinking—push us outside of our comfort level!

What about the direct-to-consumer model that The Last Line employs appealed to you?

Truthfully, before we launched my husband Teddy (who is my business partner) and I went back and forth over being a DTC brand––there is a lot of opportunity, but a lot of risk as the only retailer. Now a year and a half in, I was one of the better decisions we could have made. We have control over how we tell our story as a brand, through our collections, photography, even the pieces we make and our drop schedule. We are telling a story as we intended you to discover it, it’s a designers dream truthfully. Another perk of being direct-to-consumer is there is no middle-man between us and our customer, t’s a more personal approach and it’s service driven, which is important when spending $2,000+ on a piece of jewelry online. We have a whole category of pieces called “you asked, we listened” which has been built off of customer requests.

What’s been the biggest highlight of your career to date?

Ten years ago, I would have never believed that I would have my own brand and definitely not as developed as The Last Line. In my mind, I would have thought I would be more of an artist, maybe produce a few jewelry pieces for my friends or family, but nothing to the scale of what we are looking to accomplish with The Last Line.

The definition of success has changed so much over my career, I’m still defining it! At the beginning of my career when I was designing for other lines, it was seeing a magazine placement of something I designed. When I was in production, I would work so hard on a piece for weeks and if I got a great sample, it was the best, even if we never made it. Currently, I am happy seeing people’s reaction to The Last Line, my muses are real people, the cool women who are wearing The Last Line because they like it, that’s the ultimate success and a real pinch-me moment.

The definition of success has changed so much over
my career—I’m still defining it.

What would you change about the jewelry industry if you could?

I love the industry but I think there is still a notion that fine jewelry is reserved for special occasions and those days are (long) gone, especially for the pieces I design. Women are wearing fine jewelry day-to-night and mixing in old and new. For me, it’s how a woman mixes her jewelry collection that is cool and a goal of mine was to make pieces you can wear and not worry about. What’s the fun in buying something beautiful just to keep it away?!

What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?

Happy customers.

The genuine feeling of loving what I do.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

A lot of people told me before launching The Last Line “Decide, go for it and never look back,” but I think it’s really important to look back, that’s how you learn. I am constantly checking in on what I did, what worked, what didn’t work, etc. it’s such an important learning for growth, personally and professionally! Equally important is to establish (and believe) a clear vision of what you are setting out to do, the worst thing you can do is lose authenticity of your goal, your business, your product, whatever it is. That’s not to say that you can’t do new things, but do it with your own lens. I have made a rule that I will only ever produce things that I am happy to present and wear myself, if I don’t believe in it, why would someone else?

Who’s style do you love?

I’ve never been celebrity or model obsessed, for me I’m way more inspired by the real women and men I see living their life—looking rad, making it happen. Literally, I love unique street style on anyone from a child, a peer, a mom, grandma, guy or girl, I respect it and it inspires me in all forms all the time.

I also love classic and antique jewelry, especially Art Deco and retro styles as a source of inspiration. I’m a nerd for it, a true geek and could probably could win a Jeopardy category on jewelry design over the last 200 years.

I know all antique pieces, their designers and their techniques. I look at old renderings and enjoy just taking them in, I appreciate construction and technical function of pieces.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?

First things first, you learn the most from listening no matter the situation. Then assess what happened, dust yourself off (because you will fall in starting something) and move forward. In a short time I’ve realized how important it is to be perfectly clear about everything and extremely direct, whether its with regards to design, tone of voice, a business relationship or a new hire, I’ve paid hard for times I wasn’t clear. Most importantly, go with your gut and trust yourself.

What’s next for you? What are you most excited for in 2019?

SO much, I feel like we’ve been doing this forever but we’ve only just begun, lots more sparkle to come. . The inspiration behind the name of The Last Line is it is the last place you’ll have need to look for your jewelry and I plan to live up to the name, trust me.

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