Certain markets dominated by large incumbents seem to beg for a dash of imagination.
Veterinary care is getting a new look thanks to Modern Animal. Madison Reed challenges the conventions of how, where, and with what women color their hair. Fine jewelry – and how it’s discovered, experienced, and purchased – is another market with a script that has yet to be rewritten for modern consumers.
As a designer and creative director for consumer companies spanning fashion, food, and wellness, Rachel Skelly’s career has been a bootcamp in what it takes to build brands that not only resonate with customers but tell the mission-driven backstories of what they’re buying.
Most recently, she joined the founding team of next-generation gummy vitamin and supplement brand Olly, led by serial entrepreneur Eric Ryan, who previously founded Method, the artfully designed cleaning product line, and Welly, which has somehow managed to make first aid cool. (All three companies have been acquired.)
Rachel and Eric have since partnered to start Cast, a fine jewelry brand that creates a theatrical, ‘Wonderland-like’ shopping experience that invites buyers to get to know jewelry — without glass walls separating them from the merchandise and without salespeople acting as gatekeepers.
We interviewed Rachel to learn more about the vision for the company, her story, and how she and Eric knew the jewelry market was both ripe for reinvention and ready for their inspired spin.
“When a category is sleepy and has laid dormant for a very long time, dominated by the same players doing the same things, that’s a pretty good sign,” added Rachel. “Especially when the experience doesn’t match the expectation. Often we just accept things as they are because they’ve always been that way. Baby food was brown and tasteless. Vitamins were smelly and hard to swallow. Fine jewelry, for the most part, is intimidating to shop and hard to navigate — but does it have to be? Maybe it’s time for a change.”
True: You’ve had a colorful, storied career building brands. Why jewelry, and why now?
Rachel: Jewelry brings together so many of my passions. As a designer and creative, I’ve always appreciated the artistry of it, and as a storyteller, the history of it. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.
True: We hear your grandfather was a gemologist. Tell us more about how this informs your world.
Rachel: He was a major rockhound and was always out hunting for stones. One floor of his house was essentially a museum of gemstones; it even had a walk-in vault. As a kid I found it so fascinating to wander through the maze of glass cases filled with gems and jewelry.
I think because of it, I have such an appreciation for these precious materials — not only how beautiful they are to work with but the effort in discovering them. I actually have some old sketches of jewelry ideas from my grandfather that he never made. I wish he was here today so we could talk shop. He’d be so thrilled to know that my career eventually led me to this industry.
True: The jewelry industry is one of the oldest out there. How is your approach different?
Rachel: For a category geared around beautiful gems and jewels that make you feel amazing, the experience of shopping for those pieces is anything but. It can be incredibly intimidating and hard to navigate with little transparency. We see a huge opportunity to create an inviting experience that’s rich with storytelling — celebrating designers, the craftsmanship, and origin of materials.
True: Have you witnessed a rise in hunger for jewelry and luxury brands amid the pandemic?
Rachel: Now more than ever, I think people are craving meaningful experiences and things of value. They want to invest in something that will last. Fine jewelry is about as timeless as it gets. It’s made to last a lifetime and is meant to be passed down and cherished. It also makes you feel amazing when wearing it.
And we all want to feel good right now. I think people are ready to get dressed again, beyond yoga pants and flip-flops. 😉 What a great opportunity to refresh the wardrobe, throw on some beautiful jewelry, and get back out into the real world that we’ve all missed so much.
True: Tell us about how you’re shifting who buys jewelry for whom.
Rachel: The jewelry industry has largely been built around gifting and engagement. We are taking a non-traditional approach by creating an experience and product offering geared toward a self-purchasing woman. We are constantly launching new designers and collections so there is always something for her to discover. We get creative with our materials and the scale within each collection to create a range in price points to help women build their collection. We also hope to invite the ‘jewelry curious’ into the category and turn them into lovers and collectors.
True: Describe your favorite piece of jewelry.
Rachel: My latest favorite is my Getaway Ring. I absolutely love the bold statement of it, and the elongated shape on my hand. And best of all I can (and do) wear it every day because it literally goes with everything. I can flip it for four different looks. I’m currently flashing the onyx and chrysoprase, a gorgeous minty stone that I’m obsessed with.
True: How do you select the jewelry designers you collaborate with?
Rachel: I choose every designer based on a very specific look, collection, and story that I’m trying to create. For instance, I knew I wanted to create a super colorful, pattern-forward collection with a nod to the ‘60s, so Alice Cicolini was the obvious choice given her signature vibrant pattern work.
I’m also big on chemistry and culture fit. I look for designers with a collaborative spirit that I feel a real personal connection with. It makes the work so much stronger and the process that much more rewarding. I adore our designers and feel very fortunate to have them partnering with us. And there are more to come. We’re currently working with an artist that is bringing her signature style to jewelry for the very first time.
True: What would you share with founders who are creating brands in markets that are dominated by large companies?
Rachel: Follow your instincts and don’t lose sight of what inspired you to begin with. It can be scary to go up against giants, especially when you’re challenging the norm and trying to do something entirely new.
Create the brand the world has been missing and stick with it until they realize it’s what they needed all along. No matter how dominated a category has been there’s always room for something new. Get in there and shake it up.