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Asheville store builds chic comfort ... on a budget.

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Mora Designer Jewelry, Asheville, NC

URL: www.moracollection.com; OWNER: Marthe Le Van and Joanna Gollberg; FOUNDED: 2012; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2012; LAST RENOVATED: 2012; AREA: 880 square feet; OPENED BUILD-OUT COST: $14,000; EMPLOYEES: 0 full time, 1 part time; TOP BRANDS: Joanna Gollberg Designer Jewelry; ONLINE PRESENCE: Yelp: 5 Stars; Facebook: 551 Likes; ALEXA TRAFFIC RANK:8,246,630


JOANNA GOLLBERG AND MARTHE Le Van met as author and editor, producing four books on jewelry design together and becoming great friends in the process. About three years ago they decided to venture into business, and Mora, their fun, hip boutique in downtown Asheville, NC, was born.

In many ways, the business venture represents an evolution of their original professional relationship. Gollberg continues to provide the main creative impulse — the store serves as a flagship for her collections — while Le Van shows and sells the jewelry, editing inventory, and working on presentation, display and promotion. “Running a cool jewelry store is an art. It’s visual. It’s theatrical. It’s a dance,” says Le Van.

It’s also proved a lot more challenging — and fun — than the pair had envisioned.

“It’s been much more rewarding than I thought it would be,” adds Le Van.

“I’m enjoying working with people and I’m really enjoying the sales, which I hadn’t expected.”

This spirit of friendship, fun and creativity is at the heart of Mora’s coolness, supported by a physical environment whose dominant interior feature is a mock living room with a couch covered in doodle fabric.

“Our goal was to create a chic but totally comfortable environment,” says Le Van.

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While the two jewelry industry veterans had a lot of ideas of what they wanted Mora to be, they didn’t have a lot of cash. That meant doing much of the work themselves and enlisting the help of family and friends. Gollberg’s husband put in the wood floor, while Gollberg and Le Van handled all the painting. The signature couch was acquired for $50 at Goodwill, and re-covered by a local neighborhood character.

“We refurbished vintage wood tables for our displays. A local artist made the formal steel and glass cases, while our informal cases are 1950s kitchen cabinets we bought at our local Habitat for Humanity thrift shop and then restored and up-cycled,” explains Gollberg, adding that she made the unique jewelry stands herself out of steel and wood. Other fixtures were sourced from Craigslist, antique sales and a local scrap yard.

The bill came to just $14,000, but there is nothing DIY about the final look, which with its bold peacock palette creates an atmosphere that is rich but welcoming and above of all, individual. “Even though it takes time (to do it yourself), it is more personal, different — and cheaper!” Gollberg says.

From a business point of view, the store has given Gollberg, who had previously sold her designs at craft shows, galleries and through other retailers, a sales outlet of her own and the chance to interact with customers. Indeed, that has become one of the store’s main attractions.

“Joanna’s jewelry studio is right downstairs from our shop. If a purchase needs an alteration, it can be made quickly, often in just a few minutes.

Meanwhile, customers can relax on our comfy couch with a cup of hot tea or a glass of wine,” says Le Van.

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Adds Gollberg: “I love that it has opened up a wider jewelry world than being a craftsperson did. It somehow elevates my jewelry in other people’s perspectives.”

A big part of Mora’s appeal is how it fits in so well with Asheville, whose strong independent retail scene is a major attraction for the 200,000 tourists who visit each year. And Mora takes full advantage of its “small is good” ethos, participating in the Downtown Asheville Arts District’s First Friday Gallery Walk, and co-operative initiatives like the Go Local discount card program. The store is also active in fundraising efforts by local nonprofits, such as the Manna Food Bank.

“Asheville has tons of artists and craftspeople, and has for a long time. Our store reflects that tradition of people making things with their hands,” says Gollberg, who along with Le Van is a longtime resident of the city.

In the future, Le Van and Gollberg hope to add a wholesale operation, launch an online catalog and introduce a higher-end line to widen their customer base and their margins. For now though, they admit they still have much to learn running a retail operation. “All in good time,” says Le Van. “We didn’t even have a sign the first year.”

PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Mora Designer Jewelry

1. MORA MEANS PEACOCK: Both Gollberg and Le Van love to travel, with India being a favorite destination. It was there that Gollberg came across the word “Mora,” which means peacock in the ancient language of Sanskrit. The word, with its connotations of beautiful, purple-tinged display, became the obvious choice for the store’s name while a stylized peacock became the centerpiece of its logo. (It didn’t hurt that Mora also means blackberry in Spanish and Italian.)

2. HANDMADE: Gollberg makes almost every piece of jewelry sold in the store, from tiny earrings to ambitious custom pieces. That has been great for customers looking for a true artisan piece and the chance to interact with its creator. But it has been tough on Gollberg’s hands: she suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome and has had repeated surgery. The growing demand for her jewelry means she is now able to outsource some of the casting and leather work and to train an assistant, taking some of the pressure off her hands.

3. LIVING ROOM: Gollberg and Le Van wanted their store to be more like a fashionable boutique than a traditional jewelry store or art gallery but in truth the main sales area is more like a living room, with a large, comfy couch, pillows, upholstered chairs, a coffee table, an end table, and rug. “It feels like home. It puts our clients at ease,” says Le Van, adding that this has been a factor in helping the store to attract a diverse range of customers from all backgrounds, ages and gender. “It is a wonderful place to sit down, to hang out, and get to know each other over a cup of coffee or glass of wine.”

4. FACEBOOK NATURALS: Mora will soon be getting a long-awaited rich website. But in the interim, Facebook has served admirably as the store’s digital interface with the world. Many jewelers could learn from Le Van and Gollberg’s easy interaction with their Facebook followers when it comes to introducing new lines, inviting people to store events, congratulating recent graduates, reposting newspaper stories about the store or just commenting on something that happened in Mora that day. “Social media comes naturally to us, so it is really very easy,” says Le Van.

5. FRIENDS: Going into business can be an excellent way to end a beautiful friendship but Le Van and Gollberg say their different personalities have been a perfect fit for running a store. “We’re very complementary,” says Gollberg. “(When we started), we listed all the different duties in the store and then sat down and split them up. We are each suited better for different tasks. Then we re-visited the jobs and talked about how we were doing at them, and how we each felt about doing them.” Adds Le Van: “Working with a great business partner is one of the best things about the store. We know each other really well, work together well, and are always bouncing ideas off each other. I couldn’t have done this alone.”

Try This: Free Jewelry

Mora hands out “friendship bracelets” to every youngster who comes in the door. “They are thrilled to have jewelry — and it’s never too early to get them interested,” says Le Van.

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

R. Grey Gallery: One thing that struck us immediately was the logo and packaging. Those were both done very well. The metal showcases give it a decidedly “cool” look.

Danielle Pelletiere: This store embodies the unique and personal aesthetic that so many jewelers have lost. The owners make it a point to stay true to their jewelry. From the one-of-a-kind display cases to the bold wall colors, the store atmosphere is one that embraces art and comfort. The fact that the jewelry is made in-house ensures that the customer will get knowledgeable and quick service.

Bruce Freshley: The most compelling thing about Mora is the story of Joanna and Marthe. Their lives dedicated to the art of jewelry design has culminated in designing, building and opening their own store. Like many of this year’s Coolest Store entries, Mora is really more of a gallery than a store, where in this case, less is truly more —or should I say mora?

Julie Romanenko: I am a sucker for hardwood and exposed brick! It is an inviting store, from the painted wall colors, to the robin’s egg blue display colors. These are very talented women, and it shows.

Gerry Gonda: The store’s textures and colors give off a very warm non-intimidating feel. The color palettte and design elements are supportive of each other, creating a very comfortable vibe. SOHO transplanted to North Carolina.

Chris Burslem is Group Managing Editor at SmartWork Media.

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