Brandy Thomason McNair is the jewelry designer, founder and owner of Bella Vita Jewelry. We caught up with McNair to help launch our new series highlighting and demystifying the world of women in small business.
Tell us about Bella Vita Jewelry.
BTM: Bella Vita Jewelry is an artisan jewelry line, designed and handmade in downtown Little Rock. Our jewelry is made with unique gemstones, hand stamped mantra charms and exclusive pendants that we make from our antique button collection. We source all of our metals and findings from our sources in the US.. and our gemstones come from around the world and most of them are custom cut and faceted for us.
In 2014 we opened our brick and mortar shop which also houses our jewelry production studio. Most days you can walk in our shop and see us hard at work on our jewelry designs in our studio.
The focus of our shop is our handmade jewelry, but we also carry unique gift items that can’t be found anywhere else in Little Rock. We search the earth high and low for these items and love to support other female entrepreneurs, local artists and fair trade companies. All of our jewelry and our gift items have a story and we are happy to share that with our shoppers. We also host workshops and private parties in our shop and studio space.
Did you have a lightbulb moment when you knew Bella Vita was what you were supposed to do?
BTM: Sort of. I got my undergrad degree in interior design but I quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for working in an office. After two desk jobs, I decided to go back to my roots and pulled out my box of tools and jewelry making supplies from my youth. I quickly realized that my hands were meant to be busy and also meant for designing and crafting jewelry. It just makes sense to me. I have smaller, less significant lightbulb moments all the time. That is the fun thing about being a small business owner, you are always learning!
What was it like to go full time with your own business?
BTM: A relief but very scary! A relief because I was in control of my time and my schedule and that allowed me to focus 100% on Bella Vita, but scary because I was responsible for my paycheck. I honestly don't know how I would have gone full-time self employed if it wasn’t for my husband's support and his full-time job. Taking out loans wasn’t really something I wanted to do, and to this day, I’ve done all this on my own without assistance from the bank or investors.
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What is something you wish you did differently when you started Bella Vita?
BTM: I wish I would have taken my parents' and grandparents' advice to pursue jewelry design in my higher education. I’ve been making jewelry since I was 10 years old (that's 27 years!), so by the time I made a decision on college, I was pretty burnt out on jewelry design. I feel like if I had pursued jewelry in college I might be even further with Bella Vita than I am today, but I am also thankful for the path I took in college because of the lifelong friends I made and because I learned a lot about design in general. Now I can apply my knowledge of interior design to my retail store!
What are the best and hardest parts about being a boss?
BTM: The most challenging part of being the boss is the constant worry and stress of “Are we going to get enough orders to make payroll?” or “Did I order enough of that product?” or “Do I really have to make all the decisions?” The second most challenging part for me is managing employees. I have amazing employees that I treasure. They challenge me to be a good boss and a better person, and I love and appreciate them for that. But I really hate bossing people around! I'm getting better at it and more used to it, but it's always been a challenge to me.
Does being a woman affect how you do business or the way people see Bella Vita?
BTM: If it does, I don't often see or feel the effects, and I feel fortunate for that. I feel like I’ve proven myself over the years and I have gained a lot of respect from fellow business people and the trust of my customers. Again, I haven’t had to ask for a lot of help outside of my circle, so I might have had a different experience if I would have had to step outside my comfort zone. Most of my mentors over the years have been my family and female friends and they have supported me 100%.
As a female entrepreneur I have committed to trying to help other female entrepreneurs and supporting women in general in all the ways possible. I also hope I am inspiring young girls to follow their dreams and passions. Life and career paths might not always be what you thought it would be and that is OK.
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What do you wish people knew about small business owners?
BTM: That we are always on. There is never a moment that I am not thinking about my business or what I forgot to do that day or what I need to make sure I do tomorrow. I carry around a legal pad with me so I can write everything down. This notepad and my paper calendar are two of my best tools!
You've had monumental moments in your career like going out on your own and opening the shop on Sixth Street. What is a moment that feels huge to you, but might not look that way to others?
BTM: The big move back in April was huge, but I think the biggest moment for me and Bella Vita was when my business turned 10 in November 2018. So, yes, that means we are almost 11! Yay! I have seen a lot of growth in my jewelry designs, my personality, my attitude, my outlook, my grey hairs and so on in the past 10 years, and I cannot wait to see where we are in 5 years and in another 10 years down the road.
I am happy where we are in our new space and I don't foresee myself growing the shop/studio any larger than what it is. It is a manageable size and seems to be a sustainable plan and location. I don’t dream of a team of 20. I'm happy with my 3-6 employees and jewelry artisans. I just want to keep us busy and keep evolving what we offer in our shop and on our website. I have a big idea to open a second concept in 2020, but that is still in the dreaming and planning stages, and nothing is set in stone yet.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
BTM: Start slow and grow organically. Be grateful and thankful for every single person that hires you or walks in your door and show them that you are appreciative of their business. Give the absolute best customer service, even when you are in the worst mood.
Take yourself and your business seriously, and remember to put good in the world and everything will work out the way it is supposed to.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Ever.
Oh, and have fun!