When the entrepreneurial bug bit Tarina Tarantino, she'd already made quite a name for herself while working at a cosmetics store in L.A.-and not just for her talents as a makeup artist. The creator of Los Angeles-based Tarina Tarantino Designs used to wear her bug-shaped jewelry and hair accessories to work-but she'd come home bugless, having sold her bejeweled treasures to customers eager to decorate their hands and heads with her creations.
Turns out, retail stores and Hollywood costume designers were just as eager. "At the time, there were few hair accessories on the market that were ornamental and pretty," says Tarantino, who owns her company with her husband, Alfonso Campos. "There was such a void in the marketplace that when we showed these pieces to the stores, they jumped on them."
Even now, Tarantino doesn't fret about competition. "There aren't many designers that make high-quality, funky, fun costume jewelry," says Tarantino, who expects sales of $5 million this year, up from last year's $1 million-plus. "A lot of them are trying to look real; we're not trying to do that. Everything we make is whimsical and unusual."
That's not to say it's been a breeze for Tarantino and Campos. After starting in 1992, orders flooded in-more than they could handle-and banks all but scoffed at their loan requests. "We had $50,000 worth of orders, and we thought 'Wow! This is going to be it," says Campos. "They looked at us like '$50,000 is nothing, kids. Do you have any collateral?'"
But all they had was $400 in the bank; a car, which they sold; and the will to make their bugs fly. So they set up shop in their living room, worked around the clock to fill the orders, and set about marketing themselves to Hollywood costume designers and magazine editors.
For the editors, the fashion-conscious pair sent out silk pillows bearing Tarantino's creations. And for the designers? "I'd set up appointments for them to see the line," says Campos, who found designers by watching the credits of TV sitcoms. "They're busy and they don't have time for you, so I'd tell them all I needed was one minute of their time, and it would be the best minute of their lives."
They'd all laugh, says Campos, but the laughter would quickly die down when he'd open his jam-packed box of goodies and blind them with all the colorful, Swarovski-crystal creations. "It worked-they said this was the stuff they tried to get their assistants to look for all the time," says Campos. "The rest is history."