As Fashion Week heads from New York to Europe, designers continue to show off their looks for the seasons ahead in hoprd og garnering the attention of buyers and celebs alike, and keep their fingers crossed that their designs will show up on a red carpet or TV sets near you. For some, like Allyson Leak, such success comes “naturally.” The 28-year-old former journalist is jewelry designer and founder of Ally Marie Couture, a line of earthy-yet-glam handmade pieces of materials like bamboo, mother-of-pearl, turquoise and Swarovski crystal, that Leak calls “wearable art.” In 2007, just two weeks after Leak finished designing the first collection for her newly launched line, superstar Alicia Keys wore one of her necklaces during an appearance on MTV Hits. Since then, celebrities fans have included singer Estelle and actress Lisa Arrindell Anderson, and Leak, who has been crafting jewelry since she was eight, hasn’t looked back.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Leak and spoke with the young entrepreneur about the business of launching your own accessories line and what she has in store for spring.
Black Enterprise: Where does your interest in designing jewelry come from?
Allyson: I guess my passion is a fusion of my love for sparkly things, being creative and accessorizing. I love designing necklaces that can be worn more than one way. My Chrystal Chandelier Necklace, that’s made of Swarovski crystals and glass, can be worn to a black tie event or with a tank top, skinny jeans, and a gorgeous pair of shoes.
When exactly did you know you wanted to get into the jewelry making business?
I knew for certain a few years ago. I made my first pair of earrings at age seven and it’s so interesting how things come full circle.
What were your founding principles for Ally Marie Couture?
My founding principles were to create jewelry that is unique and versatile. My jewelry pieces are one of a kind, and my objective is to create timeless pieces and to always offer the best customer service regardless if someone is spending $5or $500.
Your jewelry has been worn by R&B singers like Alicia Keys and Estelle. What are some of your other triumphs?
I had the opportunity to be a jewelry gift bag sponsor for VH1’s Fashion Rocks award show, which was held in New York. Also, last summer, I designed signature necklaces for the Ace of Spades Champagne. I am so blessed and thankful to have had such wonderful celebrities wear my jewels.
What have been your challenges in general, and in getting your work to market?
The challenges have and still are that I am a one-woman show. When you work as a team of one, you can only get so much done in a day. However, I recently started splitting my daily tasks into 20 minute intervals. This allows me time to multi-task and so far, it’s working great.
What power moves do you make to get your designs exposure?
The first thing I do is envision my line and set a goal to have it completed within a certain time frame. Next, I utilize my relationships and reach out to others for feedback on my ideas. During my design phase, I again reach out and this time, I am just fearless in my efforts to get exposure and visibility. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes my efforts are ignored. However, I guess my real power moves are my perseverance and positive outlook.
How heavy have relationships weighed in getting your designs visibility?
The key to building your brand is to be nice, professional and someone who stands by her work. Some of my visibility has resulted through personal relationships or because I knew someone who knew someone. However, there has been many times where I’ve reached out to editors or stylists that I don’t know to gain exposure. Either way, I’ve found that people will help you if they believe that you are sincere and [they] like your product, even if they don’t know you.
Where does your design inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from a broad perspective. I adore nature and I think the elements inspire my colors and design shapes. I love pretty looking things that are shiny (Laughs). I am usually drawn to flowers, crystals, precious stones, chains etc. Honestly, at a bead store, I walk around slowly examining every possible single bead, going over bead combinations in my head, and cannot wait to get home and start my next jewelry piece.
What makes Ally Marie Couture different?
My jewelry is timeless and not trendy. My couture jewelry pieces are all handmade, by me, with lots of love and each piece can be worn dressed up or dressed down.
Tell us about your new spring collection.
I refer to all of my new pieces as my kids (laughs), and my spring collection is called “Behold a Lady.” I wanted to design pieces that made women feel feminine, modern, and stylish. I chose vintage items, buttons, crochet fabrics, purse handles, and flowers to create my line.
In your opinion, what advice can creative professionals benefit from?
My advice to all creative professionals is to stay positive. You may even want to have a positive mantra (repeated often to remind you to keep going). Don’t be a know it all. Get a mentor, take a class, and share ideas with people already in your field. The key is to learn and grow. I often think that if you let your ego get away from you, your business plan will suffer. Designers need to learn about the business side as well as being creative. Although you may have an amazing line, you need to know how to do proper public relations and how to market yourself.
What is your personal success mantra?
Let’s see…I guess I would have to say “The good and the bad are all a part of a balanced plan for you to learn and grow. Try and make the best out of every part of your journey to be successful.”
View the entire collection at AllyMarie.com.
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