Barbara Levin, founder and designer of Athena Designs jewelry in LA tells us about her business: the stories, triumphs and travails.
SD: Tell us a bit about Athena jewelry, the inspiration behind founding your own jewelry company.
B: In my former business, Athena International, we specialized in glass and crystal from Western Europe.. Some of my biggest customers included Tiffany’s mail order catalog, Neiman Marcus and fortune 500 companies. On one particular trip to Italy my agent and I explored Murano glass beads. I wound up purchasing $10,000 worth of glass beads on that trip and when I got back to the US, realized that neither I nor my staff knew how to assemble and make jewelry! I drove up and down Wilshire Blvd until I spotted a sign for jewelry making classes. The instructor came to our office to teach my employees how to make jewelry. That was 15 years ago. We started selling items to museum shops and Princess Cruise ships touring the Mediterranean. The company became Athena Designs and went through many progressions to where we are now. I have been designing my entire adult life and always loved jewelry!!!!
SD: What’s your business model?
B: Athena designs is a wholesale ‘fine fashion’ jewelry company that is distributed nationwide with accounts in Canada as well as Australia. In addition to selling to specialty boutiques, jewelry stores, online websites and spas, we specialize in sales to 5 star resorts. When we are open to the public we offer our collections at 40%-90% off of retail. All of our items are available 24/7 on our website. Check out the sale section online to receive 50% off! Online orders at shipped at n/c for shipping and handling
The cool thing about our business is that we offer a lifetime guarantee on everything except for fashion jewelry (which receives a 90 day guarantee). We stand behind our products and value our relationships with the end user. No questions are ever asked…..we will repair or replace.
SD: We know you are coming out with a Spring Collection for Valentine’s Day. Care to enlighten us?
B: This Spring collection is really a reflection of our nimble and flexible brand, the bigger picture of what the line is all about. I have a degree in psychology and love watching human behavior and the choices people make in their day to day lives. What I discovered, despite what it says in magazines, is that what women tend to wear is simple and classic jewelry that they keep on for long periods of time.
So I wanted to create jewelry that was affordable and timeless. Pure and simple.
And I hit the nail on the head — our continuous growth in sales reflects that very fact.
With the influence of social media, trends move quickly. Women don’t want to invest in items that will go out of fashion in a short time. Nor do we want to worry about losing expensive pieces while traveling or doing the things we love to do- like working out, doing yoga, or raising a family. We want to offer women jewelry that looks great, for a great price that can be enjoyed guilt free and without a hassle. It’s all about value pricing and interpreting trends for the woman on the go. Wear your accessories from your workout to your dinner out. The way life should be.
SD: Any inspiring story to end with?
B: We were once participating in a trunk show at a Waldorf Astoria property, when a woman, who I later found out was Clint Eastwood’s wife (at that time) and a board member of the “Make a Wish” foundation, approached me and bought a large amount of items; some of which were sent to Japan for ‘wrap’ gifts on a film just completed. Through our relationship and friendship, we started working with the Make a Wish foundation to design jewelry that was used for fund raising. That blossomed into ‘shop for a cause’ where we open our website and showroom to non profits that we are attuned with to help raise money for their work. We have raised thousands of dollars for Cancer Support Communities, Make a Wish Chapters, organizations that help homeless families get back on their feet and the Celiac Foundation. We welcome inquiries from non profits.
SD: Summing it up…
B: I set out to create a brand for the budget-conscious woman who wants superior quality, timeless design and a trendy look. Personally I wear my Athena jewelry traveling internationally, swimming as sport and even on diving excursions! Sometime I get hooked on pieces that I don’t take off for months! Personally, I want to look good without worry or hassle and I sincerely believe a lot of women feel the way I do.