Creating a Luxury Jewelry Brand Through Networking and Sustainability
At first glance, it’s obvious that a piece of MONIQUE PÉAN jewelry is unique.
But what’s really special about this luxury brand is everything behind the jewelry. Monique Péan, the designer, created the brand not only to share her designs with the world, but to combine her love for philanthropy, design, art, travel, and business. Today, the business is run by Monique and her husband, Stephen Glass, and is supported by some of the biggest names in fashion.
We interviewed the duo to learn more about their inspiration, how they built a team, and their top three tips for anyone looking to start their own company. Read on to learn more about the beautiful designs of MONIQUE PÉAN and don’t forget to check out Monique and Stephen on about.me.
Why did you make the career leap from analyst to designer?
Monique: My decision to stop working in finance was prompted by the passing of my younger sister Vanessa. I began taking design classes and found working with my hands to be therapeutic. While shopping in a few stores in New York, I was approached by the owners who expressed interest in selling my designs and I realized that there was an opportunity to combine my love for philanthropy, design, art, travel and business and create a career with all of those elements. My sister had been raising money for philanthropic efforts in Haiti, and I wanted to follow in her philanthropic footsteps and have been working to build clean water wells with charity:water with profits from my designs since day 1.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced creating a jewelry brand?
Monique: When I started designing in 2006, sustainability was not associated with luxury or the fine jewelry industry and I have sought to change this perception over the past 10 years. I am proud that I have focused on environmentally responsible practices in all aspects of my work from sourcing and use of sustainable materials, including using 18 carat recycled gold and platinum, conflict and devastation free precious stones, repurposed diamonds and fossils which are gathered with no mining involved to environmentally friendly packaging and printing.
It’s exciting to see that the preexisting boundaries separating luxury and sustainability have continued to break down and that our practices have helped counter the notion that the two cannot coincide.
What is the biggest freedom you have found owning your own brand?
Monique: One of my favorite aspects of having my own brand is the freedom to explore and find inspiration from geographical regions, ancient and modern architecture and nature that I find to be fascinating. I have greatly enjoyed traveling to all seven continents and over 20 countries around the world for inspiration while meeting incredible artisans and conscious individuals who are interested in making the world a better place along the way.
Stephen, did your time as a student influence how you run your business?
Stephen: There are a lot of similarities between being the captain of a sports team and leading a team in business. Both require the ability to manage a range of personalities and find ways to motivate each individual in pursuit of the team’s larger goals. Being an athlete also taught me about how to deal with setbacks and failures and how to learn from them to become a stronger performer, which is a key skill to have in business.
What is your favorite thing about working in jewelry?
Stephen: My favorite part about working at MONIQUE PÉAN is being part of a business that has larger social and environmental missions that can hopefully inspire a positive direction for the industry that we are in.
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Stephen: Being involved in so many different aspects of the business on a constant basis can be challenging, but it also makes it exciting.
Do you find sustainability to be a constraint when designing your collections?
Stephen: We view our dedication to sustainability as an integral part of our design process and brand rather than as a constraint. Narrowing our focus to environmentally responsible materials allows us to be more creative with regards to sourcing and design and leads us in a more innovative direction than what is found in more traditional fine jewelry.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of designing jewelry?
Monique: I am often intrigued by the challenge to physically translate my disparate concepts into my work. My most recent collection, SOLCIN, was inspired by my travels throughout Utah and by Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, a remote work of land art. The collection highlights my use of fossilized dinosaur bone from the late Jurassic age, ranging between 146 and 156 million years old, and septarian, materials that are both native to the Colorado Plateau. Dinosaur bone is a very challenging material to work with and requires master artisans to hand carve the fossils. While hand faceting difficult materials can be demanding, it is very rewarding when a design comes to fruition and evokes my original inspirations.
Did anyone mentor you along the way? Who and what was some of their best advice?
Monique: I have been very fortunate to win multiple CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards, and as part of one of the awards I was given my choice of a mentor in the fashion industry and I asked to be introduced to Michael Kowalski, the former CEO of Tiffany & Co.
I expected a formal, business-oriented discussion during our first meeting but we spent the first two hours talking about topics related to sustainability, including harmful mining practices in Alaska and the importance of creating stronger environmental practices within the jewelry industry.
We continue to meet to discuss sustainable sourcing, business strategy, international expansion and processes for growing my company.
Anna Wintour, the Editor in Chief of Vogue, has also been an exceptional mentor to me as my brand has grown over the past 10 years. Both Michael and Anna have helped me to strategically analyze my business from both micro and macro perspectives and their unique insights have enabled me to approach challenges and opportunities in ways that I would not have considered.
Where do you see jewelry design going in the future?
Stephen: It is inspiring to see some industry leaders begin to embrace sustainable luxury goods. My hope is that as more fine jewelry companies commit to using sustainably sourced materials, the demand for environmentally destructive materials will diminish.
What is one of the biggest differences that sets your brand apart from the others?
Monique: I am committed to partnering with artisans around the world to support traditional master craftsmanship and slow design. MONIQUE PÉAN pieces are handmade by master craftsmen in New York City using sustainable materials sourced globally from artisans through fair trade initiatives. Proceeds from MONIQUE PÉAN sales contribute to global philanthropic organizations such as charity: water, which provides clean drinking water and basic sanitation to people in developing nations. To date, MONIQUE PÉAN has built water wells to provide clean drinking water and support sanitation projects for thousands of people in Mali, Malawi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nepal and Haiti.
Clean water was a natural area for us to focus on because of the detrimental effects of new gold mining on water supplies and local communities. We exclusively use 18 carat recycled gold and recycled platinum so as not support environmentally destructive mining, and focus on found materials and repurposed stones.
What are your three tips for anyone interested in starting a company?
1.) Realize that being an entrepreneur requires constant focus and determination and that you must truly be passionate about the company that you hope to form.
2.) Have a solid plan for how the business will grow and be funded. Managing cash flow is absolutely crucial — businesses often run out of money from growing too quickly, not just from slow growth.
3.) Don’t be afraid to network. Even when you are tired and do not want to go out to an event after a long day, push yourself to to seize the opportunities that are presented to you to meet interesting people or attend an event that might be out of your comfort zone. You never know where you will meet your next client, partner or investor or formulate another fascinating idea.