North Texas mothers and entrepreneurs Allie Wardlaw and Bess Callarman entered the jewelry business with the world rallying against them.
Wardlaw and Callarman launched Allie + Bess in August 2019-just months before the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed shopping habits.
The jewelry maker duo met while working as therapists at the Traymore nursing home in Dallas, and quickly became friends, getting closer to their shared love of fashion. They are known for their signature bracelet stack.
The bracelets were “just meant for ourselves, and then our friends started seeing them and kept asking us where they were from,” said Callarman, 39, of Dallas.
The pair each invested $ 50 to buy beads and they started making stretch bracelets to attract busy mothers.
“All I wear are bracelets because… kids will pull on the necklaces when you hold them,” said Wardlaw, 36, of Richardson. “We started with stretch bracelets for its ease. I don’t spend time, when I have three kids, on hugging and jewelry. That doesn’t work.”
When friends and family started buying what they made, they launched an Instagram account. Initially focusing their visions on selling to high-end boutiques, Callarman said they have “zero intention” of making the social media platform a source of product sales.
“We were just playing and watching what we could do,” Wardlaw said.
New followers began asking questions about buying the bracelets, leading them to launch Instagram-driven sales via direct messages for a six-month period, Callarman said.
They started looking for wholesale accounts, the first of which was a successful pop-up event by Dallas luxury retailer Stanley Korshak, Callarman said. But when consumers ’buying habits changed during the pandemic, they chose to sell directly to customers.
“When the pandemic hit, no one bought wholesale. The stores didn’t buy anything,” Callarman said. “So we literally, within a week, created a website, and put up the website and continued. “
The pair see their lack of traditional business experience as an advantage, allowing them to “develop new ways of doing things and thinking about things differently than most people. , “Callarman said.
Their approach was successful, topping $ 1.7 million in sales last year. Allie + Bess is on the run to exceed $ 2.5 million this year.
“I doubled up [in sales] every year. I think we want to keep growing, ”Callarman said.
Their bracelets are made from beads from India, Asia and Africa, as well as others made specifically for Allie + Bess. Some are vulcanite, a material made of repurposed vinyl records.
“We want to offer new and unique things to consumers,” Callarman said.
At the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, a friend recommended branding their products, Wardlaw said. Both founders are mothers with young children, so they included five black ropes in their trademark, representing Callarman’s two children and Wardlaw’s three.
As demand for bracelets grew, Callarman and Wardlaw expanded their administrative and production teams. They wanted to have a positive impact on the community so they chose to hire four local refugees to assemble the bracelets.
“Everything we do is visual. You don’t have to say a [certain] language to be able to work for us. It’s all a visual art, ”Callarman said. “It creates a more inclusive work environment.”
Their community outreach will also extend to local charities, including Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support. The company recently created a partnership with Genesis that allows children at the shelter to design a bracelet to be sold by Allie + Bess. A portion of the revenue comes from each bracelet sold directly to Genesis, which supports the brand’s goal of giving back to women and children.
The @shopalliebess Instagram account already has over 45,000 followers. Callarman said the brand’s online presence is “more deliberate” now compared to their earlier efforts.
“Social media is always changing. It’s always evolving, and we need to thrive with it,” Callarman said. “Because we’re not from a traditional business background, we want evolution. We love change. We are progressing on it. ”
Allie + Bess always has products with stylized or fashion photos, rather than direct product shots, that help customers imagine how to style their own bracelet stacks, it said by Callarman. The founders and some of their children also showed up on their Instagram feed.
“People know who they’re buying from because we’re so into stories,” Wardlaw said. “We’re very involved in it and get to know people.”
They also easily identify influencers on social media, interacting with more than 75 who wear their products. Wardlaw said the influencers “brought us to where we are today”.
“Most of our influencer marketing is gifted, it’s free. We really believe in word of mouth and our product, differently, stands on its own, ”Callarman said.
The company recently launched an ambassador program that gives affiliates the opportunity to earn sales and referrals, as well as the potential to get free gifts or be featured on brand channels. It recruited nearly 20 ambassadors in the first month.
“It’s interesting and weird at the same time, because we’ve spent a long way flapping it,” Wardlaw said.
While most customers shop at Allie + Bess online, its jewelry can also be found in select pop-ups, as well as at its headquarters in Dallas, where customers can choose to order or purchase the most bag personal collections.