Conversation Pieces. Quality. Hand woven. Unique. These are some of the many words that come to mind after visiting the MILLIANNA Jewelry headquarters in Downtown Spokane. I love learning about amazing businesses that call Spokane home! These stunning pieces of jewelry seen all around Hollywood, are designed, hand-sewn, and distributed by women here in Spokane.
Sharmilla (designer) and Arianna (marketing) worked together in the 90’s at BCBG where they became great friends and always talked about how they wanted to start their own business together. “We were there for many years and learned a lot from that experience. We learned to be pretty resourceful and entrepreneurial.” In 2010 the friends joined professional forces to create MILLIANNA.
“There will always be people who are more experienced, more resourceful, more connected, but the one thing that we had was our aesthetic. We felt like we could apply that aesthetic to whatever we wanted to go into. That’s our magic sauce. No matter what happens, that can’t be taken away from us. So, we threw the dice and went for it.“
Though, the journey to success was far from easy. They were shown the door again and again as they tried to sell to showrooms and eventually realized that was the beginning of the end of that sales model so they decided to expand their reach to online and social media. This is currently managed by Jesse (another Spokane local).
Why did you choose to run your business from Spokane?
At the beginning, we were struggling with production quality. We were having a really tough time fulfilling the orders and I [Arianna] was visiting family in Spokane when I learned about an organization called “World Relief”. They help introduce refugees into our society and get them set up with housing, jobs, etc. In 2011, we started a training program with them where we taught nine women to do the work and they were paid per piece. We have expanded a lot since then and 70-80% of our workforce is women who have come through Spokane World Relief. They have a strong work ethic, great attention to detail, and they do beautiful work.
There’s a very talented pool of labor here in Spokane. Arianna said, “I’ve traveled a lot, but people in Spokane (and the Northwest) have a very strong work ethic and craft background. The low cost of living and low cost to do business is a huge bonus. There’s a comfortable lifestyle and room to spread out and grow.”
They run the business with Sharmilla heading design on the East Coast, and Arianna running marketing and operations from their Spokane office.
How has social media effected business?
People want to be closer to the talent. Relatable. It’s more of an emotional connection than it’s ever been.
The way we are selling is changing because the way buyers are buying is changing. More and more people are buying online, and boutique stores are having a tough time with it. Buyers aren’t attending as many shows and, instead, they are shopping through social media or going directly to the website to purchase wholesale. We have also started working with younger buyers who are social media savvy.
What celebrities have worn your jewelry?
Elisabeth Rohm (American Hustle), Miranda Lambert, Tea Leoni (Madame Secretary), Rachel Ray. Our jewelry has been worn on television shows like Riverdale, Jane the Virgin, Scandal, How to get away with Murder, and Dynasty. We were recently featured in a trend publication – inspired by Met Gala, Accessories Magazine, as one of the trend leaders in fashion for this season.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Sharmilla has an amazing eye for design and she is very in tune with fashion, trends, and interiors.
She pays close attention to how trends are changing based on weather, television, and world events. She likes to try new things and she always seems to be ahead of the trends. Sharmilla’s Butterfly designs were done a season ago and now the trend is full on and you can expect to see a lot like this, in addition to other insects, in the Spring/Summer of 2019.
This is how we’ve been able to have a unique and distinctive direction. No matter how many designers, there’s always room for unique perspectives. We have to justify our price point for what we do.
What set of skills or characteristics do you have that you think set you apart?
Social media, photography, getting our products on popular television shows and sharing our story.
What are struggles working in the jewelry business?
Big department stores poaching from small designers. They will buy it, produce a dumbed down version, make in their factory for cheaper, then never buy from you again.
Where do you like to eat around Spokane?
Sharmilla – Clinkerdagger, Borrachos, Churchills, Zolas, Franks Diner.
Arianna – Kendall Yards Area, Central Food, Park Lodge, Luna.
What is your best seller?
Single strands, cuffs, something more simple. We also have little woven pieces around $100-$125. We have the magnificent version and also the little sister that has the same look that is more attainable.
What can we expect in the future from MILLIANNA?
We’ve done everything from dainty pieces to chunky metal chokers, and really wanted to do something different. We thought “there haven’t been any shoe accessories in a while, then we came up with the ostrich feathers”. These pieces are so multi-faceted as they can be worn as a bracelet, anklet, on the upper arm, the possibilities go on and on.
“I didn’t realize it could be multi-worn until it was already made. I have a niece with type 1 diabetes who thought to use it to hide her insulin pump. This little shoe accessory has turned into something amazing because it can be worn in your own unique way. People are going nuts over it!” Sharmilla said. They are also working on some evil eye designs that we got a sneak peak of!
Shop for yourself and view their collections at www.millianna.com.