From the August 2003 issue of Startups

(YoungBiz) - Wearing the right piece of jewelry is a great way to stand out from the crowd, and the same is true for designers making one-of-kind pieces. So while there are plenty of mass-produced jewelry lines out there, custom designs are unique, and profitable, business options for creative types.

"Every girl who makes Infinity jewelry does her own thing," says Paloma Reyes, part of a teen team of jewelry designers in Chicago. "You know when you buy our jewelry that you won't ever see anyone else wearing the same design."

Infinity Jewelry is a business project operated by teen girls through a program sponsored several years ago by Family Matters, a nonprofit organization in Chicago. The girls sell their pieces--made from silk thread, semi-precious stones, pearls and glass beads--at local galleries, craft shows and museums. Uniqueness is so important that the girls even turned down a business offer from Marshall Field's department store because the company wanted Infinity to mass-produce one design only.

Do Your Own Thing
Infinity Jewelry's teen designers say it's not difficult to make jewelry. "Once you get the hang of it, it's easy," says Lydia Redmond. "And it's fun."

Next Step
There's much more to selling jewelry than you might think. Get prepared here.

So easy and so fun that many teens are finding out that jewelry design is a good solo business opportunity. Just ask 15-year-old Ashley Easley of Heflin, Alabama, owner of Ashley's Accessories. When she began falling behind on orders for her unique jewelry designs, Easley knew she had a winning business concept.

After researching what products she wanted to make and the prices of the supplies, Ashley determined a start-up cost of $100, which she borrowed from her mother and has since paid back. Business was great, with bracelets selling for $2 to $3 each, until she hit an unexpected snag: "Everyone started selling the same thing I was," she says.

For Easley, there was only one way to combat the copycats. Using some of her profits, she made her products stand out from the competition by using more upscale supplies and beads. Her designs now sell for as much as $20 and are quite popular.

Time Is Money
Regina Jackson in Washington, DC, agrees that making handcrafted jewelry is an easy way to make cash. She has sold everything from earrings (approximately $5) to earring and necklace sets (between $40 and $60), netting Regina's Jewelry Designs profits in the thousands.

The biggest problem for Jackson has been managing her time. "Making the jewelry is not difficult," she explained shortly after starting her business. "It just takes a lot of patience. I try to work at least one hour every evening."

In addition to selling her wares to family and friends, Jackson sold items at craft shows, and, soon after starting the business, found a way to avoid some of the time crunch. The busiest craft show season, she found, was in the fall leading up to Christmas, so she began work on pieces during the summer to make sure she had plenty of inventory for the fall.

According to both Jackson and Reyes, honing your craft is the most important aspect of a successful jewelry business. "My jewelry has gotten better than it used to be," Jackson admits.

Quality is so important at Infinity that each piece is checked for knotting, closing and pattern, as some pieces are even sent back for improvements. "I can tell the difference between a quality necklace and one that is going to fall apart soon," Reyes says. "Our buyers keep coming back and bringing their friends with them, and we want to keep it that way."