There’s nothing like a story about a self-made female billionaire to remind me that ‘Hey, I might not be eating two minute noodles for the remainder of my life’.
I have always found women like Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx who built a company worth $1.04 billion after years of selling fax machines door-to-door, extremely inspiring.
I don’t come from wealth. I didn’t go to a private school. And despite the huge dent admitting this will make on my likability index, I’m quite ambitious.
I don’t need to – or even want to – become a billionaire in my later years, but success stories are all the more sweeter when they come from women who started with depleted bank accounts and beat-up cars.
Enter: Carolyn Rafaelian.
Admittedly, Rafaelian had a private school education – she attended the Prout Memorial High School for Girls in Rhode Island – which her parents worked hard to secure for her and her four siblings. Aside from that, the American-Armenian’s life was utterly middle class.
Rafaelian spent her afternoons after school working for her father’s small jewellery business, attaching small pieces of cardboard to the backs of dainty earrings. It’s a time she described to Forbes last week as “torture”.
She would go on to study at the American College in Los Angeles, before moving to New York at 22 and, eventually, creating her own jewellery line to be sold under her father’s label in her Tribeca apartment.
“I created what I wanted to wear,” Rafaelian told the publication. “I wanted cocktail rings. I wanted sterling silver.”
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Before long, the entrepreneur was married at 23, pregnant at 25, and a mother-of-two by the time she was 27. After relocating back to the more family-friendly Rhode Island, Rafaelian’s small line was struggling to stay afloat with far cheaper, larger Chinese competitors.
When she looked down at her daughters, “Alex was in her high chair, Ani was probably in a bouncer,” the idea struck her: she would branch off from her father’s business, to establish her own jewellery brand.
The name? Alex and Ani.
But this wouldn’t just be a jewellery business. It would be a lifestyle business. One that has a conspicuous message: ‘We will empower, inspire and protect the wearer.’
Despite being raised in the Christian Armenian Apostolic faith, Rafaelian’s jewellery breathes an alchemy of all kinds of spiritualities. Her charms give weight to the importance of symbols, her crystals promise healing – almost supernatural – properties.
And this is where the success of Alex and Ani lies. Customers are nourished with positive affirmations – scribed on “meaning cards” – with every bangle purchase. They are fed an Oprah-esque Be Your Best Self pat on the back with every credit card swipe.
In 2004, Alex and Ani with all of its protective crystals and jangly brass, was the first of its kind.
It’s not a philosophy every woman will buy into, but the results speak for themselves; Carolyn Rafaelian is a woman worth $1 billion dollars, landing her in 18th place on Forbes’ annual ’60 Richest, Most Successful Self-Made Women In America’ list.
Since its creation some 13 years ago, Rafaelian has birthed another daughter and gone through a divorce, while Alex and Ani has gone on to be stocked in almost every American department store, including the likes of Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. Remodelling the company in 2009 would see a successful company turning over $5 million transform into a jewellery powerhouse, churning over $500 million in 2016.
Getting there meant sacrificing that elusive 'work life balance' that doesn't seem to actually exist. Speaking to Dujour about this busiest time in her life, Rafaelian said:
“My conversations with my kids when they were little squirts were like, ‘Mummy’s going to work her ass off, and all I need from you is don’t get crazy with the boys, make sure you do good in school and stay away from drugs'.
“But as far as the whole working-woman thing goes… Let’s not forget, we are a strong species. I think men have their challenges now, women have their challenges now, but it’s only a challenge if you want it to be a challenge. My father did not treat any of us differently, my brother or his girls. We did what we needed to do, we were all treated the same and we made what we made out of life.”
Now, Alex and Ani - which also stocks leather clutches and scented candles on top of their charm bangles and pendant necklaces - is braced to push abroad and rival names like Pandora by 2020.
So prepare to see some of those meaning cards and celestial-themed bangles on our shores soon, ladies.