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Fashion Brand Rolls Out First Fine Jewelry Collection

California couple behind gorjana powers the brand’s evolution in challenging retail climate.

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IN 2004 GORJANA REIDEL and her husband, Jason Griffin Reidel, hatched plans for a California-cool, affordable jewelry line called gorjana while sitting on the living room floor of their one-bedroom rental in Laguna Beach, CA, which became the brand’s headquarters.

Gorjana had been making gold-plated jewelry as a hobby, the kind of delicate, classically simple pieces that could be casually layered, long before such a layered look spawned the term “neckmess.”

The couple had a couple hundred dollars in their bank account and an entrepreneurial spirit, but no business plan initially.

Still, armed with jewelry samples and a certain scrappiness, they began to pursue and cultivate wholesale accounts, big and small, first in California and then all over the country, by driving 50,000 miles to visit boutiques and work the trade shows.

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Sixteen years later gorjana is a multi-million dollar company with a strong brand identity.

By 2014, they had built up a wholesale business selling to boutiques, yoga shops, spas and resorts, as well as to Nordstrom. In 2016 they added Bloomingdale’s to their roster.

That year, the couple also began selling direct to consumers online and opened their first brick and mortar space in Laguna Beach, which led to a somewhat unexpected, rapid retail expansion on both coasts. There are 16 Gorjana stores now in California, New York and Arizona, with plans for two more to open this year, in addition to maintaining around 500 wholesale accounts. In just a few years, their sales revenue transitioned from primarily wholesale to largely direct to consumer.

On Aug. 21, they will move into the fine-jewelry space with the launch of their first 14K and 18K jewelry collection that includes 26 dainty designs, some accented with diamond and opal, ranging from $80 to $765 MSRP. The fine-jewelry offering will not be available to wholesale customers initially. “COVID has taught us to move slower and move more purposefully,” Reidel says. “We want to make sure we’re doing things methodically, taking our time.”

COVID-19 state-mandated closures slowed them down, but they’ve used the time to re-energize and to reconnect with their entrepreneurial spirit, while thanking their lucky stars they had established e-commerce several years ago to supplement their brick and mortar enterprise. Because, of course, for six to eight weeks, e-commerce was their only option.

They’re trying to stay flexible for whatever comes next.

“We’ve been so scrappy since the beginning, and now there has been a reversion to the scrappy entrepreneurial days,” says Jason Reidel. “There’s a certain kind of learned memory to it. And we find that we are more naturally cut out to be entrepreneurs than operators. I’m thankful that we had that ability to go back and rely on that experience. To go back to being super scrappy.”

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

Resourceful or not, they couldn’t realistically stick to the plan to roll out their fine jewelry collection in March as a pandemic hit.

“This is something loyal customers have been requesting for years, and it also allows us to reach a new customer base,” Reidel says. “The idea was generated with the intention to give our super passionate customers something extra special to layer with all their existing gorjana pieces.”

Reidel credits gorjana’s longstanding popularity to the couple’s commitment to stand behind their product.

“A chain breaks, they lose an earring. How do you handle that? Customer service is so important. We have a happiness guarantee. We guarantee the plating finish. We give care instructions. But you have to be realistic. We’re not going to say, `It’s your fault.’ If someone feels they are unhappy with something, we will take care of it. It can be returned.

“The thing that I suppose is scary is there are people who are always going to abuse that, but that’s OK. Should you allow a small group of people to bring a lesser quality experience to the 99 percent of people who are not going to abuse it? Most people are very good natured and you are better off having a policy that serves them well.”

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The process of keeping the line fresh while reopening stores during the pandemic has been a test of how an omni-channel approach to business works best.

When gorjana introduced a new item in May, the Parker Gem necklace, the gorjana team launched it online only. “Normally, we would have launched online and in stores simultaneously,” says Reidel. “But our stores were just beginning to reopen and we had too many other things to think about. The list of procedures we had to follow was overwhelming.”

They assumed customers wouldn’t want to buy right away in store anyway. They offered the options of virtual styling appointments and layering suggestions in a user-friendly format on their website.

“We were wrong,” he says. “Within a week they were coming in looking for the necklace. What was surprising and also comforting is there are customers who can shop online but prefer to shop in store. They just do. Even with everything going on with COVID they would still rather go to a store and look at a product than click on it online. The ability to see something, to try it on, to interact with someone, to walk out with something, can’t be underestimated.

“Virtual events don’t ever really fully give you the same impact of someone shopping and hanging out and talking,” he says. “That’s been challenging for sure.”

When they moved into retail, they started close to home and opened in large markets where they were unlikely to compete with the types of specialty boutiques that carried their merchandise already.

“We weren’t really in a mind-set of let’s open retail,” Reidel says. “But there was a space here for lease in Laguna Beach and we had talked about it. A bunch of other people were interested in it and I signed a lease on a whim. The idea was maybe this will be the only store we ever have. But we thought it would be cool to merchandise our product the way we want to, to tell our story.”

Although they went into it with tempered expectations, it went so well, they thought, `let’s just do this again.’ Locations in Venice Beach and in the West Village of Manhattan quickly followed.

Malibu location of gorjana

The Malibu location of gorjana has an airy, beach-cottage vibe, which reflects the brand’s image.

“Retail gives you such an opportunity to build community. We wanted it to feel like a home, light and airy, and to have a lounge area where people could grab a coffee and use the Wifi,” he says. “COVID has changed a lot of that but we still want it to be a neighborhood store, a place of comfort, to feel like part of the community. That was the vision.”

Their retail locations have a beach-cottage vibe that reflects the brand’s origins and the jewelry itself.

“Everything is light and airy and it’s not over-merchandised,” Reidel says. “The aesthetic all along was to be kind of clean.”

Fine jewelry isn’t all that is new with Gorjana, which opened a store in Brooklyn, NY, in February.

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Their store in San Jose, CA, had opened just a week before COVID shutdowns in California began. They plan to open two additional California locations in Palo Alto and Marin County this year.

“The reality is that we may open two new stores and they all may shut down again. Well, then they all shut down. We can’t stop what we’re doing,” Reidel says. “We’re committed.”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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