Figure out what makes you unique. Having a story is important. My training and passion for making jewelry is what drives me. Having had some experience working at a friends studio during my University years helped me to recognize that a brick and mortar is not easily sustainable. I made a conscious decision to craft an Etsy store and blossom from there.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Ribas, Cofounder and Artistic Director of Brites Jewelry Inc. (also known as Charm Brites or Custom Brites). Inspired by her family’s deep artistic roots, Michelle began her own artistic journey as a classically trained Goldsmith. Upon graduating she was quickly hired to manage day to day operations and teach classes for an independent jewelry studio in downtown Toronto. After leaving the jewelry industry for a few years, Michelle worked at University Health Network in Human Resources. In 2012, after being truly inspired while watching a film about the founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, Michelle feverishly decided that it was time for her to leave her corporate position and pursue her dreams of opening up her own Jewelry company. It was no small feat, since at that time she was on her second maternity leave with a small toddler and a new baby in tow. With the support of her husband Paul, they founded Brites Jewelry Inc. Michelle is specifically aware as to the challenges of being a working mother and a woman in business. Michelle’s new line of jewelry, Charm Brites includes more than 250 pieces inspired by her affinity of working with her clients to personalize their jewelry. Michelle is honored to be a part of so many special occasions and have the pleasure of designing jewelry to cherish life’s greatest moments. Michelle’s long-term vision is to help mentor and inspire others artistic spirits to find their path and fully explore it to the fullest potential. When not deeply engulfed in her jewelry business Michelle enjoys spending time in nature, going on long walks and bike riding with her two amazing young daughters and her loving husband also her business partner.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up among a strong line of artists in my family and it is definitely something that I feel is in my blood. As a young girl I wanted to do art projects and always took great interest in artistic enterprises. My parents always enrolled me into a summer art studio programs and this quickly became part of my routine. I felt very fortunate that they had encouraged that side of me. After high school came the challenge of knowing that I had these talents but also wanting to know whether there would be an opportunity to turn my talents into a sustainable occupation. Then came the decision to study for three years classically in the art of jewelry making. I actually spent three years training to become a goldsmith! I am traditionally trained in taking the raw material and rendering it into a beautifully finished piece — taking it through my process from start to finish. By that time, I had been working in the jewelry industry for a few years as my graduate classmate had a jewelry studio in downtown Toronto where I had been hired to work and I was able to do goldsmithing classes at night and also teach classes.
Yet, even while my passion was still fresh, I found it a bit hard to pay rent and to make ends meet. I was hoping to keep my job at the studio on the sideline but eventually veered off into a job at Bell Canada for five years and then moved over to the University Health Network as an administrator for another six years. It was around the time I was about to go on my second maternity leave that I saw a movie about Steve Jobs and heard about his company Apple. It was as though a light bulb went off for me and when I felt my first breakthrough taking place. I decided right then and there that the 9 to 5 lifestyle would no longer be part of my experience. It was the deepest shift I had ever felt.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
My husband and I are in the process of expanding into the Chinese market. We are not in the business of manufacturing our goods in China but rather in the process of expanding our retail line to accommodate the Chinese market because we feel that there is a massive opportunity for affordable personalized jewelry across much of the world is real. On my most recent trip to China, my husband and I were in the process of setting up a shop and began to speak to a few people there about our idea. One of the people we met was a business professor who wanted to put us in contact with one of his friends who ran a jewelry company herself. He set up our meet and on our way over to the province of Shenzhen to have a light discussion over coffee, we were surprised to find that she brought with her, five other people in her company, including the head along with the translator and a few key employees. A small coffee chat to discuss pointers and hash out more ideas soon became an offer to partner with us, the idea being that they would do it before anyone else could. This was easily a great boost in confidence, knowing that we were on the right path with our endeavor and gave us outlook on how spontaneously deals can be made.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Just the fact that they we were interested served as such a great boost of confidence and really consolidated the idea that we were in the right frame of mind to know that everything would work out for us in taking this pathway.
One of the funniest ones that stand out is when we first started. Surely you want to make sure that the customer is always happy. This story was about a customer who was making a present for his wife who was expecting. It was a huge deal for him to receive the present on time and when it arrived, we discovered that there was a misspelling on the necklace. There was a tremendous amount of pressure placed on me as a leader to make sure the entire process went perfectly. I completely overblew the budget on fixing the issues and spent an extra $100.00 on the package to ensure that it arrived on time and then changed all of my automated processes to ensure that this sort of mistake would never take place again.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I feel that we really work to provide impeccable pieces that people can personalize at a highly competitive and affordable price. Even my competitors on Etsy are known to sell at double or even triple my price. Everything is made here in house and with the technology we have here, we can produce for our customers with a one day turnaround. My customers keep asking me if I can do this or that, and my motto has always been, if you can find it on the internet, or in an image, we can produce if for you. Our focus has been on being exceptionally agile and we have the ability to give a next day delivery because of the technology that we have invested in here.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I would like to start going into schools and talking to people in high school. When I went into the arts, I had very little guidance related to how to become profitable if at all, so I would like the opportunity to share and to serve as a mentor to those who are keen on what a life in the arts can bring. I want to speak to people and to share my story and give them ideas about how to become successful as an artist. Recently, I was given an opportunity to present some jewelry concepts at Fashion Week Brooklyn for SS2019. It was really a vision I held for some time and when my marketing director met a publicist at an event recently, it was almost as though the Universe conspired to give me everything I had envisioned. It’s really cool what you can manifest when you have a strong vision for you brand. I think creatively and having models and influencers expose my brand to the public is a really great way to bring this total vision and fashion moment to life.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Never give up. There is a Chinese proverb that I always fall back on. Fall seven times, stand up eight. I am committed to working through the muck to get to a better place. Maybe it’s something inside of me that tells me never to be broken. It guides me to keep standing up even after I have been knocked down.
Lately I have been listening to this song and in it, comes a verse that sings, when you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is, but life is much broader when you discover this one simple fact: that everything around you that you call life is made up of the fact that no one is smarter or better than you. And then every time I hear this song I have it blasting in my car and have since discovered that it was Steve Jobs who served as inspiration if not articulated the lyrics. Steve Jobs has continued served as an icon for me through and through. Over the past 4 years, we have experienced explosive growth with our orders growing by 100% year over year.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Currently we have five employees and we will have two more once we have the Chinese market up and running. I worked in an administrative team during my hospital years where 85% of the workforce was made up of women. What I find worked well, was a mindset that could allow for openness and flexibility. As a female leader it is important to lead a team with wellness at the fore. Keeping an open mind, listening to people and being willing to help the team attain their goals is necessary to foster a culture of great leadership. For my own team in the jewelry business, one of the things that I often try to honor is the rights of every individual. I want them to come to work and be inspired by how they work to serve my needs as well. Instilling loyalty is an important hallmark of leadership and I was startled to find that this attitude was not prevalent in the field of physical therapy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My biggest cheerleader has always been my husband. From day one, as I started to speak this idea into existence, he was behind me 110%. Because my husband is an entrepreneur, he already comes with a mindset that is wired for business. It was easy for him to see that my business idea was viable. We spent a lot of trial and error positioning the products, photographing models wearing the products. I am so truly grateful for his invaluable time and experience.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I feel that I am open to discussing how I got to where I am. Even while I am at a party meeting people who tell me that they are going to start a business, I am happy to share resources and information for how best to help carve their path. I share what worked for me and what did not and applaud entrepreneurship and passion wherever it lies. For my fellow creatives, I am especially eager to communicate what success looks like on Etsy and beyond.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started An Etsy Store” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Pictures are your product. Make sure you have amazing photos. People eat with their eyes and positioning your product visually is a creative project unto itself which can either lead to more sales or keep your sales stagnant.
- Make sure you have great keywords in your description. Think about what people are searching for and use those tags in your description so that people can run searches that will land on your product or page.
- Ensure you are not naming your images with some elusive title that people wont search for. I name the Bar Necklace the Bar Necklace, not JPG image 546. If the images look like what people will search for, it will remove any barriers to being found and getting picked up on search engines like Google.
- Take a look at other stores and see what is similar to your product and figure out what makes you a ‘me special’. In our case, what makes us different is the element of customization and the quality attached to our workmanship. We really give our customers the opportunity to create their own jewelry and we turn it around quickly. That just in time philosophy means we aren’t carrying inventory without any demand which helps us to manage our costs.
- Figure out what makes you unique. Having a story is important. My training and passion for making jewelry is what drives me. Having had some experience working at a friends studio during my University years helped me to recognize that a brick and mortar is not easily sustainable. I made a conscious decision to craft an Etsy store and blossom from there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Being a mentor for kids that are interested in art and showing them that it is possible to continue that passion is my biggest joy. Many artists are imbued with the idea that they are liable to being relegated to a life of poverty and humility and I want to change this philosophical thinking. I believe that there is a mindset attached to those among us who have become more successful. This mindset includes having a strong vision for your future, taking risks even when there are naysayers and having a deep and intense focus on your craft as you will spend many hours doing the work that you love.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Live your life like most people won’t so that you can spend your life like most people can’t.” You can never really anticipate the challenges of running business as an entrepreneur. Not letting things bring you down so much so that you want to give up when things get hard has always been my mantra. Things can get hectic, but you must keep sight of the bigger picture. In business, we call it a sacrifice plan. Once, I had to get a rush piece out to a client and found myself under a severe deadline. My husband was travelling for business and I had my two girls with me while my mom was away in England. I packed the kids in the car at 9pm and took them to work with me so that I could push through that night on my deadline. The kids brought their sleeping bags, flashlights and games and stayed with me through the late hours until I brought them home in the wee morning hours. They still refer to how much fun they had during that time and it reminded me of how grateful I was to have a great support system in my family. Also it taught me that there is sacrifice in business to honor the integrity of what you promised to a client.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I have always been interested in speaking with the founders of Bauble Bar. I read a few articles and found their story very inspirational. These are business leaders I would be honored to have as mentors and if the possibility of a joint venture took place, it would be a dream come true.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.