Jennifer Zeuner

From Side Hobby to International Jewelry Line

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Key Takeaway:
Own your time to avoid burnout. With maturity, you realize that you can say no sometimes and people will still respect you.

Top 5% in the world at: A champion for women. Men have a lot of great opportunities, so I never even considered hiring a man. I’m in control so why not help women grow personally and professionally?

You may recognize her jewelry from the pages of fashion magazines or the Instagrams of celebrities. Her simple, yet sophisticated pieces have been worn by Cameron Diaz, Meghan Markle, and even the Queen Bee herself. But Jennifer’s road to jewelry domination didn’t follow a traditional path. “It was a hobby that became a career,” she tells us. After years of working in PR, Jennifer took a few years off to raise her kids. It was during that time that she started making jewelry for herself. One day, while in a trendy boutique in South Beach, her necklace caught the eye of the store buyer — and the rest is history. “Within two weeks, Cameron Diaz bought the necklaces that I had sold to the store,” she explains. “Because of my background in PR, I immediately knew I had to seize the opportunity. It went from nothing to madness within two weeks.” Read the full interview for more details on Jennifer’s journey to finding her passion, how she grew her business, and why she believes in creating your own timeline.

How She Did it

I was always interested in fashion as a child. My dad owned a clothing manufacturing company, and I loved going there and seeing the inspiration boards — these huge bulletin boards with cutouts from magazines like Vogue. I remember being in awe looking at them and seeing the whole process come together. I also used to chat with the seamstresses, and would even give my opinion on some designs.

But for some strange reason, when I was growing up, I wasn't encouraged to go into fashion even though my dad owned the clothing factory. The typical career path for a woman in my community was to study psychology and eventually become a psychologist or a doctor. I love how now a lot of parents really encourage their children to find their passion and to incorporate it into what they do every day.

None of the schools I got into offered a fashion major, so I studied psychology at Tufts. If I could do it all over again, I think I would have gone to fashion school. I really encourage people to find their passion when they’re young and pursue it.

Did you plan to become a psychologist?
I always loved psychology and did consider becoming a psychologist. I planned to go to grad school for psychology, but I wanted to take a break first, and then things went down a different path.

What activities did you do in college?
I was involved with an organization called Oxfam. It was a nonprofit cafe they had at Tufts, and all the money was donated to undernourished kids in developing countries. I also worked outside of school at the Lord & Taylor department store and at a little boutique around the corner from Tufts.

Summer internship:
I worked in PR for Boston magazine my junior year and loved it. It definitely prepared me for my first job in PR after college. It also taught me that a lot of times a job is not a 9-5 thing. We would sometimes work at the magazine until 8pm. It was nice to realize that before I started my first job. Otherwise, you're ready to leave at 5, and then you realize all your coworkers are still at their desks.

I had two job offers after college: one at Vogue and one at the PR agency in Miami. The one in Miami was a really well-known agency, but I also picked it because of its geographical location. I wanted to be in Miami more than New York.

How were you able to land the role at the PR agency?
In Miami, being fluent in Spanish helped. But I landed the job because of my past experiences and the interview. An interview is a really good opportunity to show who you really are: how mature you are, how you relate to people, and how you handle stress. They had interviewed 150 people for the position, and I think I did a great job of being myself during the interview. When you believe in yourself, it really comes across when you're networking or interviewing.

What were some challenges you faced?
Finding time for myself. I wanted my own social life, but the culture of PR is going to happy hour from work. There were really no boundaries in terms of time. I like schedules, so not knowing when my day would end was hard for me. I felt like I had to say yes to everything, but you really don't. With maturity, you realize that you can say no and people will still respect you. I definitely spread myself too thin during the week.

What kept you in this role for three years even when you felt like you were being overextended?
I had to pay my bills. I was also told that every PR agency is the same, which isn’t true. There are definitely different companies that are for different people. But at the time I thought, “why move companies if every company is more or less the same?”

Why do you think you got promoted to an account executive?
Speaking Spanish helped and also the fact that I was a “yes” person. I was available any time and I gave it my all. For better or for worse because you have to sacrifice things in order to be that person.

Why did you decide to switch to the magazine instead?
I moved to Boca when I got married. The magazine gave me a lot of freedom as far as managing my own time. I could work from home a couple of days a week and go into the office three days a week. It wasn't my dream job, but I enjoyed it enough. I was in charge of ad sales and I managed two sales reps. I think my experience in PR translated well because PR is all about communication skills — and managing a sales team is also about communication skills.

What steps did you take to start your jewelry company?
It was a hobby that became a career. I made a necklace for myself and walked into a store in South Beach. When I saw a woman looking at my necklace, we started chatting and she happened to be the buyer for the store. She asked to buy the necklace and for a few more for the store to sell. Within two weeks, Cameron Diaz bought the necklaces I had sold to the store. She bought two: one for herself and one for Drew Barrymore. Because of my background in PR, I immediately knew I had to seize the opportunity.

I hired a fashion PR company because I didn't have the contacts for that. It was totally different from the kind of PR I was doing. They got the word out in US Weekly and People magazine. It really spiraled out of control. It went from nothing to madness within two weeks. It wasn’t a traditional path, but I always had a good eye for fashion and a good eye for design.

The necklace I had made for myself was very simple, so I immediately enrolled in local classes to learn more complicated ways to make jewelry. If I hadn't hired a PR agency and gotten the word out that Cameron Diaz had bought my necklaces, I'm not sure how much the company would have grown.

Did you handle all aspects of the business yourself?
In the beginning years, I handled everything myself and worked out of my house. I made everything by hand. I didn't want to commit to hiring people unless I knew I would be able to always pay them. It took about two years for me to feel like I could start hiring.

As hard as it was for me to delegate responsibilities, once I delegated, I had more time to do more important tasks like designing. And whenever I did hire someone, our company grew. I've always hired only women. It's not because of the product I sell, but because I see it as an opportunity, as a business owner, to help women.

How did you maintain your momentum of expanding?
The PR agency helped because we saw the value of celebrity endorsements. We gifted the jewelry to other celebrities, and they wore it and the momentum continued. My business is also really influenced now by what bloggers wear because of social media. It is a totally different world than it was 10 years ago. I think bloggers have more power than celebrities now. It's really crazy how quickly something can spread on social media, while trends used to spread through magazines. It's a very different world and if you don't adapt to the changes, you're left behind.

What drove you in your early career and what drives you now?
In my early career in the jewelry company, I was driven by this gut feeling inside of me that I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. It was never really about the money — it felt like a hobby.

Now, it really excites me to see that our jewelry has been purchased all over the world, whether in Dubai or China. I get a lot of private messages on Instagram and I try to respond to everyone and connect with people. I love the feeling that the world is so big, yet so small.

The focus of our company now is to grow more internationally. I did a line for QVC recently and that was very cool because I was making my jewelry more accessible. A lot of people can’t afford my jewelry because most of it costs over $100. Offering the line on QVC made it available to more people.

Advice for your career launch

Create your own timeline
You don't need to follow anyone else's timeline. My timeline was a zigzag — I started working and then took a few years off to have my first two children. I was still able to succeed.

Surround yourself with the right people
Have people who you can trust, who have your best interest and the company's best interest in mind, and who are experts at what they're doing. I'm not great with spreadsheets, so I hired someone who’s an expert at that. I don't need another person on my team who’s like me. I need different points of view; people who come from different backgrounds and can give me honest feedback on my product.

When you do what you love, it doesn't feel like work
Working overtime was a non-issue. I would put my kids to sleep and go back to work sometimes until three in the morning making jewelry when I made it myself. It comes naturally when you do what you love and when the timing is right.

Know and really believe that there are no limits
You can be as successful as the most successful person that you know, whether you're a man or a woman. You can be who you want to be if you give it your all, if you're doing what you love, and if you surround yourself with the right people.


Featured InterviewJo Cheng