Boss Lady: Trisha Okubo

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we chat with Trisha Okubo, the founder of Maison Miru jewelry, an online boutique based out of the West Village in New York City. Trisha believes jewelry is love made visible and Maison Miru’s pieces are all made by Trisha and with love.

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1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career.
A career is like a play, with multiple acts. You have multiple storylines, characters large and small that can alter the trajectory of your path, and adventure awaits you at every crossroads, if you choose to accept it. Act One of my career was living a real (less glamorous, but not much less ridiculous) version of the HBO series Silicon Valley. I learned the ropes at digital media and e-commerce companies, in large and small in roles that spanned business development to product management to business operations. I grew up in Silicon Valley, a stone’s throw from Apple Computer, and technology dominates the culture so heavily that it seemed the natural thing to do after graduation. But while I liked what I did, I didn’t love it in the way I wanted to. After one particularly trying day, I unwound at Cafe Venetia, my favorite cafe on University Avenue in Palo Alto, with a pot of Ryokucha tea and a slice of chocolate crunch cake. I sketched out what I wanted my life to look like in 15 years: a time period where everything still seemed possible, but still time-bound in a reasonable way. It looked nothing like my current life, and in that moment, I knew I had to make a change. I ended up quitting my job for a “gap year” – and did all of the things I wanted to do in life. I travelled all around the world, took cooking classes (my soup dumpling game still needs work, alas), learned how to make shoes (I did a fashion design degree back in college, but I had never done accessories), and started learning how to make jewelry. I knew right away that I was on to something with jewelry. I usually flit from project to project (I’m told that I get bored very easily!), but I can wire in when I’m at a jewelry bench and work for hours on end. (This, by the way, is great for things like stone setting, but terrible for my back! I see my chiropractor so often that I count him as a friend.) . So when friends – and strangers – started coming up to me and asking where I got my jewelry, I took the plunge, opened up a little online boutique, and started Act Two of my career.

2. What prompted you to start Maison Miru?
The jewelry that I loved–elegant, delicate pieces that you can wear everyday–either existed in the luxury space (hello, solid gold and diamonds!) or at the low end of the market (aka the jewelry you can wear a few times before it tarnishes or breaks). What I wanted but couldn’t find out there was high quality jewelry that I could wear everyday at a price that was fair and affordable. Also, I have a bit of a confession: I’m a champion loser of jewelry. I love the look of delicate, tiny pieces, and I can tell you from experience that these are the easiest to lose. So it was super important to make sure that the pieces were affordable – so that if something happened to disappear at an onsen in Japan, or slipped off somewhere on the Paris metro, it wasn’t going to ruin the rest of my holiday!

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3. Did you find the transition from the tech industry to the jewelry industry to be challenging?
Surprisingly, I found the transition from working as a part of a large team toworking on my own to be a bigger challenge than transitioning industries. It turns out that a lot of the skills I had honed in Act One of my career – project management, designing customer experiences, and logistics/operations – all were relevant in my new life. There’s a ton that I had to learn from scratch – I had never done product development with physical goods, nor had I done any marketing, and despite my business undergrad degree, I’m not a bookkeeping whiz. Let’s just say that it’s amazing what you can learn on the Internet! But my confession is that I sometimes (and more often that you’d think) miss my cubicle life. At least at coffee o’clock, when I wish I had my work buddies around to go dish with.

4. How did you come up with the name, Maison Miru?
The word Miru in Japanese means “to seed” – and that’s what I hope Maison Miru does for you at a foundational level. Jewelry is love made visible, and it can open your eyes to the world, to love, and the good that’s out there….even in these trying times.

5. What is your most successful form of marketing?
Instagram has been amazing for Maison Miru, and that’s where most ladies hear about us. I know it’s a big leap to try a new brand, so I’m running a limited time promotion to get the word out about the Maison Miru Ear Bar – a pair of our signature Tiny Crystal Studs in Gold for the price of shipping. It’s an easy way to see and feel the quality of the earrings without a whole lot of risk. Also, the ladies I’ve met on Instagram have been so incredibly kind – maybe it’s just that jewelry people are good people, but they’ve been helping spread the word on their own – sisters share with their sisters, mothers gift their daughters, daughters buy for Mom, and brides have been spreading the word to their bridal party. I’ve been truly humbled by the love.

Trisha Okubo - Maison Miru Jewelry - Boss Lady - Social Stylate

6. Why do you aim for your partners to be either small, local, or businesses run by women?
I love collaborating with people who love to give it their all – people who go the extra mile to do beautiful work – and I find that businesses who are small, local or businesses run by women are more often my kind of people.

7. How do you ensure you’re getting the best version of your products out to your clients?
It’s about being rigorous every step of the way. I prototype and prototype to perfect the designs – the shape, the size, the weight, how each piece lays. And then I use high quality materials to make these designs a reality. One of my goals is to create affordable, beautiful jewelry safe for ladies with skin sensitivities, and I’ve iterated with my factory and my metal plater to systematically avoid metals (e.g. nickel) that commonly cause these sensitivities. I also personally do quality assurance before I place the jewelry into thick plastic baggies designed to preserve the longevity of the jewelry. I love doing good things and letting them speak for themselves.

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8. What personal and/or business goals have you set for 2018?
My list of 2018 goals is unrealistically long, and I’m told, somewhat nonsensical! At the top of my list is a somewhat non-specific goal of putting out more net good in the world. One of the random things I designed last year was a series of love notes – little cards with sayings like “I Believe in You and Pie”. I really just made them so I could send silly messages to my friends, but I started sending them out to customers, just for fun. And they’ve been sharing them with the ladies they love – BFFs, sisters, daughters, moms. I love that these notes helped bring people together for a smile – and I want to do more things like this in 2018. Another completely different goal is perfecting my chocolate game. I have wayyyyyy too many interests, one of which is making chocolate from bean to bar. Amongst all of the jewelry equipment in the apartment, I somehow also have a cocoa bean roaster, a grinder, and a melanger to make chocolate from scratch (and a very understanding husband!). I’m constantly trying to refine my roasting game and tweak the chocolate to be as delicious as possible. Does this also count as putting out more net good in the world?

9. What advice would you offer to other self-starters and those who hope to start their own business?
Stop hoping to start your own business: just start your business. Nobody ever feels ready to make the jump – but if entrepreneurship is for you, you’ll surprise yourself with how fast you’ll learn, and how creative you’ll be about solving problems and making things work. I prefer to live with no regrets, and by starting my own business, I never have to wonder about what might have been.

Just for Fun…
Best purchase you ever made: Most recently, the Everlane Cashmere Sweatpants. They’re so comfy and luxurious, and I wear them everywhere. I love them so much that I bought three pairs.
Favorite movie: I’m more of a series kind of gal, as I love the character development you get over time, and my all time favorite has to be The West Wing. I just think life would be better if everyone spoke as intelligently and as quickly as they do on an Aaron Sorkin show. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?
The perfect Saturday includes: Friends and family, tea and cake. And pie. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to also be locked in a room with a litter of kittens. (I volunteer at the shelter, so free snuggles for me!)
Best thing about living in NYC: I’m a night owl, so I love that NYC is the city that never sleeps. Turns out you don’t have to either, if you choose to accept the challenge! You can get 2am pizza (hello, Joe’s), and the fact that you can truly get anything delivered here has taught me the unfortunate (but delicious) lesson that pie can always come to you.
You’d jump for joy if you saw this person wearing Maison Miru: Joan Didion. I believe that jewelry is love made visible, and I also feel the same thing about her work. She has such a depth to her soul, and it’s that kind of energy that I would love to capture with my designs.

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Boss Lady: Dr. Francine Edwards

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we chat with Dr. Francine Edwards, an Associate Professor of Mass Communications at Delaware State University. Dr. Edwards began her career in the television industry covering news, entertainment, and sports, as well as producing award winning documentaries and co-hosting live shows on the Black Entertainment Television network. Next she moved to public affairs, launching several celebrity endorsed healthcare campaigns before moving towards her passion of teaching.

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1) Having worked at BET for 11 years, what is the most valuable lesson you learned from your time there?
Robert Johnson, owner of BET, was probably the most empowering boss I’ve ever had. His advice to his employees was to step outside of your own box and to always be looking for the next opportunity. Mr. Johnson always said that he didn’t expect us to stay at BET and that when we moved on, what people in the industry would see in us is the work ethic, creativity and skills we learned from BET being put into action.

2) What has been the key to your success in the world of mass media?
I’ve always been willing to learn, be innovative and I know how to reinvent myself.

3) What challenges have you faced as a woman throughout your career?
In looking at the workforce as a whole, women of color face colorism (in my own experience what I mean is a light vs dark complexion issue because that was something I dealt with early in my career) and I also find that there is a thin line between being aggressive and commanding respect and being perceived as too forceful. I believe that I’ve broken down walls by finding that balance and being able to provide proof of my worth/value in my research, production ability, and that fact that I have had the opportunity to speak at conferences or serve in leadership roles within various organizations.

4) When did you realize teaching was a passion of yours?
I started graduate school several years after the BET show was canceled. I was in a world that was polar opposite of the corporate or government sector; supportive, engaging and I truly felt valued. I could see the impact that I was having on students and that’s when I realized my true passion and the greatest blessing was being able to continue my love for the media, just in a different way.

5) How did you approach the process of seeking out new professional opportunities?
My career just fell into my lap. After completing the Master’s program at Bowie State University, the faculty encouraged me to pursue the PhD and they provide so much support. Howard University was the ideal place for me to pursue the PhD as well and there I had excellent mentors.

6) Why did you decide to work in communications?
I can honestly say it was a life-long dream. I always wanted to be like Barabara Walters. I admired the fact that she was a groundbreaking female journalists who paved the way for so many women in media. As I got older I realized the power of the media and wanted to be someone who could educate through visual storytelling. My proudest moments are winning NAACP Imagr awards for documentary and production work, so looking back I can see the impact that I had as a journalist and producer.

7) Who inspires you?
So cliche but I have to say my mother. She was an engineer at NASA who went back to school after having a family and supporting our dad with his educational aspirations. She worked in a very male dominated world but worked hard in her union to fight for equal rights for women in the workplace. She also made it a priority to balance her career and family and never once let us down.

8) What gets you up in the morning?
Knowing that my kids look up to me and expect me to be an example and source of encouragement for them.

9) What would you tell other women looking to kick off a career in communications/media?
The truth! Today’s broadcast world or media landscape is not what it used to be! What are you going to do to set yourself apart from the next citizen journalist/producer and those who are trained in the craft? You can’t make excuses and you have to find work-arounds to any problem that may present itself to you. And lastly, think quickly on your feet or you will miss the story.

10) What do you enjoy the most about your position at Delaware State University?
Everyday I get to make a difference in the life of a young person who may otherwise not have a chance or an adult to listen to them and take them seriously. This is a space where we are supposed to encourage students to be exploratory and accept both the challenges and victories and my job is to support them through both so that in four years they are ready for career success.

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Boss Lady: Scarlett Sturgis

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we chat with Scarlett Sturgis, the founder of WIckbox. Scarlett combined her love of candles with her entrepreneurial drive and created the first luxury candle subscription box. Wickbox curates candles to your preferences, giving you the ultimate luxurious experience. We love their motto: “One, treat yourself. Two, let your light shine.”

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1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career.
I was born and raised in the South. I graduated from College of Charleston with a degree in Arts Management & Hospitality & Tourism Management. After graduation, I moved to Europe for a few years (Amsterdam & London) and worked in the corporate events industry. As a daughter and granddaughter of entrepreneurs, I’ve always dreamed of having my own business. I started Wickbox not long after moving back to the Carolinas. It serves as a wonderful creative outlet and taps into my passion for home decor.

2. What prompted you to start​ ​Wickbox?
I had a dream (literally). In the dream, I was chatting with a couple ladies in the mall about how I wanted to start a candle of the month club with candles that are much higher quality than what you can find in the mall. As soon as I woke up I started jotting down all my ideas about it and had a rough business plan and a packaging vision pulled together in a couple days. At that point I had never even heard of a subscription box, but I soon realized there was a whole market out there for them and candles were an untapped part of that market.

3. How do you make Wickbox stand out among other monthly subscription boxes?
Personalization is key! It makes a big difference that subscribers have the opportunity to complete their scent profile and we handpick their candles to match. It takes the fear out of buying candles online that you can’t smell first. Also ensuring that each candle we send out is in a beautiful, on-trend container definitely helps us stand out to those subscribers who value aesthetics and love home decor. And of course the quality of the candles is top-notch.

4. What is your most successful form of marketing? (In terms of sales.)
Instagram has been my most successful form of marketing. I’m a visual person, as are many of our subscribers, so having a beautiful Instagram feed is a great tool to drive sales.

5. Where do you hope to see Wickbox in 5 years?
I hope to see Wickbox helping women in crisis in a big way. I feel called to help women who are facing crises like homelessness, financial struggles, domestic violence, and more, and I would love to use Wickbox as a vehicle to help fuel that mission. We are already doing that on a small scale but I would love to increase those efforts exponentially as we continue to grow.

6. ​Are there any aspects of running your own business that you absolutely hate? Love?
I don’t really enjoy the monotonous admin types of tasks, but I absolutely love curating our candles each month. It’s so fun to hunt for beautiful candle containers and luxurious scents that make the homes of our subscribers feel warm and inviting — like a retreat they can’t wait to relax in.

​7. ​What tools, apps, best practices etc. do you use to stay organized?
I’m really starting to get into automating tedious tasks through applets in IFTTT, and Tailwind is great for scheduling Pinterest and Instagram posts.

8. What inspires you and fuels your creativity?
Traveling inspires me and fuels my creativity like nothing else. I love to experience new cultures including the unique design aesthetics in different parts of the world and the stories behind them. In my home you will find decor pieces from my travels around the globe, and those souvenirs continue to inspire me long after my trip is over.

9. Who is a #BossLady that inspires you and why?
I love the business Kendra Scott has built centered around philanthropy and family. Her business gives away so much to various charities every year, and it’s an inspiration to see how a business can experience rapid growth while simultaneously sowing into the lives of others.

10. What advice do you have for those looking to go from employee to entrepreneur?
Make sure you do your research on how to have a successful launch because you want to make sure you capitalize on the initial buzz as much as possible. Also, having a side-hustle is perfectly fine until you can afford to make it full-time. That’s how I started with Wickbox.

Just for fun…

​Favorite show to binge-watch: Friends will always be my go-to as new shows come and go
Style icon: Serena from Gossip Girls
Cocktail of choice: Scarlett O’Hara or Mojito
The perfect Saturday includes: Exploring a new city on foot or by bike, grabbing lunch at a local market, and browsing through home decor boutiques.
If I could be anywhere in the world right now, I’d be in: Japan during cherry blossom season – I’ve traveled a lot but this one is still on my bucket list!

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Boss Lady: Jennifer Steiner

Jennifer Steiner - Adorn Goods - Boss Lady - Social Stylate

Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week we chat with Jennifer Steiner, co-founder of Adorn Goods boutique in Centreville, Delaware. Jennifer shares with us what it means to empower women to live positive and organized lifestyles along with advice for future #bossladies.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career.
I studied Communication and Art History in college. Everything I’m about and ever known has one theme…aesthetics. I was lucky to grow up with a father who is a mastermind of 18th century architectural design and lover of Philadelphia high style antiques and a mother whose house was always a home and was impeccable. I learned quickly quality over quantity.

I started working on the curatorial staff at Delaware Art Museum as an intern right out of college. I remember my first project was to design a rug out of garden hoses. I thought if I can make a rug made of hoses look good…well I may have potential. From there I went on to special events and then advertising. After I was married, I decided to start the interior design program at Moore College of Art and Design. Then came children and all my time went to them! I feel so lucky to be able to own a business and still pick up my kids from school.

2. What prompted you to start Adorn Goods?
A love of all things beautiful…whether it’s a gorgeous vase, an essential oil that brings you a few moments of relaxation and mindfulness, or the most delicious jar of homemade jam you are so proud to serve your friends and family.

3. How do you decide what brands/lines to carry?
Everything we carry we love and want for ourselves. It’s hard to find the unique, but that’s what we strive for! We want people to love everything and find something they love…truly enjoying their shopping experience.

4. As a retailer, what lessons have you learned that you didn’t know prior to opening the store?
The time it takes to keep things energized and fresh!

5. How do you make your store stand out against competitors?
By offering unique lines with a mix of nostalgia and passion.

6. Where do you hope to see Adorn Goods in 5 years?
The addition of an online store, increased event space and hopefully doing what we are doing now, with the same amount of passion.

7. As a working mom, do you have any tips on creating a balance?
Do the best you can…it’s all good!

8. What inspires you and fuels your creativity?
It’s simple, being in nature and mindfulness.

9. What advice do you have for those looking to go from employee to entrepreneur?
There’s always a way…especially for women business owners. Join a support group or local women in business club.

10. Who is a #BossLady that inspires you and why?
My friend Debi Brooks, who runs a major non-profit, she also a mom, a cook, baker and everything maker : )

Just for fun…

Your happy place is: Anywhere in nature.
The one item you can’t live without it: Salt and chocolate.
Favorite Instagram account to follow: Ugh….
The last show you binge-watched: Big Little Lies!
Cocktail of choice: Dirty Martini
Song you could dance all day to: Crazy In Love by Beyonce and September by Earth, Wind, and Fire.
Trend you wish would disappear: Any trend…I alway try to stick with the classics.

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