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Designer Profiles

Designing Lives: Emily Armenta

Edgy old world looks, tortoiseshell and ancient ruins dominate her American-made 2014 collection.




Emily Armenta profile

IN 2008, INDESIGN touted Emily Armenta as one of the world’s most talented emerging designers. Six years later, Armenta has conjured her magical mix of artistry and business acumen into a successful global business. Not only has she created a collection of rugged yet refined jewelry, but she’s also worked to better the lives of her studio artisans, each of whom came from difficult circumstances and were trained from start to finish in her Texas workshop. Armenta has definitely arrived, and as its leader with a big heart and even bigger plans tells us, the best is yet to come.

FAMILY TIES: “I was the weird one of the bunch. My family is creative, but when I was younger, I thought I could never make a living in such an artistic field. While my father and sister are both successful writers, my mother, who is a brilliant artist and can work in any medium, struggled, never able to turn her art into something. This scared me into taking a safer route. That’s why I went the business route first. At business school, I took an entrepreneurship class and for the first time got a glimpse that I could do something with my art.”

MENTORS’ ADVICE: “My mentors taught me about business, myself, and the right way to be. At the end of the day, you have to give of yourself and try to do the right thing by all people. People’s titles or positions in the field don’t matter. We are all important. It takes an entire team to make things happen and be successful. As far as sourcing stones and supplies, work with honorable, reputable people.”

MOMENT OF TRUTH: “I remember when I realized we were going to be big. We were in our first studio when three major retailers called, all wanting to expand the brand, and at that moment, the company wasn’t ready for that kind of growth. We needed to build a solid foundation around systems and qualities before jumping into the big pond.”

STORY OF US: “Our story is the American Dream. People come into the organization and give their heart and soul while we do our best to provide rich opportunities to flourish. Not many brands are produced on a large scale in the United States anymore. Up-and-coming designers need to know they can produce here, can give back through education and training, and can be crazy successful in doing the right thing.”


FOCUS ON CRAFT: “I’m extremely passionate about keeping your workshop in-house. For one, it provides job opportunities for people here. It is also training for our next generation of artisans. With an in-house workshop, a designer can feel pride and know you are contributing to the industry and giving back. The craft continues long after you are gone.”

WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT: “The consumer is more aware these days and wants products that stand for something, not just another pretty piece of jewelry. They want one that has the substance of a company that stands for certain ethics and morals. Demonstrate what your values are, not by saying it, but by living it.”

NEW MARKETING: “We are working on grassroots efforts to get our story out. Recently, we’ve created digital picture frames emphasizing the handcrafted aspect of our products. We also have a fingerprints book depicting how every piece of jewelry made here has been touched by different individuals and their own lives are now part of that jewelry. The frames and books are offered to retailers. In addition, we are working on how to condense our story down to a card inserted with all jewelry sold.”

NEW COLLECTION: “My overall goal is to build a global lifestyle brand. This year, however, we will build on the success of our exotic skins handbags and open more Armenta boutiques. We are super excited about working with ancient artifacts from Eastern European ruins as well as organic materials like tortoiseshell and abalone. I like that they each have a certain story and resonate with history. There is romance in reminding us where we’ve come from.”

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When There’s No Succession Plan, Call Wilkerson

Bob Wesley, owner of Robert C. Wesley Jewelers in Scottsdale, Ariz., was a third-generation jeweler. When it was time to enjoy life on the other side of the counter, he weighed his options. His lease was nearing renewal time and with no succession plan, he decided it was time to call Wilkerson. There was plenty of inventory to sell and at first, says Wesley, he thought he might try to manage a sale himself. But he’s glad he didn’t. “There’s no way I could have done this as well as Wilkerson,” he says. Wilkerson took responsibility for the entire event, with every detail — from advertising to accounting — done, dusted and managed by the Wilkerson team. “It’s the complete package,” he says of the Wilkerson method of helping jewelers to easily go on to the next phase of their lives. “There’s no way any retailer can duplicate what they’ve done.”

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