“I’ve started a movement to bring sustainability and transparency to the jewelry industry”

Leadership Lessons With Proud Limpongpan

We believe in using the power of fashion and beauty to drive sustainability and empowerment for their Thai communities. The whole purpose of CERIMANI is to make a real difference and help empower people. This can be explained through the meaning of its name where ‘CERI’ comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘freedom’ and MANI’ means ‘jewel’. Sure, there are other brands that also have a charitable angle. I think we stand out by not only having designs that fuse an East-meets-West aesthetic for the modern wearer, but we also use very high quality sustainable materials, along with a business model that puts the funds where they are most needed to preserve the craft for more generations to come. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Proud Limpongpan, Founder and CEO of CERIMANI, a jewelry brand that is trying to champion sustainability and ethics.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I first started my career in management consulting for The Boston Consulting Group’s Southeast Asian offices before working in a Special Projects role, reporting to the global COO, for a private-equity funded jewelry company. That gave me a foray into the jewelry industry and how interlinked it is to Thailand, where I’m originally from. I was surprised to find out how many well-known brands produce there, yet no one credits the country and its workers much. I’m also interested in the intersection between social ventures, craftsmanship and technology/innovation, and try to bring that out in CERIMANI.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

I was surprised to find out that the jewelry manufacturing business is one of the core strengths of the Thai economy, yet many manufacturers are reluctant to adopt innovative technology and techniques regardless of the profound transformation the jewelry industry has been through for past 15 years. It is not enough to just innovate. I truly believe that to be sustainable, we must be responsible. That’s why CERIMANI is produced with a manufacturer that fully commits to advance sustainability in the industry. All our products are made from recycled gold and silver, and all our gems are ethically-sourced. We don’t hold much inventory, and for the styles that we do, we are able to re-melt the metal to create a different style instead of creating wastage.

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?

Not sure I have a very funny mistake. However, when I first started, I assumed that the biggest jewelry manufacturers in the country (and probably the region) would be the best ones to make the CERIMANI designs come to life. How wrong I was — not only were they very inefficient and unresponsive, they definitely work like a machine without caring much about their consumers or the ‘why’ behind things. I learned that being the biggest, does not necessarily mean the best, and that might mean they might not stay the biggest for long. So I opt to work with a much smaller factory — which at that point, did not even have a website — but has now grown 3x the size within two years.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The brand believes in using the power of fashion and beauty to drive sustainability and empowerment for their Thai communities. The whole purpose of CERIMANI is to make a real difference and help empower people. This can be explained through the meaning of its name where ‘CERI’ comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘freedom’ and MANI’ means ‘jewel’. Sure, there are other brands that also have a charitable angle. I think we stand out by not only having designs that fuse an East-meets-West aesthetic for the modern wearer, but we also use very high quality sustainable materials, along with a business model that puts the funds where they are most needed to preserve the craft for more generations to come. I’ve often been told that all our customer touch points, especially the website, do not seem very ‘start-up-like’ but rather much more established.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Just keep remembering the ‘why’. Why are you in the industry? Why are you still doing this day after day? Why is this the reason that sets your passion on fire?

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We haven’t launched for that long, so I wouldn’t call it a success just yet. But we do measure how well we are doing by how much impact has been made each year. As a company we aim to open vocational schools in the Northern region of Thailand in the next five years and want to make sure that jewelry made in Thailand is held to the highest esteem. This sense of pride will ensure that the techniques and skills will always be preserved. We want to provide access to an alternative career to the poorest region of the country so that children will not go into the grey economy. We have started at the root cause of why schools do not exist — people cannot afford them due to health and monetary issues. Partnering with the Karen Hilltribes Trust, for every jewelry piece purchased, the equivalent of $50 goes into our fund that translates to bring one person’s access to water for 1 year. Last year, we successfully funded our first village’s septic water tank along with 4 toilets, improving the lives of 140 villagers. This means the villagers can have time to go to school instead of walking kilometers to get access to water and have fresh clean water right at their village which reduces the rates of typhoid.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I’m extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end” — Margaret Thatcher

Sounds like the person saying it is a little spoiled at first, but it also implies that you’re willing to be patient for the right opportunities. That’s sort of like CERIMANI — we’ve been bootstrapping for more than a year now, and have been very patient with the results we’re getting. Especially when we’re trying to do a lot of good with the revenue we receive, but building up the revenue takes time, and seeing the fruit of of long-term project to better the lives of those in the Mae Hong Son region, takes even more time.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

There has definitely been a strong direct-to-consumer trend growing in all aspects of retail. The wholesale industry is suffering, and many new brands (like CERIMANI) have now opted to have an e-commerce/digital-only presence instead of having to pitch to department stores. There’s also a high growth of mobile shopping, and reduced time spent on each webpage. That means brands have to focus a lot on the customer journey and tightening the sales funnel in order to succeed. CERIMANI tries to make the shopping process as seamless as possible with very little risk for our customers when they want to order our pieces. We have a 30-day free-returns policy as well as a one-year warranty. We can also custom-make any of our existing designs within two weeks. Speed and personalization will become key in the fashion industry, in an era where consumers want to see now buy now. In the next few years we should be able to shop for clothes or jewelry straight from home (possibly with the help of virtual reality), and be able to simulate how those things would look like on ourselves without having to leave our seat and actually go to the store, or to order the ring online to check whether the finger-size measurement was correct.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Follow the ‘soft’ trends — We all know that fashion comes and goes. Following trends such as designs that are big for the year are great for traditional fashion brands, but for young brands like CERIMANI trying to break the noise, following these trends may not have the desired effect. There will be those one-off sales, but customers are unlikely to remember you or return to you again when you have not stood out in their minds. Instead, follow ‘soft’ trends that appeal to their emotions. Some of these might be seasonal, like promoting unique designs that are appropriate for wedding season.
  2. Segmenting your customers — Segment them not according to age, gender, or the usual demographics, but rather by their behaviors, lifestyle and what they would like to associate with. Thanks to the amount of data being collected these days, this becomes easier.
  3. Focus on generating real values — just having a beautiful product might fare well for a boom economy, but those within the fashion industry that are all beauty and no real value tend to suffer in economic downturns. By the way, we’ve had many years of booms so a bust might be coming soon. At CERIMANI, we believe in doing good and making real impact along our supply chain. Authenticity is a commonly used but rarely followed through strategy.
  4. Speak their language — some marketers believe you need at least three adjectives to describe a product to make it seem more fashionable, exotic and/or high-quality. Use different channels of communications, whether it be your website, social media, or email campaigns to speak your customer’s language at the appropriate time. If you subscribe to CERIMANI’s newsletter, you’d see that the emails sent are often very light-hearted ones that highlights different things like world elephant day (to show appreciation for the gentle giants and how they’re used in warfare previously).
  5. Online only is very very hard — despite a lot of brands out there that are online only (like ours), you’ll find that a lot of them do events too. This not only makes you seem more real (especially if selling to a niche geography), but also allows customers to touch and feel the quality of your product while listening to your story.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

With low barriers in the jewelry industry, there will always be a constant threat of new entrants. According to a McKinsey report, the current $37.5 billion global market for luxury jewelry will to continue to grow to $270 billion by 2025 with most of the growth coming from established brands. The number of rivals will be lower, but the competition to capture a customer’s loyalty will be increasingly fierce. This provides industry players to distinguish themselves by improving themselves in the field of sustainability. This mission needs to be reflected in the business model, infrastructure, and sustainability initiatives, as a real differentiation factor. From what I see in other brands, many current initiatives are skewed towards environmental, with their impacts not tracked or evaluated. There’s also always room to do more to meet the sustainable development goals within the supply-chain of the industry, including increasing wages, issuing more predictable work schedules, and promote a higher self-worth to factory workers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Actually when someone comes to the CERIMANI website, we ask them to “join the movement” if they’re a supporter of sustainability, craftsmanship, and giving back. We want to bring transparency into the jewelry industry so that our customers are aware of the efforts being made to bring the beautiful creations to life in a sustainable and helpful way.

How can our readers follow you on social media?




@cerimani on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Originally published at medium.com

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