Treasures From Afar

For this entrepreneur, running operations from a distant land isn't so foreign after all.
This story appears in the June 2000 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

In 1990, Nancy Dunitz decided to add some color and creativity to her life. Abandoning her successful corporate job in the entertainment industry, she followed her passion and started her own business designing jewelry and home accessories.

Combining a deep love for traveling to third world countries with a desire to work for herself, Dunitz, 41, began collaborating with several people in Guatemala to manufacture, distribute and import her seed-bead fashion jewelry and home accessories. As sales for her jewelry line exploded in 1996, she began focusing solely on designing and manufacturing jewelry. The Hollywood, California-based Dunitz & Co. raked in $150,000 in sales that year. Since then, the refocus has driven sales up to $500,000 in 1999.

Today Dunitz works with her Guatemala-based design team to create unique and intricate designs for her cuffs, necklaces, pouches, hair accessories and other beaded jewelry. The team then coordinates with Mayan women who handcraft the jewelry; some pieces take up to nearly two weeks to finish. But the long process doesn't let Dunitz down. Her dog, Byron, named the official mascot for the company, makes sure business doesn't get too serious at home. Posing for publicity materials and announcing the arrival of delivery people, Byron helps Dunitz keep things in perspective.

HomeOfficeMag.com: How did you get the idea to start your jewelry business?

Nancy Dunitz: It was sort of a fluke. I didn't originally decide to design wholesale jewelry, but I've always been interested in arts and crafts and products of this ilk. When I first started my business 10 years ago, I left corporate America when I felt like I wasn't responsible to anyone other than myself, so I could take [off on my own]. I loved traveling to third world countries, and my initial plan was to design beautiful things for the interior of the home.

I didn't know much about product distribution in the United States. I started working in Guatemala because I wanted to start at a place where I could get beautiful things made that wasn't so far away and wasn't so expensive to travel to.

In the beginning, I was primarily focused on home accessories, but I always had a little bit of jewelry, which was kind of my stepchild. Then I became acquainted with a woman, whom I work with today, who was working with other women in Guatemala involved in beadwork. I added a little bit of beaded jewelry along with my pillows, candleholders, boxes and other products. About four years ago, I woke up and realized that the jewelry thing was happening and the other products were really a struggle for me. I refocused the company, got involved with the design and now work with several people in Guatemala.

HomeOfficeMag.com: Were you always interested in the arts and creative products, or did your traveling experience inspire it?

Dunitz: I think it's a combination. I've been interested in anything to do with the arts since I was a child. I went to business school and had a corporate business background before I did this-kind of parental brainwashing to do something practical. When I jumped into this, I was trying to find a way to combine my experience with [something I loved].

HomeOfficeMag.com: How often do you travel to Guatemala to oversee your business?

Dunitz: I like to go to Guatemala twice each year, but there have been times in the early stages of my business when I was there five or six times a year. Now things are [so settled] that I can focus on the business at home as opposed to having to worry about my suppliers. Sometimes it's frustrating because they're so far away. Working with [people in] a third world country is difficult because communication isn't as clear and things are done at a snail's pace. Here in this country, things happen immediately.

HomeOfficeMag.com: Who is your market and how do you reach them?

Dunitz: I primarily sell to specialty stores. However, I have worked with major stores and mail order catalogs. I do have some clients out of this country-some very good clients in Japan. I've also shipped to European specialty stores on a smaller scale. But again, I would say smaller specialty stores are the mainstay of my business.

My specialty is seed beads and we cater to all age groups and sophistication levels. So it's not like I only target teenagers or new age stores. I find that my line gets cherry-picked by everything from new age stores and teen-oriented stores to sophisticated ladies' clothing boutiques and gift shops. We've had our jewelry covered in Harper's Bazaar. There are Victorian lifestyle magazines and other cool magazines showing our line. For some reason, the teen editors have latched on to me and I get more press from the teen magazines. But it's really all about relationships, and sometimes it's tricky developing them.

HomeOfficeMag.com: What do you have planned for the future?

Dunitz: I'm going to be spending this week with new product design. I think I'm at the forefront of beaded jewelry and developing new designs. What happened with our beaded cuff is that it ended up getting knocked off-it was made very cheaply with poor quality. Then it's overkill. You're on to the next [project], so what's next is coming up with some new designs. I can't tell you what they are yet, but some designs may include other mediums besides seed beads.

Edition: December 2016

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