28 Mar Student Success Stories: Neophyte Jewels by Anna J Stainsby
BY JANE BRADSHAW, LUCIE QUINLAN, & TRISH ROONEY
Spring’s hottest accessory is….. Barrettes! Having just gone to Paris Fashion Week, I can attest to how widespread this trend has become. Publications from Vogue to Harpers to NYLON have been featuring the coveted clip in their editorials and social accounts, and influencers like Chiara Ferragni and Hannah Baxward are sporting the look. But where can you buy these incredible pieces? Look no further than Neophyte Jewels, founded and handcrafted in Toronto by MUSE alum Anna J Stainsby. Anna began her company in the fall and has seen exponential growth after receiving love from some of fashion’s elite.
I would like to take the time to boast about how I was the very first customer after Neophyte officially launched, purchasing the most beautiful clips and pair of shell earrings. However, her customers and ‘muses’ have escalated from lil ol me to the aforementioned influencers in addition to Man Repeller’s Harling Ross, Sofie Valkiers, and Chriselle Lim. Did I also mention that Neophyte has already made its music video debut in Carly Rae Jepson’s latest release? Yep, this brand is a BIG deal. Every day, Neophyte reposts a crazy famous customer wearing the latest drop. I’m pretty sure I’ve sent “AHHHHH OMFG” messages to Anna more times than I’m proud to admit.
After an incredibly impressive first year, we thought we’d sit down with the creative herself to ask how TF she’s been able to build a brand from the bottom up right after graduation. I could talk endlessly about how incredible this brand is – as someone who moonlights as a ~professional~ fashion journalist, everything about Neophyte Jewels is ON POINT. From branding, to price, to craftsmanship, Anna has found a niche between timeless AND trendy pieces. No wonder Neophyte is on an upward trajectory.
Together with my intern Trish and EIC Lucie, we came up with a collection of questions that shed light on Neophyte’s brand, it’s road to success, and what is coming up next.
PS – Keep your eye out for some Neophyte Jewels pieces in our upcoming issue, available April 4th. Oh, and you should probably buy some of the jewelry ASAP before I return from the Netherlands and snatch the whole lot up. – Jane Bradshaw, Online Director
MUSE: Can you describe your brand for us?
Neophyte Jewels is a jewellery and accessories brand for the high-low consumer. We know that nobody should invest in trends, but rather, in timeless, quality pieces. That being said, trends are fun! Hair accessories are having a moment and we are giving women access to handmade and unique products at a reasonable price point. My style rule has always been to pair high-quality investment pieces with cheaper, modern ones so I wanted to create a one-stop-shop that reflected that mentality.
MUSE: Why did you start it? Walk us through how your brand began?
Last September, for the first time in 16 years, I wasn’t going to be returning to school. I was terrified at the idea of wasting a year working a mundane job that wouldn’t teach me anything, and that I wouldn’t learn a thing all year. My boyfriend’s mother suggested I sign up for a night class for the TDSB so I perused their selection and ultimately chose a metalsmithing class. I wanted to start creating a sense of a brand online before I could actually produce jewellery, so that I might have a small following excited about its aesthetic. Almost as a placeholder, I decided to start making barrettes, because they were in line with my style and I saw a gap in the market for affordable and unique hair accessories. Who wants to pay over $70 for a barrette?! It’s crazy but it was essentially all I was seeing online. I just figured that someone would want some, and if they didn’t, I’d wear them. As it turned out, I think I went the first 3 months without even being able to wear my own pieces! I’ve only recently begun setting some aside for myself before putting them online, because I’ve realized that I can’t always restock each model. The small following I’d amassed before our launch responded so positively from the start and the brand has grown really organically from there. There’s a lot of word of mouth referrals, and my customers are so generous with the content they produce with their Neophyte pieces. It’s almost surprising to see how often the brand is tagged in stories and in photos — I feel very lucky that people take the time to share our name.
MUSE: What have been some of your milestones so far?
Thee first was probably Pernille Teisbaek posting about Neophyte, even before I had sent her things. I’ve been a fan of hers for years so her support was just so unreal. Every time we hit another 1000 followers, I see that as a huge accomplishment. Every feature the brand gets is so exciting and flattering, but seeing our barrette on Vogue.com (granted, it was a streetstyle photo of Marianne Theodorsen but still) was such a thrill! I hope that our next milestone is an actual feature on Vogue. But we’ve got work to do.
MUSE: What is your go to accessory?
Rings! I just made the most perfect bubble ring for my index that I cannot wait to introduce. Honestly, rings make me move differently. I feel naked without them.
MUSE: How did you learn to start a company?
Trial and error, and countless hours of listening to How I Built This and Girlboss Radio! Honestly, everything is a hurdle and you realize that you’re a lot more capable of “grown-up” things that you give yourself credit for. I didn’t know 99% of what it took to set up a business (from registering for a business number, to getting an HST number, and post office account, to bookkeeping…) but I asked around and turned to Google when in doubt. I don’t know how to handle half of the things that I’m planning on over the next few months but I’m learning every day, and feeling more and more like a business owner as I go.
MUSE: What has been your biggest challenge running Neophyte thus far?
Time. In the last few months of balancing my full-time job and Neophyte, I was exhausted. I did it for 5 months but by the end I was starting to burn out. I had no time to accomplish all that I wanted to do and was essentially just chasing my tail, putting in an extra 6-8 hours after my 8-hour work day. Now that I’m working for myself full-time, it’s less of an issue but still, the day goes by so quickly and I have lots of projects that I’m working on. I’ll be taking on help soon with the day-to-day which I hope will give me more time to deal with the business and creative side of things.
MUSE: How did you keep momentum going?
Little victories! Like most entrepreneurs (or people, really) I have had moments where I have wondered what the hell it was that I was doing, whether or not I should call it quits, whether or not it was worth all my time… But then little things like Chiara Ferragni DMing me, having a stylist from ELLE Canada pull some pieces for a shoot, getting in touch with someone I never would’ve believed would get back to me on a project… Those things are my fuel. I’m also constantly working on new projects, so those are super motivating and exciting.
MUSE: How do you think your style evolved since starting your company?
That’s an interesting one because I’ve been thinking a lot about my sartorial evolution in the past few months. Working from home (alone) isn’t a huge motivator to get dressed in the morning. I’ve been trying to force myself to get out of the house for coffee or errands and put real clothes on, especially now that it’s starting to get nice out. It’s boring to admit but I feel a little more practical than ever. But that doesn’t need to translate into my wardrobe. Now that spring is here, I’m pulling out dresses and looking for other pieces (midi skirts, maxi dresses, vintage denim) that make me look good but only take a minute to put together and let me do my job comfortably.
MUSE: What has been Neophyte Jewel’s biggest success to date?
Being able to take it full time! I did not see that coming so soon, but by month 5 it no longer made sense for me to treat Neophyte like a side hustle. Financially and even emotionally (12 hour days take a toll) I was ready. Although running your own business is still way more than a 40 hour work week, it’s given me so much flexibility and also, the time I needed to grow it.
MUSE: Where do you see Neophyte in 5 years? In 10?
Right now I take my business one day at a time. I mean I have a timeline ripe with goals for the next 6 months, but beyond that, we’ll see. I’ll be starting a Masters degree in September and will definitely be needing to bring more help on. Ideally, I’d love to be able to run Neophyte through my degree and come out of it with a thriving company that I can continue to work at. And if I can do that, I’d like the brand to be women’s one-stop-shop for the most impactful pieces in your wardrobe: your jewellery, your accessories, your blazers, and your shoes. Edited, curated, but fun.
MUSE: What advice would you give to Queen’s students aspire to be entrepreneurs?
If an idea gets you really excited, start writing down your goals. If you want to start selling t-shirts, mock up some designs. Write down a list of who you’d like to be wearing your product. Think of how you’d like it to look in photos. Pick a name. Buy a domain name. Make a website. Make it look professional. Then, once you’re invested, look into the scary stuff that might have made you talk yourself out of it. The graphic designers, the printers, the manufacturers, the packaging, trademarking, the storage, the time commitment. If you’re backed into a corner and have even just a little money on the line, you’ll figure it out.